Time blocking works best on Google Calendar or any other calendar you are already using.
To make time blocking work, you need to schedule the tasks that need to get done the same way you would time block meetings and appointments. In the same way that you know what time to start a meeting or appointment, you know what time to start and finish your task. The location feature is also handy if you want to get as specific as possible to work on the job.
So far, I have not known any task management app that does the work better than a calendar app, be it Google Calendar, Apple Calendar, or Outlook Calendar.
Although this guide is about using the time blocking method on Google Calendar, it should work with other calendar apps.
Without further ado, let's get started.
Time Blocking Basics
Time blocking is a time management method. As the name suggests, the technique asks that you schedule your day in blocks with specific start and finish times. The time block duration varies depending on factors such as the task nature, the time you have, and deadlines. For example, painting, writing, coding, and most other domains of expertise require long uninterrupted time blocks. Similarly, if you have to submit a report today, it may be good to block the whole day for the task.
Two books that have made the time blocking method popular are Cal Newport's Deep Work and The ONE Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papason. The tech mogul Elon Musk might also use the technique to manage his time for all the companies he owns. Nir, the author of Indistractable, recommends the time blocking method too.Eyal, N. (2021, July 12). Timeboxing: The Most Powerful Time Management Technique You’re Probably Not Using. Nir and Far.
To learn more about the basics of the time blocking method, I recommend that you read my other time blocking guide, Time Blocking Method: Pros and Cons.
Now, follow these principles and adjust the time blocking method to work for you.
Each time block must have a specific start and finish time.
It is vitally important to emphasize this. Each time block must have a specific start and finish time. And, you have to be accountable to your schedules the way you are to meetings and appointments. Of course, there are days you cannot stick with your plans, but for the method to work, you must improve your time management skill. It is not easy, but with deliberate practice day after day, you will get better.
Time blocking is a skill.
It requires lots of practice. That is probably why so many people give up on this time management method too soon before they can reap the long-term benefits. After finding it difficult to stick with their time blocking schedule, they believe that the technique would not work for them and quit. Or, they may be too busy to plan, and time blocking planning takes too much time.
Like other skills, you must learn and practice the technique. Furthermore, deliberate practice is crucial if you want to attain expertise in the time blocking method.
So, don't quit time blocking because it is hard. In my experience, life gets harder when you try to make it easy. For example, learning might be hard, but not constantly improving yourself costs much more. Mastering your craft is hard, but having no skills is harder. So, don't wish for an easier life; instead, master the time blocking method and control your time and life.
Time-block your planning.
It is crucial to time block planning. Scheduling your day using the time blocking method is time-consuming because it forces you to consider what to do and when to start and be done with it. Some even think about where to perform the task.
The ONE Thing recommends time blocking 30 minutes for planning. But, it could be more or less depending on several factors such as your planning speed and skill and the number of tasks you have to prioritize. For example, if you are skillful in planning, it will take you less time to plan than those who have first started planning their day. Similarly, there are days when it is challenging to prioritize due to deadlines or equal importance of the tasks at hand, so you will likely spend more time planning than usual, too.
Time blocking is not a to-do list.
When I first started time blocking, I wanted to use my to-do list for time blocking. My thinking was that using two tools for task management would be a hassle. But, what I found out was that time blocking is a time management method. It only forms part of the holistic productivity system where you keep and process all your tasks and stuff, giving you space for focus necessary to perform at your best. That is where time blocking falls short.
So, I recommend you use both the time blocking method and a to-do list for optimal productivity.
Time block rest and play
Together with a functional to-do list system, time blocking could make it effortless for you to focus intensely and perform at your best. However, our energy is finite. A research study found that if you have already worked intensely for 4-5 hours, the chances are that you have already depleted your energy for focused concentration.ricsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363.
In their best-selling book, The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz recommend taking a break every 90-120 minutes. So, never underestimate the power of rest and recovery. It is crucial to time block rest, play, and other creative activities.
Time block exercise and mindfulness
The Power of Full Engagement suggests that to maintain your energy level, you must balance the four energy sources: physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. In addition to rest and play, exercise and mindfulness cut across all dimensions.
You can time block an hour after work for this. Or, if your family is a priority after work, you can use physical activities as a form of rest and play. Consider taking a walk when you take your next 15-minute break during your work hours. Then, alternate it with a breathing exercise or meditation. Also, you mix the three of them in one. Rest in the form of walking while doing a breathing exercise. How about a mindful walk? That is rest, exercise, and mindfulness in a single time block.
Don't beat yourself up.
Remember how I introduced the time blocking method as a skill that requires consistent practice? My intention was to manage your expectation of the time needed to make this time management technique work for you. If you have ever mastered a skill, you should know how much time it took. So, be patient!
Most importantly, do not beat yourself up when you falter. Instead, step back, reflect and learn. The bestselling book on learning, Make It Stick, recommends these are four reflection question questions you can use for more fruitful learning from your experiences: Brown, Peter C.. Make It Stick (pp. 88-89). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.
- What went well?
- What could have gone better?
- What other knowledge or experiences does it remind you of?
- What might you need to learn for better mastery, or what strategies might you use the next time to get better results?
Notice self-criticism is not there should you be to learn from your experiences!
So with the time blocking basics in mind, let's now explore the mechanics of the Google Calendar.
The Mechanics of Google Calendar
Google Calendar is one of the most popular calendars out there. It is available on all mobile operating systems such as iOS and Android. When you are on your computer, the web version always comes in handy at calendar.google.com.
In case you wonder why Google Calendar (and other functional calendars such as Outlook and Apple Calendar) is a great tool to implement the time blocking method, there are three main reasons:
- It allows you to decide when to start and finish the task.
- The calendar lets you visualize your day, so it makes it easier to prioritize.
- Accessibility and ease of use are another reason. It is available on all mobile OS's. You can either access the web version of it or add it to the built-in calendar app on a computer.
Alright, let's dive in and explore the mechanics of the Google Calendar! (Feel free to skip this part if you are already familiar with the tool.)
Valuable features for the time blocking method
Google Calendar is rich. The basic features include the following:
- Creating events such as meetings and appointments
- Setting the location
- Adding description
- Including attachments necessary for the task or event
- Color coding your tasks to make it easy to sort and identify them
Two other less-known features that you could find helpful to implement the time blocking method are (1) the best search engine for which Google is famous and (2) the drag-and-drop to easily modify or move events.
Let's explore these features one by one.
Creating an Event or Task
Creating an event is straightforward.
- In Calendar, choose one of these options: 1- Click an empty time slot in the calendar grid, and 2- Click "+ Create"
- Add an event title, date, and time.
For example, if you want to time block report writing from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., create an event and set the time to start and stop it accordingly.
To create a task:
- In Calendar, choose one of these options: 1- Click an empty time slot in the calendar grid, and 2- Click "+ Create"
- Click on the task below the title bar.
Sometimes, you may want to set a location where you want to work on your task. So, it is a good idea to add the information.
You can do add a location by simply clicking on Add location and enter the information.
The ability to add a description to the event or task came to todoist, my task productivity app, just recently. Google Calendar has had this feature for as long as I can remember using the tool.
Description of an event or task is beneficial under these circumstances:
- You need to clarify your task to make it easy to implement.
- There are things you need to remember when working on the task.
To add a description, click on "Add description" in the window that pops up when creating a new event. The task window should have the "Add description" option expanded automatically.
Some tasks require a reference document to which you need to refer. Google Calendar lets you do that too. However, this feature is available only for events, not for tasks.
To add an attachment, create an event and click on Add attachment.
You also have the option to attach a file from your Google Drive or upload it from your computer.
Color coding your events or tasks
Color coding your tasks could be helpful when you work on multiple projects. However, I do not recommend you color-code your tasks based on priorities. Why? Regardless of how important they are, you must attend to all tasks that you time block.
To color-code your events or tasks on Google Calendar, click on the colored circle towards the bottom of the popup window. Then, pick the color that fit your need.
Note that by default, the color of the event or task is that of the calendar. However, you can change the task or event color without changing the color of your calendar. That is a nice little feature.
Google Calendar Search
Search is what Google does best. If you love Google search engines, you will love the same functionality that Google Calendar offers.
You can search in a specific calendar or all calendars you have. Keywords, people, location, and dates are other search functionalities that make the Google Calendar stand out.
Drag-and-drop feature of Google Calendar
Google Calendar lets you easily modify and move events and tasks around. You can drag it when you need to change the time it takes to work on a task. Or, click and move it to another time block if you miss the initial one.
Further reading: Google Calendar Training and Help
Putting It All Together
Google Calendar enhances the Time Blocking Method. It makes time blocking easy to visualize and implement. The mechanics of the two tools are simple; however, the real trick to make it work for you lies in your ability to learn the time blocking skill.
The basics of the time blocking method and the mechanics of Google Calendar should be your guide to effective use of the time management technique that has the potential to change your life.
There might seem to be a lot to grasp if you are new to time blocking. It could be even more overwhelming if you have never planned or used the Google Calendar. So, I hope that these two main takeaways will be helpful.
1. Three Must-Have Time Blocks
If you don't know how to get the best of the time management method, these recommendations by The ONE Thing should be a great place to start:
- time blocking planning
- Time off
- The ONE thing
The ONE Thing means not only the literal meaning — doing one thing at a time — but also the intensity of focused attention and commitment, doing the right thing, and living a purposeful life.
2. Start Small, but most importantly, start.
The ONE Thing book recommends blocking four hours a day for top priority. While I agree with it, I would prefer the more holistic approaches introduced by Deep Work: monastic, bimodal, rhythmic, and journalistic.
That said, the idea of daily practice that The ONE Thing introduces is excellent. It allows you to build the habits necessary to improve your focus and perform at an elite level.
However, the four hours daily is not the start but should be a goal to achieve over time. The starting point, then, is like that when you create a new habit that sticks. Start small, but most importantly, start. Make it a two-minute habit. Like James Clear, the author of the mega-bestseller Atomic Habits said:Clear, J. (2021, July 15). 3-2-1: On unfinished projects, living a curious life, and the stories we tell ourselves. James Clear.
"When choosing a new habit, many people seem to ask themselves, "What can I do on my best days?" The trick is to ask, "What can I stick to even on my worst days?" Start small. Master the art of showing up. Scale up when you have the time, energy, and interest."
|↑1||Eyal, N. (2021, July 12). Timeboxing: The Most Powerful Time Management Technique You’re Probably Not Using. Nir and Far.|
|↑2||ricsson, K. A., Krampe, R. T., & Tesch-Römer, C. (1993). The role of deliberate practice in the acquisition of expert performance. Psychological Review, 100(3), 363.|
|↑3||Brown, Peter C.. Make It Stick (pp. 88-89). Harvard University Press. Kindle Edition.|
|↑4||Clear, J. (2021, July 15). 3-2-1: On unfinished projects, living a curious life, and the stories we tell ourselves. James Clear.|