This guide discusses the advantages and disadvantages of the time blocking method and gives recommendation on whether you should use it to improve your time management and optimize productivity.
Here is the overview of the pros and cons:
The guide will go through them in details later, but before that, let’s explore what time blocking is, and the differences between the time blocking method and timeboxing which people often refer to as interchangeable.
Without further ado, let’s dive in.
What Is Time Blocking?
Time blocking is a time management method where you schedule your day in blocks of time. Each time block has a specific starting and finishing time devoted to a single task such as processing email or a task category such as communication, writing, and planning.
The method has become so popular these days because Elon Musk uses it.Oshin, M. (2020, July 1). How to manage time effectively even if your schedule is hectic. Ladders | Business News & Career Advice He told The Ladder that he chunked his day into blocks of five minutes filled with what he needs to do. Bill Gates also uses it.Riddell, M. (2016, October 21). Bill Gates: He eats Big Macs for lunch and schedules every minute of his day - meet the man worth $80 billion. The Telegraph. Furthermore, two bestselling books on productivity introduces the time blocking method as a time management tool: The ONE Thing and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World.
Some people could use the time blocking method to structure their entire day. For example, their time blocking list could look something like this:
- 7:00-7:15 am — Meditate
- 7:15-8:00 am — Personal development
- 8:00-10:00 am — Do MITs (most important tasks)
- 10:00-10:30 am — Processing emails and check chat apps like Telegram, WhatsApp, and Messenger
- 10:30 am -12:00 pm — Work on tasks with deadlines, especially ones that are due today
- 12:00-1:00 pm — Lunch break
- 1:00-1:30 pm — Acting on emails that need more than 2 minutes
- 1:30-2:00 pm — Social media time
- 2:00-4:30 pm — Continue daily tasks
- 4:30-5:00 pm — Process and act on emails
- 5:00-5:30 pm — Review and plan next day
- 5:30-6:00 pm — Do my hobbies (reading, cubing, meditating, or just to goof off)
Other people could use it a bit more loosely, blocking only what needs to get done, and give themselves some buffer time for unexpected tasks. For example, if the monthly sales report and presentation are their priorities today and would take four hours to complete, they could use the method to block the entire morning to work on them. Alternatively, devoting two hours in the morning and the other two hours in the afternoon could be model.
While a standard to-do list tells you what to do, the time blocking method tells you when you are going to do it.
Time Blocking is NOT Timeboxing.
Timeboxing was introduced by James Martin in his book Rapid Application Development; it is a more of a method for project management than just a time management technique.Coleman, G., & Verbruggen, R. (1998). A quality software process for rapid application development. Software Quality Journal, 7(2), 107-122. The method seems popular for software development.
Basically, the method suggests that you devote a specific time slot, called a timebox, for a goal-specified task or project. It is similar to time blocking in that both methods suggest allocating a specific time slot for a task or task category.
However, they are different. Mainly, the goal of timeboxing is to limit the time devoted to a task or project, therefore avoiding spending more than the set time limit. Time blocking, on the other hand, is meant to ensure that you allocate a time block for what needs to get done so that you do not miss it.
Software developers use timeboxing as a project management tool, considering other details such as objectives, deliverables, milestones, and budget. Time blocking method is a time management technique that allows you to devote time for what you need to get done.
In short, people use timeboxing to limit time for completing a task or project. Time blocking, on the other hand, is more about making time for what needs to get done.
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Time Blocking Method
Everything has its pros and cons. The time blocking method is no exception. But, by understanding the advantages and disadvantages, you could decide whether to use the method. Or, you may understand it will take to make the technique work for you.
These are some pros of the time blocking methods. It is not an exhaustive list, but should give you a sense of whether the technique would be what you need for your productivity system.
Time blocking is intentional living.
The method could make work and life highly intentional. Every time block contains what you want to do and what you should do to reach your full potential. Effective implementation of the method, together with other productivity skill sets, could help you be the person you aspire to be.
Time blocking is a very results-oriented way of viewing and using time. It’s a way of making sure that what has to be done gets done… Time blocking harnesses your energy and centers it on your most important work. — Gary Keller and Jay Papason
It gives you a sense of control over your time, your day, and your life.
The technique works, especially if you set realistic tasks and time. Even if you do not have control of your day, you still can use time blocking to control what you can. If you can't control your work hours, you can control your other hours — time with personal development, family and friends, self-care… You can use the time blocking method to take back control of your time you lack at work.
The method helps you overcome distraction.
There are several reasons why people get distracted. It could be a learned behavior. Fear of uncertainty and difficulty associated with tasks is another reason. The expected outcome is not clear enough. We also tend to get distracted when there is no deadline or if it is too far into the future.
And, we get distracted most when we do not know what to do. That is why the time blocking method could be useful to help you overcome distraction.
Time blocking helps you monotask.
If you're sick and tired of multitasking, the time blocking method should be very useful to help you out. By blocking time for a task, you will become more likely to get focused on the task at hand. And with the other tasks carefully planned into the time slots available in your day, you would reduce the chance of falling for the possibility of falling for the Zeigarnik Effect — a cognitive bias in which you tend to remember interrupted and incomplete tasks better than completed ones.
It helps you manage time better.
The time blocking method forces you to plan your day more carefully. Assigning tasks for time blocks is no easy task. It takes time and effort to prioritize and think of the amount of time it takes to complete the task. Deciding the time block for a task adds to the effortful thinking and planning.
The careful planning could put you in control of time and use it more intentionally to perform high-valued tasks.
With the pros of the time blocking method in mind, here are eight disadvantages of the time blocking method to ponder upon.
It takes time to plan your day using the time blocking technique.
Intentional scheduling of the method is to be celebrated, but the time it takes to schedule our day using the method could make it impractical to get started. This could be the main reason why busy professionals and executives give up on the time blocking method.
Flexibility could be an issue.
Whether you time-block an entire day or just part of it for work you want to get done, you would feel less flexible. This is especially true If your work or career requires lots of flexibility, such as salespeople, customer service staff, or business executives.
Failure to meet deadlines could cause a lot of stress.
According to KPMG’s 2019 Global Construction Survey, 75 percent of construction projects fail to meet the original deadlines; only ten percent of public sector organizations managed to hit this target.KPMG International. (2019). Global Construction Survey 2019. This happens despite all the fancy project management tools engineers use!
The time blocking method is not a project management tool; it is a time management technique to allow you to allocate your time to what needs to get done. So, unless you can learn other skills such as overcoming the planning fallacy, timeboxing, and project management, the time blocking method would be of little use.
It’s difficult to stick with the plan.
Missing the deadline is one thing and sticking with the plan is another. Of course, the ability to follow through with the plan affects your ability to complete your project within the deadline, but I am talking about a micro-level here. Sometimes, just doing what you said you would do could be challenging.
For example, you plan to write for 30 minutes but as you get in the flow, you will keep writing ending up devoting 180 minutes to writing, leaving less time for other tasks. Or, you thought you could complete a report in an hour but then, a colleague approached you for help with a presentation she had to deliver later in the day. Your time blocks would have to be revised.
The learning curve could be steep.
Because of the stress caused by planning fallacy and the lack of flexibility, you could find it hard to maintain your motivation to overcome the steep learning curve in the process of adopting the time blocking method.
This brings us to another disadvantage.
It is simple, but not easy.
The time blocking method is simple. You know that you need to schedule your day in time blocks. Moreover, It does not require a sophisticated tool to implement. A pen and paper could do the trick, and if you have a Google Account and know how to use the Google Calendar, it would be a bonus.
However, it is not easy because in reality, things do not go as planned. As I have argued, the learning curve could be daunting. You will need to learn to overcome the planning fallacy and sustain the pain and boredom of living with structure.
You could succumb to the sunk cost fallacy.
The sunk cost fallacy states that people tend to continue an endeavor once they have made an investment in money, effort, or time.Sunk cost. (2021, June 28). In Wikipedia. So, this cognitive bias suggests that the more intentional you are about your time blocks, the more difficult it could be to let go when things go sideways.
The time blocking method is not necessarily a productivity system for peak performance.
The method is for better time management, but not necessarily a productivity system for optimal performance. Overcoming procrastination, eliminating distractions, both internal and external; and finding and maintaining focus while working are three critical skills to develop.
In short, the time blocking method does not necessarily help you produce better. All it does is to let you stay on top of your things. That sometimes means a compromise for the quality you strive to deliver.
By laying down the advantages and disadvantages, I am not suggesting that you should not use the time blocking method. It is an easy-to-understand time management technique. Furthermore, effective implementation could let you be on top of your priorities.
However, it is important to note that for the time blocking method to work, you need to also develop other productivity skills and habits. Better planning, overcoming procrastination, eliminating distractions, and working with focused attention should go hand in hand with the time blocking method.
I would recommend that you read the two bestselling books that introduce the time blocking method as a time management tool: The ONE Thing and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World. The books explain other productivity principles and qualities that could help you put the method to work for you.
I hope you get lots of value out of this guide.
Now over to you:
Do you have other advantages or disadvantages you would like to add to the list? Will you (continue to) use the time blocking method?
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