The Magic of Time Blocking

I read about a radical idea a couple years ago. At least it was radical to me.

I was researching procrastination because I felt like I wasn’t getting enough done despite having quite a few hours in the day to do things. I felt like I was wasting time but couldn’t quite figure out where the time was going. Like all the missing socks eaten by the washer.

I started to track my time in the same way a dieter tracks calories. I used an app called rescue time that tracked how I spent my time online. I’d get a report emailed to me every week.

I found out that my suspicions were true. About 70%(!) of my time was spent watching videos and being on social media. This number shifted to 40% during grad school or times of heavy workloads. Still, it was clear I was spending too much time on what Peter Drucker calls TWAs, or Time Wasting Activities.

But tracking what I was doing online was only helpful in allowing me to see the problem. Each weekly report I’d feel ashamed and then get another similar report the next week.

Then, I discovered time blocking.

The idea is that you plan your entire day in increments of 30 minutes. Even your free time to watch movies goes into the schedule. The idea is not to deny yourself things like social media or YouTube, but just to do a better job of planning time for the important stuff too.

It was also advised in the many blog posts I read on the topic to stay flexible. If you veer from the path it’s okay, as long as you try your best to stick to it. Even the mere act of making the plan is better than nothing.

It’s easiest to do this with pen and paper, but I wanted to be able to see it quickly wherever I happened to me, and my phone is always on me. So I needed an app. I tried a few that were way too cumbersome, like Sorted. I already have a very robust task management system, so I didn’t need project lists or connections to my calendar. I also tried just using a regular old notepad app but that also ended up being too cumbersome.

Enter the app Long Day. Super simple – a daily layout in increments of 30 minutes, and you just fill in the blanks.

I already feel better having mapped out my evening. Now I just need to stick to it. What’s nice is that if I follow this plan, I will have worked out and made progress on my book and music… and still have YouTube time if I want it. (The open slots are for child care, or I would’ve mapped out the whole day.)

There’s a completeness to this that is uncomfortable at first. But if you have a busy life that needs taming, this might be a step in the right direction.