Have you ever gone through an entire workday while only crossing off one small item off your to-do list? It’s happened to all of us at some point.\nHere’s the truth: To-do lists don’t work. What does work: To-do lists that become blocks of time on your schedule.\n\nTo-do lists are just that: lists. But when a task gets allotted time on your schedule, it becomes real. If you make an appointment to get a haircut or visit the dentist, why not do the same for your work-related tasks?\nIn this blog post, we’ll be taking an in-depth look at what time blocking is, why it works, and how anyone can use it to increase their productivity.\nTable of Contents\nWhat is time blocking?\nBenefits of time blocking\nChallenges of time blocking\nWho should use time blocking?\n3 types of time blocking\n\nTimeboxing\nTask batching\nDay theming\n\nHow to time block in 5 steps\nFree 5-day workweek time blocking template\n3 best apps for time blocking\nNext steps\nWhat is time blocking?\nTime blocking is a productivity technique that involves dividing your day into blocks of time and assigning a specific task or set of tasks to each block. You estimate how long a task will take and commit to working on it during its block without getting distracted.\nKeep in mind that time blocking isn’t an exact science. You’ll get distracted. Sometimes, you’ll be wrong in estimating how long a task will take.\nThat’s okay. As long as you stay flexible and take a firm but gentle approach to time blocking, you’ll see results. Over time, you’ll get better at estimating how long tasks actually take.\n\nTime blocking gives you better control and understanding of how you spend your time. You might find that:\n\nIntimidating tasks you think will take hours don’t take that long at all\nYou have pockets of time you could be spending on that hobby you previously thought you were too busy to do\nWhen you block out time for priorities during your peak hours, you can get them done faster and more efficiently\n\nBenefits of time blocking\nTime blocking, when done well and consistently, isn’t just a productivity technique you try because you think it’ll make you more productive. It can actually change the way you think.\nHere are a few side-effects of time blocking:\nYou start to see time as a finite resource\nWe all get the same 24 hours each day. That’s a lot of time. Sure, you need time for all the essential activities like eating, sleeping, and taking care of household chores.\nBut when you start blocking out time for those essential activities, the chances are that you’ll find gaps of time you never knew you had. It may be exciting but also slightly embarrassing. What had you been doing with all that time before now?\n\nPro tip: Try a time tracking software like Hubstaff to get a sense of how you’re spending your time right now before you jump into time blocking. It’ll give you a much better sense of how to estimate the time needed for your tasks.\nLooking at the blank spaces on your calendar will force you to come to terms with how you’re choosing to spend that time.\nYou may not have all the time you want to accomplish your goals, but if you have three hours on a Thursday afternoon, why not use that block to make some progress?\nYou get your priorities straight\nYou should be spending the most amount of your time on your priorities, right?\nIt sounds logical, but let’s be honest: most of us spend way more time on what we call “meaningless” tasks than we do on our priorities.\nTime blocking makes us aware of how much time we’re giving to priority tasks.\nFor example, if you’re a manager, one of your main priorities should be to listen to your team members and analyze their feedback. How many managers set aside time to do that? While they may have the best of intentions, if it’s not on their calendar, it’s likely not going to happen at all.\nYou’re able to fully enjoy your time off\nWhen you operate off of a to-do list, it’s tempting to always be ‘on.’ That’s because you can always put more tasks on the list, and you don’t have a clear sense of when your work for the day is done.\nThe worst part is that little voice in the back of your head saying that you should be working right now. It makes you feel guilty about relaxing or doing things you enjoy.\nThat voice is exhausting.\nThere’s no reason why you shouldn’t schedule your downtime, too. If you’re the type of person who finds it hard to relax, put it in your schedule. There’s nothing wrong with binging your favorite Netflix show as long as you do it intentionally.\nYou get better at managing your time\nLots of people say they want to get better at time management. But what does that really mean?\nBy time blocking, you are literally managing your time. You’re not trying to be more productive. You’re creating specific intentions for how you spend specific amounts of time.\nThe concept of time management becomes real when you see the tradeoffs you’re making by spending time on one thing over another. It sounds obvious. But it’s actually a powerful concept.\nIf you’re spending time on what you consider lesser-value tasks, you’re choosing not to spend that time on your priorities.\nThat’s not to say that there isn’t a time and place to lie on the couch and scroll through Instagram. There’s nothing wrong with not being “productive” all the time. But being aware that how we spend time is often a choice, we can choose to spend it more wisely.\n\nTime management made easy\nTry Hubstaff free for 14 days today\n\n\nChallenges of time blocking\nTime blocking isn’t a miracle cure. There are some downsides that might keep you from fully embracing it or even steer you away from it altogether.\nIt’s easy to get derailed\nThe most common mistake people make when they start time blocking is that they pack their time blocks so tightly that any change messes up their entire calendar.\nIf a task takes an hour more than they blocked time for, they spend too much time trying to adjust the rest of their day or week.\nTo stop yourself from getting derailed, leave ample space or buffer time in your calendar. Alternatively, try to always overestimate the time you think you’ll need to complete a task — at least until you’ve done it enough times to be confident about how much time it really takes.\nIt can feel too restrictive\nSpontaneity and time blocking can co-exist peacefully. You don’t have to time block every minute of your day to the point where you kill any chance of being spontaneous.\nBut some people might find that even time blocking certain parts of their day feels like putting on a straitjacket.\nIf that’s the case for you, try time blocking activities you enjoy and look forward to instead of your most dreaded tasks. You’ll develop a more positive relationship with time blocking and might be inclined to use it more often.\nYou have to rely on self-discipline\nWhen you schedule time to work on your passion project at 9 PM after a long day at your day job, it’s a lot more tempting to move or delete that block.\nTime blocking also doesn’t account for our mood and energy fluctuations. So unless we’re completely honest and self-aware about how much we can realistically accomplish, it can be discouraging when we fail to complete our time blocks.\nWho should use time blocking?\nTime blocking truly is for everyone. If you want to get more done, use your time more efficiently, and get control over your schedule, time blocking is for you.\nWith that said, time blocking can be particularly effective for people who:\n\nAre juggling different projects or responsibilities at the same time\nTend to get stuck in reactive mode and want to find more time to be proactive or creative\nDeal with interruptions regularly and want to be more strict in regards to setting boundaries about where they give their attention\nHave a hard time sticking to one task or plan of action and get sidetracked easily\n\nDue to COVID-19, many people who worked in an office are now working from home. Time blocking can help switch the brain into work mode, even if work happens on the kitchen table.\n\nTime blocking can also help solve challenges like:\n\nFeeling like you work all the time and never have a chance to unwind\nDreading and putting off mindless or repetitive tasks\nWishing you could have uninterrupted chunks of time to go in-depth on a task\n\n3 types of time blocking\nTime blocking may remind you too much of the schedules you used to get in school that mapped out every minute of your day. But there’s a lot more nuance to time blocking in its more grown-up form.\nIf you’re skeptical about time blocking, take a look at these three variations. You may find that one clicks with your personality, work style, or the type of work you do.\n1. Timeboxing\nThink of timeboxing as time blocking’s stricter cousin.\nWhen you’re time blocking, you might find that a task is taking longer than you expected, so you adjust your schedule accordingly.\nWith timeboxing, you set a limit on how long a task will take. Once the time is up, you declare that task “done.”\nTimeboxing works best for:\n\nUnpleasant or tedious tasks you don’t want to do\nTasks you have to do but don’t want to spend too much time on\nTasks that eat up too much of your time if you’re not careful\nPerfectionists who dwell on details and struggle to mark tasks as done\n\nFor example, if you get sucked into your email inbox every day for way too long, time box 30 minutes to reply to all emails once a day. All other times, don’t look at your inbox.\nBe specific when you’re timeboxing. Instead of deciding to work on a report for 45 minutes, aim to write a 500-word introduction that summarizes your main points in 45 minutes.\n2. Task batching\nWhen we switch tasks, our brains are going through two complementary stages:\n\nGoal shifting: (“I will do this instead of that”)\nRule activation (“I’m activating the rules for this task instead of that task”)\n\nThat takes mental effort, no matter how big or small the task is.\nEvery time we switch tasks, we’re also switching contexts.\nOur lives are filled with context-switching traps. Glancing at your phone or getting up to put laundry in the dryer while you’re supposed to be working counts as context switching.\nEvery time you have to refocus to get back to the task at hand, you’re switching contexts. Doing these kinds of things can seriously affect your productivity.\nWhile time blocking reduces the opportunity for context switching, task batching takes it a step further.\nWith task batching, you group similar tasks and get them done in a single time block or series of time blocks. That way, you can reduce the negative effects of context switching even further.\nYou can use time batching to:\n\nComplete multiple administrative tasks that each take a short amount of time (e.g, invoicing or answering emails) all at once\nTake advantage of your peak hours (e.g., work on your most important tasks in the morning and save administrative tasks for the afternoon when you aren’t as focused)\n\n3. Day theming\nWith day theming, you dedicate entire days to similar kinds of tasks. You could do themes based on:\n\nType of task (e.g., complete all administrative tasks on one day of the week, and set aside other days solely for creative work)\nEnergy (e.g., work on more analytical tasks during the first three days of the workweek and save the last two days for less demanding tasks)\n\nIn a Forbes interview, Jack Dorsey said he used day theming to juggle work at two companies. Mondays were for managing both companies, Tuesdays were for product development, etc. This allowed him to take Saturdays off completely and use Sundays to reflect on the week.\nDay theming works for people who:\n\nLike Jack, have a lot of responsibilities and work better if they focus in-depth on one area at a time\nFind time blocking too tedious and want to spend as little time as possible on their schedule\nWork best using routines, as day theming creates consistency from week to week\n\nWhen you embrace day theming, you have less decision fatigue about what kind of tasks you should schedule during the week. When you create your weekly time management plan, you already know what kinds of tasks you should be blocking time for each day.\nHow to time block in 5 steps\nTime blocking looks different for everyone. For some, it means scheduling a block of focused work time every day. For others, it means scheduling and color-coding every 15-minute increment in their day. It scales up or down in complexity based on your personal needs and preferences. If you’ve never done this before, or you’ve tried and it hasn’t worked for you, consider these five steps:\n1. Ask yourself why you want to time block\nYes, there are the more general, universal benefits to time blocking, like being more productive or getting more done. But it’s worth digging deeper to pinpoint why you want to time block your day.\nIs it because you want to dedicate more time to a certain project that you’re falling behind on? Or is it because you’re struggling to keep up a social life while you work from home? The “why” will give you a better sense of your priorities.\n2. Set your recurring tasks and routines\nInstead of jumping straight into blocking out time for your to-do list items, lay the foundation first. Create time blocks for your morning and evening routines, meal times, and any other routines in your life.\nIf you’re the type to forget to eat lunch, schedule it in. If you want to improve your sleep schedule, block out time to sleep the right amount of hours.\nTime blocking daily or even weekly routines will give you a more realistic idea of how much time you have for your to-do list items. Instead of having to time block a blank schedule each day, you’ll have a more narrow window to work with.\n3. Be generous when estimating how long tasks will take\nSometimes, tasks (particularly ones we’re dreading) take a lot less time than we anticipate. But it’s better to err on the side of caution and block out more time than you think you need.\nIf you finish early, you’re still on track. If you underestimate, you have to re-adjust your schedule, which can have a domino effect on the rest of your tasks. Having to re-do a week’s worth of time blocks can be frustrating and discourage you from continuing to time block.\nThe more you use time blocking, the better you’ll get at creating accurate time blocks. But if you’re just starting, try giving yourself 1.5x to 2x the amount of time you think you need.\n4. Schedule breaks and leave buffers\nUnless you’re a time blocking expert, back-to-back time blocking of high-level tasks isn’t going to work for more than a day or two.\nWe need breaks. And we need time to go from one task to another.\nScheduling intentional breaks will give you the mental space necessary to give your full focus on more demanding tasks.\nLeaving some room in your schedule will also help you extend your time blocks if needed. It’ll help to prevent you from feeling like you’re rushing to complete one task after another.\n5. Schedule time for time blocking and reflection\nIf we’re sticking to the “schedule it so it happens” philosophy, then it makes sense that time blocking will only work if you make time for it.\nFor example, you could set aside 30 minutes every Sunday to go over your tasks for the week and create time blocks for them. Then, schedule 15 minutes every evening to go over your schedule and make any adjustments.\nIf you want to take time blocking up a notch, schedule time to reflect on what’s working and what isn’t. Ask yourself:\n\nAm I blocking out enough time for my priorities?\nWhich tasks are taking more or less time than I expected?\nIs my schedule creating balance or making me more stressed out?\n\nBy taking time to reflect, you can improve your time blocking skills to get more done in less time, if that’s your goal. You’ll gain greater self-awareness about your habits and priorities and be better able to bridge the gap between expectation and reality.\n\nManage time with less effort\nTry Hubstaff for free\n\n\nFree 5-day workweek time blocking template\nIf you’re ready to try time blocking, you can get started with this simple Google Sheets template to plan out your work week.\n\n\n\nYou can always add columns for the weekend if you feel up for it, but this template is a good starting point if you want to dip your toes into time blocking.\n3 best apps for time blocking\nThere are plenty of apps out there that can help you time block your day. Here are three of our favorites:\nGoogle Calendar\n\nYou might already be using Google Calendar to keep track of your most important appointments. But it’s also the perfect tool to start time blocking because you can:\n\nCreate calendars for different areas of your life\nColor-code tasks to make different types of tasks more visually distinct\nCreate recurring tasks for daily routines\nSchedule meetings and have them appear in your calendar\nSet reminders\n\nGoogle Calendar might be a good fit if you already use other Google apps like Gmail and Tasks. It’s also great if you anticipate having to adjust your time blocks a lot, as Google Calendar lets you move them around easily.\nAny.do\n\nAny.do is a to-do list app that allows you to organize all your tasks, lists, and reminders in a single place.\nIt has both a classic to-do list view and a calendar view. The calendar view is designed to help you visualize your tasks and enable you to time block your day.\nIn Any.do, you can color-code tasks and add due dates, notes, and attachments to them. There’s also the option of setting up one-time, recurring, and location-based reminders to make sure you don’t forget about a task.\nYou can create multiple to-do lists in the app and share them with your family or team members, as well as assign tasks and monitor progress.\nAny.do is available on Windows, Mac, Android, and iOS. It can sync across all your devices seamlessly.\nTickTick\n\nIf the idea of staying focused for hours at a time makes you tired just thinking about it, then TickTick’s integrated Pomodoro timer can help.\nThe Pomodoro technique involves working in short, focused bursts (usually for 25 minutes) and then taking a break. However, scheduling all of those breaks manually can be tedious.\nTickTick lets you create a to-do list, block out time for your tasks, and then use a Pomodoro timer to stay on task while still taking breaks.\nTickTick might suit you if your time blocks are multiple hours long, but you still need some structure within those blocks.\nNext steps\nReady to try it? Here’s what you should do:\n\nStart tracking time spent on tasks – Download the Hubstaff app and start tracking the time you spend on tasks. This will help you get a better understanding of how much time it takes you to complete certain tasks.\nSchedule one work block a day for the next week – When implementing time blocking, it’s crucial to take it easy at first. Start by scheduling one two-hour work block a day for the next week and try to stick to your schedule.\nReview your week – After the one week is up, look back at how many tasks you were able to complete and determine if you’d like to continue to practice time blocking.\n\nThis post was originally published in December 2018. It was updated in June 2021.