Yet another attempt at time blocking

When I was doing my annual review, one of my observations was that I had attempted time blocking in two distinct periods in 2021. It’s been a while, but I suspect my motivations for coming back to time blocking stemmed from reflecting on Cal Newport’s Deep Work and Nir Eyal’s Indistractable.

When I’m using time blocking, I usually find that I get a lot done throughout the week, and my most important tasks are more likely to be completed.

At the same time, I’ve stopped my attempts at time blocking twice last year (and even more times in the past) because of three pain points: time blocking takes a lot of time, things such as emergencies and collaborating with other people aren’t fully in my control, and the need to adjust my schedule when I don’t finish essential tasks in the scheduled time block. I will discuss each of these in more detail below.

The first pain point I mentioned is that time blocking takes a lot of time. I have to figure out everything I want to do in the week, which involves filtering through my to-do list. I then have to filter that down even more because I don’t usually have time to do everything I want to do during the week. This becomes especially apparent as I try to fit everything into my calendar around pre-existing meetings and time for self-care.

So I’m trying to limit this process to one hour, one morning each week. In both Indistractable and Sahil Lavingia’s The Minimalist Entrepreneur, there’s an idea of how constraints inspire creativity. By forcing myself to make all my scheduling decisions for the week in this one hour, I force myself to tap into my imagination to figure out how to play Tetris with my schedule.

For this to work, it also means I have to commit to my schedule for the week. Suppose I allow myself to move things around. In that case, I’ll be making decisions later on in the day when I’m more likely emotional and susceptible to decision fatigue. That is, I’ll be more likely to make poor decisions about what to do with my schedule. This also relates to the second and third pain points I’ve experienced with time blocking.

The second pain point is that there are things in my week that aren’t always in my control–a coworker may ask a favour, my boss may schedule a meeting, a pipe may burst in my home. These sorts of things usually give me anxiety because I know they can happen, I can’t predict them, and they influence the plans I make for the week.

So let me start by saying there is such thing as legitimate emergencies. If a pipe bursts in your apartment, it could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars in damages to not only your unit but also other units that are affected by the water damage. If you are experiencing appendicitis, you may die if you don’t get to a hospital quickly. Some things are worth straying from your schedule.

At the same time, I know I treat some things as emergencies, even if they aren’t mission-critical.

If a coworker asks me a question or wants to pair on something, I tend to respond immediately. If someone schedules a meeting with me, I feel inclined to accept that meeting.

So something I’ve been doing this time is being more critical of my thoughts and beliefs regarding some of these things. I’ve recognized thoughts such as “I’m a bad coworker if I don’t get back to people immediately” and then explored those thoughts using prompts similar to Byron Katie’s Four Questions–exploring whether those thoughts are true.

As a concrete example of a change I’ve made in light of this, I put appointment slots in my work calendar each day for the week and then asked my team to try to book any meetings, requests for pairing, etc. during those times. I also recognize that this is a change and an experiment for both me and them, so I asked them to let me know if something about it isn’t working for them so I can adjust.

This also has me practicing building the muscle of saying “No” more often. 😉

The final pain point is when I need to adjust my schedule because I don’t finish a task in the allocated time block. Sometimes this is because I would be idealistic when making my schedule. Sometimes this is because of Parkinson’s Law (since I knew I’d create more time if I didn’t finish something in the intended time block).

So now when I schedule my week, I schedule for the likely scenario, not the ideal one. I try to anticipate what could go wrong. I try to anticipate my energy levels. I try to anticipate when it would be useful to block off time to recharge. And I schedule my week respecting those things. It often means that I fit fewer things into my plans, but it also often means that I get more done.

As for Parkinson’s Law, most of this comes down to addressing my perfectionism. Yes, I could spend substantially more time making sure something was perfect, and often this is the driving force for when I want something to expand past it’s intended time block. But as the Pareto Principle suggests, I could spend 80% more time making it perfect, but I probably already have 80% of the value produced in that time block.

I’m learning to change my definition of done. Not only does this help with time blocking, but it also allows me to do more with the time that I have. (It’s incredible to think of how much human potential is lost due to perfectionism, but that’s a topic for another day. 🤣)

Perfect is the enemy of good.

Voltaire

So here’s to yet another attempt at time blocking. 🥂

Last week felt super productive and I was pleased with how it turned out. Hoping to keep up these results and learnings as the weeks go on!

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