Monday, May 16, 2016

Time Blocking: Getting into the Habit

Ever feel like you're going nowhere fast?  It's pretty common today to feel like you're spinning your wheels, working harder and harder without getting anything done.

Do a search of the internet and you'll find story upon story of the top five, ten, 50 habits of successful people.  And we've heard for years that it takes 21 times of doing something to turn it into a habit.  The truth is, more recent studies show doing something 21 times is definitely not enough time.  In reality, you need just over 60 days of consistently working on something for it to become a regular routine, or habit.  The problem comes in when something unexpected happens, preventing you from doing the thing you're working on.  Suddenly, that habit is off the rails and you're back to doing things the way you've always done them - haphazardly.

For example, you're working on getting up at six a.m. instead of seven.  You're doing well, approaching 30 days of getting up earlier and you're really proud of yourself.  Then, you get sick.  Or one of the kids gets sick.  Or you have an attack of insomnia.  You need sleep, so you ditch the six o'clock alarm in favor of waking up when you wake up.  Bingo - the habit you've been working so hard on is toast and you have to start the process all over again.

Time blocking is different.  Instead of simply setting your clock an hour earlier, with time blocking, you're actually putting it on your calendar, along with all those things you'd like to make habits but haven't, like exercise, eating breakfast, and so on.  And scheduling that time in your digital calendar won't do the trick; you need to physically write it down.  Why?

Studies in the last 10 years show that writing things out manually engages the brain differently than typing or speaking.  Virginia Berninger, professor of educational psychology at the University of Washington, has done several studies on the way handwriting impacts memory and reasoning ability.  She says "handwriting differs from typing because it requires executing sequential strokes to form a letter, whereas keyboarding involves selecting a whole letter by touching a key."  Those finger movements when writing by hand active huge areas of the brain involved in thinking, language and working memory - so we remember better, longer when something is handwritten.

In my time management classes and books, I recommend writing things down by hand, even if you also use an electronic calendar or task list, going along with research into how the brain works when you hand-write something.  That's not to say electronic calendars don't have a place; entering your appointments into your electronic calendar after handwriting them into your paper calendar further reinforces your time blocks in your mind.

Some might feel time blocking is too rigid a scheduling, not allowing for enough time to take care of emergencies.  But that's the whole point - most emergencies are not ours to deal with; more likely, it's an emergency because someone else either didn't do their job or didn't plan well, especially in a business setting.  If that someone who didn't plan well is you, well, that's something this method could help with.

Here's how I recommend you use time blocking for effective time management, rather than relying on "habits:"

  • Schedule when you're getting up, set your alarm and then forget you have a snooze button.
  • First thing - schedule 30 minutes to take care of your spiritual side.  It doesn't matter what your beliefs are; just take the time to communicate with yourself, God, nature, meditate, pray, whatever touches your inner self.  I know; it sounds a big fuzzy, but it really gets your day off to the right start.
  • Next, schedule 30 minutes for exercise.  Again, it's up to you how and what you do; the point is to do it.
  • After exercise comes reading.  Schedule 30 minutes to read a book.  Electronic or physical book doesn't matter, so long as you're reading, preferably something related to building your business, but on the weekends, make it something that relaxes your mind.
  • Now, it's time to get down to work.  Start and end each day with 30-minute blocks of time to go over your get-it-done list with no more than five items that have to get done each day and weed through/organize your email.
  • Block out your day in hourly segments, working for 45 minutes straight, without interruption for email, phone calls, etc.  During the last 15 minutes of the hour, get away from your desk, return phone calls, look at your email and then begin again with the next hour.  Follow that 45 on-15 off schedule every day, seven days a week; you'll be amazed how much you get done.
Some would say, "Wait - I have a bunch of meetings.  I can't schedule my day that way."  Actually, you can.  Enter all your meetings and make sure the meetings you're attending are really necessary; we spend altogether too much time in unproductive meetings, so if you can skip it, do so.  Then simply schedule your time around your meetings.

One last big thing - STOP TRYING TO MULTITASK.  There's no such thing.  When you're multitasking, you end up doing half a job on each task, instead of a great job on one thing at a time.  Trying to multitask will leave you frustrated, angry, stressed and rushed, feeling as if you've gotten nothing done.

Give time blocking a try; it might be the key to de-stressing your life, getting more done and having more time to enjoy the life you're working so hard for.