Time: Blocking it, Batching it, Boxing it

Time is precious. We all know it on some level as the one thing we cannot make more of. This can be freeing or intimidating, depending on the person you are and the stage of life you're in.

While I don't have any true practical tips on looking at time itself in a healthy manner, I do indeed have a few tips on managing said time.

time boxing with FIVE:thirty website designs

Enter Time Blocking. Also known as Time Boxing (which- let's face it- just sounds awesome) and it's cousin, Batching.

Utilizing time boxing/blocking and batching:

First, let’s do a quick run down on each practice. I love this definition of time blocking (also called time boxing) found on projectmanager.com- "Time blocking is the practice of scheduling out everything in your entire day, including meals, work projects and personal time in order to better manage time and discover where precious hours are either being wasted or underutilized."

While I'm not one to instruct anyone to plan out every minute of their entire day (especially if you have children you spend any of those minutes with), the time blocking concept can be helpful to almost every business person, ensuring that you stay on tasks during your allotted work times. Think of this as scheduling your work like a meeting, and honoring (aka- not cancelling it) as you would a meeting with an actual person.

Now for batching. At its core, batching is grouping like with like. Tasks that have a similar “feel” or process can be grouped with similar tasks and completed together to create cohesion and efficiency, (especially when coupled within the time constraints mentioned above). One way to think about this concept is to understand that your brain has a hard time shifting from one type of work to another. Take my work: shifting my brain from design concepts to email coordination is switching my brains regions from right to left, and that transition does seem to cause somewhat of a "lag". Consider this quote from the American Phycological Association: "Meyer has said that even brief mental blocks created by shifting between tasks can cost as much as 40 percent of someone's productive time."

Nearly half! It's clear that for the average person, grouping like tasks together (batching) and completing them in one session (time boxing or blocking) greatly helps your productivity. So think: “what tasks go together and when can I do them best?”

Consider these simple ideas of how implementing time blocking/boxing coupled with batching might help your business flow:

  1. Set a consistent weekly schedule to complete tasks around your peak times. Theme days can greatly help reduce lag time between figuring out what to do next moment to moment. If Tuesdays are dedicated to coordination and emailing, logistical issues, invoicing, etc., you might find a much easier time staying on task throughout the day. Pay attention to your personal rhythms of life as well. If you dread Mondays, try not to prepare work that typically drags you down even more. Knowing you'll have- for example- Wednesdays to compete more creative work, theme days can also help your brain stay focused knowing it will have sufficient time for each type of work.

  2. Set aside large chunks of time less frequently to work on one type of work that typically gets pushed to the back burner. Think creative work like brainstorming far into the future, conceptualizing, creating marketing strategies, etc. This type of work seems to easily fade to the background when we’re faced with actual work for clients or deadlines.

  3. Set your phone to night mode (or do not disturb mode) while in a time block assigned to intense brain work. Not all work is created equally when it comes to brainpower. Tasks that require intense focus (or would benefit from intensity) should be done with zero distraction when possible.

  4. Use your to do list inside a calendar coded with the type of work you'll be doing. Set your tasks up within a calendar, assign when you’ll do them, and devise a system identifying which type of work you'll be doing. This system will help you easily visualize how to sort your tasks and day. You could code "C" for creative work and "L" for logistical. Think "C-Brainstorm Client X Details" and "L- Tackle emails". Pro-tip: Estimate more time than might be needed while you’re still learning how long your tasks actually take.

  5. Consider scheduling “buffer” times immediately following work tasks. Buffer time is a slot of time where you have smaller, easier tasks you can do should your scheduled work be completed quicker than you projected. Buffer time tasks should be a list of true "back-burner" projects that have no deadline, but you'd love to get knocked off your list. A good buffer task is “create template emails for new client inquiries” rather than “finish the project due this week”.

Managing your time wisely takes... well.. time. It's not a project you can neatly sort and figure out in one week, so make sure you give new ideas and methods a fair try before dismissing them. Think of how exciting it can be to develop clear systems for your brain to stay on task so you can complete work faster!

If you're looking to take some to-do's off your calendar, consider getting in touch with FIVE:thirty for our social media management packages. We'd love to help you take something off your list, brain, and calendar!