Start being intentional about how you spend your working hours

Last week, I wrote about the pomodoro technique where you use a timer to focus on only one task for 25 minutes. The pomodoro technique is useful for getting past the mental block that keeps you getting started on an important task. It is possible to take this principle one step further. How do you normally plan your day? Do you block enough time for important tasks? Or do you spend your day putting out fires?

Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Some people who we call “productive” seem to have a way of getting more out of their 24 hours than the rest of the people who we label “unproductive (or lazy).” Most tasks can be broadly grouped into 2:

  1. The high value important tasks that add the most value to your goals. These are often the tasks that are not fun but necessary. They are also the tasks that most people delay getting started.
  2. The low value unimportant tasks that don’t always add value to your life but can be fun. An average person might spend a lot of their time doing these second group of tasks at the expense of the first.
A calendar with the word "Agenda" stamped in red across it
Which tasks take the bulk of your time: Important or trivial?

The people who dedicate a certain number of hours each day to tackle high value tasks see tremendous improvements in their productivity. This is what is called time blocking. Time blocking can help you get more out of your 24 hours by increasing the chances of your important tasks getting done. How it works is simple. If you worked 8 hours a day, from 9 to 5, you could block out 3 hours a day to deep focus on your most important tasks.

  1. You could start by time blocking the hour from 9 to 10 to work on your most important task for the day.
  2. A second hour between 11 and 12 could be blocked for calls or a meeting.
  3. A third time block after lunch is useful for responding to email and finishing up what you couldn’t get done earlier.
A blank sheet of paper and an open calender
A pen and paper are all you need to time block

The above example is a simplified one. If you can handle it, you could time block two hours instead of one for deep focused work. It’s essential that you focus on an important task during each time blocks and nothing else. This means no distractions during a time block. Don’t reach for your mobile phone. Switch off mobile data and just work.

“No battle plan survives contact with the opposing army.”

You will notice in the example above, I left a few hours in between time blocks. These intentional gaps necessary to allow your brain rest from deep focus. The gaps also give you some leeway to adjust your schedule based on developments during the day. They ensure an emergency doesn’t completely ruin your deep work plans for the day.

If you haven’t worked with time blocking before, you should start by blocking one hour a day in the morning to work on a task you are most likely to delay. Review your progress after a month. I can assure you there will be an improvement in your productivity. Feel free to share your thoughts below.

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