Get More Done by Working in Blocks

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And now, back to your regularly scheduled programming…

 

As part of our month exploring time management, we spent the last article focused on decreasing multitasking.

Multitasking is harmful to our productivity because our brain is actually switching modes back and forth between the two things that we think we’re doing simultaneously.

In getting rid of multitasking, we eliminate that “cognitive switching” that slows our brain down.

But why stop there? Why not take this to the next level and work on making transitions between tasks easier on our brains?

Today, we’re going to explore blocking our time.

Disconnect

We already discussed one way to block our time – Internet-free blocks.

Here, we set a block of time in which we will stay disconnected. During that block we need to stay disconnected no matter what – even if we finish the work that we were trying to get done.

The short-term productivity benefit here is that we avoid switching tasks while also avoiding distractions.

The long-term benefit is that allowing some boredom from being disconnected improves our mind’s ability to focus. By not allowing ourselves the instant gratification that comes from checking our devices, we improve our productivity in the future.

Switching Modes Less Often

You can take this idea even further, though.

If your brain takes extra time to switch modes, then maybe we should switch modes less often.

As we learned in the last article:

“A student who has completed her math homework and is ready to begin her English homework must first decide that she is done with math and ready to begin English (goal shifting) and then turn off the rules of addition and multiplication and activate the rules for reading a story (rule activation).”

It makes sense then, that we can get more done if we block out our time so that we are doing similar tasks together rather than engaging in cognitive switching.

The Basics of Batching

Take a look at your to do list.

Maybe you’ve got some errands, some research, some reading to do, and some emails to write.

Save time by batching these items together.

Gather everything that you need for all of your research work, and then do all of the research consecutively. This allows your brain to stay in research mode even as it moves across projects.

Once you are done with the research, you can move on to the next category of work.

Batching In Action

I have implemented something like this in writing for the blog this year.

After mapping out the broad topics that I want to cover for the month, I take a block of time and just outline.

I go to the first topic and list out everything that I want to talk about, what I want to research further, and key points that I want to include. Then I go to the next article and do the same.

After outlining a handful of articles, I go back and do the research listed in each of those outlines.

After that, I will go back and actually write each article.

This process has proven to be far more efficient than my old method of taking one article at a time and working on it start to finish before moving on to the next.

Reducing Stress

Not only is this method faster, it is also less stressful.

It is much easier to start a task when you’re already in the requisite brain space.

If I’m already researching for one article, I might as well keep going. I’m already geared up and moving forward, so there is minimal resistance to continuing on.

Compare this to handling each article as they come. In that scenario I need to beat procrastination to start each phase as my brain tries to stall me at each cognitive switching point.

This had been a huge problem for me. The new method of creating time blocks for different types of tasks has been incredibly helpful.

The Little Things

Another idea related to time blocking is setting aside blocks for the little things.

It doesn’t feel like much of a time sap to quickly check your email or respond to someone on Twitter or file some paperwork that needs filing.

The problem is that once you account for the lost brain power in switching between tasks, this can add up.

One way to save time, then, is to put all of these little things into their own bloc of time and avoid them at all costs outside of that block.

In The Productivity Project, Chris Bailey recommends having one day each week be your administrative tasks day. If you don’t have a full day to spare, however, time blocks can achieve the same effect.

Where Expectations Meet Reality

Give yourself a block of time for administrative tasks or a block of time for social media.

If you can, give yourself a block of time for checking and responding to email.

If you can’t, then work to minimize switching.

I need to be able to check my email as it comes in when I am at work. Some things that come in require an immediate response.

To address this, I have notifications on so that a little box pops up in the corner of my screen with the sender and the subject line whenever I receive an email.

Based on the sender and the subject I can determine whether I need to read the email immediately. If so, then I can read it and decide whether I need to respond immediately or if I can flag it for response during my normal email block.

This is not ideal for productivity. Ideally I would turn off all notifications and would only check, read, and respond to emails within a set block of time each day. However, we do not live in an ideal world and we need to adjust our expectations to fit reality.

Join the Conversation!

There are all sorts of different ways that blocking your time can improve your productivity. Do you block your time? What blocks do you use that I’ve missed? How helpful have you found it? Let us know in the comments!

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