Blocking Productivity

Let’s face it, there are not enough hours in the day to do everything that we want to do on top of the things that we have to do. While high school and college teach you (indirectly) how to make endless to-do lists, one thing that isn’t touched on much is how to actually accomplish those lists. So when you are starting a small business and trying to make it more than a side hustle, juggling life, work, and your passion get really hard.

All those people on social media who post pictures that make it all look effortless are lying (see my other blog post on this: I’m a liar,… sometimes). How do you continue to be productive while not getting burnt out from your full-time job, your home responsibilities, and your passion project? Our solution is block scheduling.

There are some people that just sit down and do not move until every task is completed. I am not one of those people. I get antsy, my mind starts to wander to guilt for sitting for too long, I start thinking about all the other things I have to do, etc. Thankfully, there are studies that show taking small breaks, regardless of the length of those breaks, or the length of the time spent on the activity actually improves productivity. This Forbes article published in 2017 talks about this “pulse and pause” method, which quotes Tony Swartz of saying:

“Humans naturally move from full focus and energy to physiological fatigue every 90 minutes. Our body sends us signals to rest and renew, but we override them with coffee, energy drinks, and sugar… or just by tapping our own reserves until they’re depleted.”

While some people may think that they are being more productive by just plowing through it, really they are just depleting their energy reserve and are on the fast track to burn-out mode. This isn’t like pushing through a hard work out or finishing a bunch of mindless work like packaging, this is about the tasks that take real thought, real planning, and real creativity.

I swear this was me in College … except female, and a lot fewer stickers on my laptop.

Then there are people who claim to be expert multi-taskers. There are enough studies that prove that this is just physically and mentally impossible. Like this NPR article published back in 2008 that:

Humans, they say, don’t do lots of things simultaneously. Instead, we switch our attention from task to task extremely quickly.”

This switching back and forth quickly may make you look like you are being productive, and give off that sought-after image of “always being busy”, but its unfortunately just a facade. Being able to accomplish more than one task at the exact same time is just not realistic, just think about all the reasons behind banning texting and driving. You just can’t do both, and the studies show it is impossible.

So we can’t multi-task and we can’t do something for more than 90-mintues without losing productivity… what do we do? This is a huge shout out to my mom for showing me the infallible solution, Block Scheduling. Yep, going back to high school with block scheduling- just like the scheduling of classes, this strategy breaks up your day into chunks that you are only focusing on one topic.

Let’s say that you work a 9-5 job. You know that you have to wake up by 6:30 am to workout for an hour, make your lunch, take care of some chores and then get ready for work. Then you come home and you know that you need to cook dinner and prepare for the next day before collapsing on the bed for sleep. Between all of that, you know you have about 3 hours of possible work time that are not taken by your daily responsibilities. So you then chunk it out.

I know that I can concentrate (hard-core) on something for 20 minutes before needing a stretch break. So I take those three hours and block out 20-minute segments with 5-minute breaks. Then after I’ve drawn that out on a schedule (the best ones are from The Scattered Squirrel Blog) you then assign a task for each of those 20 minutes. You don’t have to complete the task in that block of time, but you have to devote all of your energy and mind power to that task for that block of time.

I don’t know how I lived before discovering this website, seriously. And I’m a planner!!

Before you know it those three hours have passed and you have completed way more on your to-do list than you would have by just sitting down with a pint of ice cream and telling yourself you will not get up until you finish your to-do list. This timed aspect also puts a sense of urgency into your head, which often produces creative solutions to your tasks, or new directions with things that you may have thought were road-blocked before.

This is just one version of block scheduling, it isn’t by the hour but it is breaking up our tasks by the day, and then after this step, we are able to assign a task a specific amount of time in that day

This is just one strategy, however, I (and my mom) have found it to be incredibly useful not just for productivity sake, but also as a way to clear your mind. You know that for those 20 minutes, or whatever length of time, you will only be focusing on one single task. Nothing else is allowed to occupy your brain. Just that one task that you will either finish or be far closer to finishing.

Figure out how many hours, or even minutes, that you know you can devote to your hobby. your responsibilities, or your goals. Divide those hours or minutes up into chunks and assign each chunk just one specific task. Plan brain breaks between some of those chunks to stay on target. 

This is often the way I can motivate myself to do things that I don’t particularly like to do, like figure out our sales taxes. It isn’t hard, but for some reason, I always think that it will take hours to do. In reality, it takes me about 30 minutes maximum. So if I block out 30 minutes in my schedule to do it, not only will it be completed but now I won’t be worrying about it for the next week because I keep putting it off.

What do you think? Do you use this method? Do you use something else? Tell us below in the comments!