All of us have faced the frustration and disappointment of having too much work or too many tasks left over at the end of our day.
We’ve all experienced finishing a week of life and wondering where it went and whether we accomplished anything significant.
We all need to be able to get our need-to-dos, our should-dos, our want-to-dos done. We all want to become more efficient at getting our tasks DONE . . . instead of forgotten or shuffled around on pieces of paper . . . or added to, and added to, and added to on some electronic screen.
We want to be rescued from the tyranny of the urgent. We need to be empowered to make progress on the most important things.
And we all need a healthy, sustainable balance to our lives. We both need to work hard and refresh regularly. We need space to invest in our faith, work, family, relationships, and our own health.
Sounds too good to be true. Sounds like a pitch for an overpriced seminar from a motivational speaker. But it’s not. It’s just how we feel.
So, I want to introduce you to a practice that might help you take positive steps forward toward those goals. It’s called calendar blocking.
Of course, there’s more that could be said and probably should be said than can be said in this short article. (Don’t get me started on the time robbers of social media and binge watching.) And . . . brace yourself . . . it’s not the silver bullet you are looking for. But I think it can help. So, here goes.
What is it?
Calendar blocking is simply being strategic and intentional about how you spend your time. It’s scheduling chunks (i.e., blocks) of time in your calendar for things you plan to do.
The blocks can be more general, like a category, or they can be a specific activity.
“Administration” or “Appointments” are examples of more general or categorical blocks. General or categorical blocks are representative of certain activities, but the specific tasks or activities within those blocks might change daily. For example, within an “Administration” block of time, you might check email, set up appointments, or complete tasks on your task list.
In an “Appointment” block, you likely won’t be meeting with the same people every day but different people on different days. But you’ve blocked out a time for appointments on particular days that is most suitable for your energy, focus, and rhythm.
On the other hand, “Taking the Kids to School” or “Workout” are examples of more specific activities. You get it. No explanation necessary.
Know your flow
Let’s face it, there are times when you are more energetic, more focused, or more creative. Capitalize on those more energetic and more focused times for tasks and activities that most require that energy and focus.
I don’t know that I can stress this enough. This is a very important consideration when you are calendar blocking.
For example, whenever I can, I block morning hours for tasks and activities that require me to be most focused and clear headed. That’s why I do my devotions in the morning. Because that’s when my mind is clearest and I’m most refreshed. I also do a lot of my study and research and writing and planning in the mornings. Because that’s when I’m at my best to do those things.
I try to block afternoons and evenings for general meetings and counseling appointments. Those require a different level of engagement, which is more suitable for me during that time of the day.
Again, this is my general flow. Sometimes I don’t have control over when I need to meet with someone or the scheduling of a meeting that I’m not leading. But for the most part, that’s how I try to schedule my daily and weekly flow.
Not long ago I was helping someone process through their own calendar blocking. I asked him a simple question, “When do you think you’re at your best for your most demanding tasks?” He said, “Mornings.” Then I said, “So why do you have meetings scheduled in the morning?” He changed the blocking of his calendar and instantly became better at his responsibilities and leadership.
You might start blocking your calendar by adding what I’ll call scheduled commitments. Do you take your kids to school and pick them up every day? Block it. Practices? Games? Block it. Doctors’ appointments? Dentist appointments? Block it. Birthday parties? Weddings? Block it. You get the picture.
These are usually activities or tasks that must be done at certain times of the day and particular days of the week. Often, you don’t have control over when they have to get done. Get them on your calendar, so you truly know what time you have to work with.
Turn tasks into time slots
This is a CRITICAL step to getting done what you NEED to get done. It will help rescue you from the tyranny of the urgent and make sure important tasks and activities get done.
Your tasks need a place to live. And they belong on your calendar. We live in time and space. Tasks, activities, and projects are done at certain times in certain locations. You turn a task into an action when you make it an appointment on your calendar, because they become part of your daily activity and workflow. Just like you have to show up for an appointment with a person, putting your tasks in your calendar makes you show up to get them done.
Just this morning, my calendar notification alerted me to my 8:00 a.m. appointment to write this blog. So, guess what I’m doing?
Assigning a task a time slot in your calendar gives that task worth and value. Making an appointment with your tasks means they matter – that they’re important. A task that stays on a list may not get done. It’s more susceptible to getting ignored or procrastinated. Turning a task into an appointment on your calendar makes it more likely to get done.
Bonus Tip: Batch similar tasks: When you’re blocking your tasks, do similar tasks during the same or concurrent time slots. Don’t go the grocery store on one day, the bank the next day, and then get gas the next day. While you’re out, batch them into one outing.
This even works with administrative tasks. Batch tasks that have things in common together so that, once you get into the flow, you’re likely to be more efficient. For example, when I’m going through my email, I’ll try to batch into that time setting up appointments or making phone calls or sending texts to people with whom I need to follow up or encourage.
I also tend to batch my in-person and phone appointments into single or consecutive blocks of time, as much as I can, during a particular time of the day when I am fresh and can contribute my best.
Create space to refresh
After Jesus sent out the disciples in pairs to preach the gospel (Mark 6:7-13), they returned from their trips and reported what they had done and taught (Mark 6:30). But ”because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat” (Mark 6:31). So, knowing they were tired and needed refreshment, Jesus said, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”
I like how Rick Warren talks about this. He says we need to divert daily and withdraw weekly. Each day, you need a time to refresh. To regather. To refocus. And you need to put it on your calendar.
Refreshment will not only help you become more productive, it’s healthy.
Just yesterday, I had a full day. I started early and wasn’t going to finish until late at night. But I went home for dinner. And after dinner, Julie and I sat down for just 5-10 minutes and enjoyed a cup of coffee together in our living room. I try to find time for refreshment every day. Even if it’s just a little bit. Because I need it. I bet you do, too.
And then each of us needs to withdraw weekly – a sabbath. Remember Jesus words, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). You need a day to refresh and refocus on the Lord. If you allow that day to be treated like any other day, you won’t get refreshment. Block it and plan it for refreshment.
Truth be known, you have more control over your time than you think you have. Yes, you’re busy. No doubt about it. All the more reason to give attention to how you use your time and to make an effort to be more productive and intentional about the time you have.
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