Time Blocking - A brilliant way to get things done

Time Blocking - A brilliant way to get things done

Time blocking is a super useful exercise for both work and life. I use it all the time but it’s not without its downsides; time doesn’t respond well to being managed and a calendar has no awareness of your energy and attention.

In a nutshell, time blocking is about scheduling everything you have going on in your life into some form of calendar. There are many benefits to this – which we’ll cover in this post and video.

You can watch the video where I introduce my giant time blocking calendar or continue reading below. Or listen to the Cultivated Retreat podcast, or read on below.

Or maybe you'd like to listen to an episode about this on my podcast.

I started time blocking several years ago and it really helped me to get things done. I’d resisted this approach for years after I worked with a tyrannical leader who had this method of running his days. I’ve since been able to break this association between him and this method and have successfully got over that psychological scarring.

By scheduling everything in our calendars we can see some very positive effects.

Prioritisation is obvious

Once we have added everything we have to do on our calendar we naturally have a prioritisation process. Not everything we want to do in life will fit on our calendars…….after crying and realising we may have taken on too much we can then prioritise.

What must be dropped? What can I move? What must I absolutely do?

Note: Be sure to include leisure time, family time, travel time and the like on your calendar. Don’t encroach on that just to get one more meeting done. Family first.

By seeing all of our work and activities (and this is a core principle of agility) we can make informed choices about where we focus our energy and attention.

When we have work and activities scheduled, listed or held all over the place, we can quickly become overwhelmed and spend our time on activities that lead nowhere.

We can say No

When we use time blocking to schedule everything in our calendars, particularly at work, we have a good reason to say no to incoming requests for pointless meetings and other people’s agendas.

It’s a good way to say “No”.

“Sorry, I have a meeting at this time already.” And if you do have a clash, you get to choose which one to say yes to and which to say no to.

Always schedule your work in your calendar also. That report you need to write – schedule it. That code you need to deploy – schedule it. It helps to see what your day looks like and it also stops other people booking meetings in your maker time.

Of course, we may be way off with our estimate of how long it takes to complete a task, but we’ll get better over time.

When we don’t schedule our work in our calendars, don’t be surprised when people book meetings, and we get derailed from what we want to do. There’s a classic saying in the world of work “Show me someone’s calendar and I’ll show you their priorities” – so true.

Schedule everything. Thinking time, relaxing time, creative time, work time, meditation, lunch, breaks, exercise, time with family – everything.

The power of digital calendars (and I use Google Calendar) is you can set up recurring tasks to form habits or block out recurring event.

Separate Calendars

You can also use multiple calendars for time blocking, or you can colour code them to make it more obvious what your commitments are. This way you can see, at a glance, where your time is being spent.

It becomes easier to spot patterns, waste and commitments that aren’t in line with your pillars of life and commitments.


I like to print my weekly calendar and use analogue ways of checking off my commitments and routines. This way I can use a pen for rapid modifications, notes and ideas – which can then be replicated in the digital calendar.

It is visual

The big benefit, as mentioned earlier, is that a calendar with all of your work on it is very visual. It is obvious where you have time and where you do not. It is pleasing to see your week, so you’re not swayed and pulled around by other people.

It’s a plan. It might not go to plan but its a guide to your day or week. It helps you get clear on what is possible in a week or day, rather than piling more on your todo list 🙂

There are some challenges with Time Blocking though. I will cover these below//

Energy and attention isn’t the same as time

We often have more time than we do energy and attention. Energy and attention are life, and as such we should guard it wisely.

Some things on your calendar will give you energy, some will consume energy and some things (and people) will grab our attention when we don’t want them to.

Time blocking only shows time, so be aware of how your own energy flows and what activities give or take energy, and schedule them wisely.

It’s not uncommon to want to do it all and focus on productivity and leave nothing for our family. Or cram our days with tasks only to find we lack the energy to get them done. Tomorrow will be better or different right? So, we repeat this over and over.

Managing energy and attention is a very personal thing. We are in different seasons of life. Study your energy and attention and schedule accordingly.


When scheduling activities, we can often under-estimate how long things will take.

We may need to context switch even though we are in the flow. Bad idea as it can sometimes take a lot of time to get back into the work – flow is important.

We may end up re-scheduling other things that were actually important to us when we planned. Or we cut tasks short and never return leaving lots of open loops of work.

We may end up multi-tasking, which is a myth, but we try it, and we get nothing done and everything slips further rather than just a few things.

The best way to try and get better at estimating is to keep doing it. Keep learning – and leave some slack in your schedule. Time blocking is not about filling your calendar to the brim with work and deliverables, it’s about scheduling what’s important to you and protecting your calendar.

Neglect our personal lives

Go Go Go. Grind. Hustle. Never take a day off.

It’s tempting for many people but that’s not a life (in my opinion). We are in different seasons of life with different motivations, so it’s a personal choice but be honest with yourself. Do you really want so much of your day consumed with work? With no breaks? With no leisure time?

It can be tempting to schedule lots of productivity at the expense of the things that are really important in life. It’s why I always start my scheduling with the Pillars of Life and then put work around them. It’s why I always suggest you schedule leisure and family time.

Nothing but admin

Sometimes plans don’t go as we expect and we spend all day re-arranging tasks and activities and getting nothing done.

Keep some slack, notice when all you’re doing is moving things around and focus on re-prioritising your day or week and ensure you move things accordingly. Do you need to drop something? Do you need to start again? Do you just need a few tweaks?

When new and immediate things pop up, you’ll need to be flexible enough to deal with them – and then get back to the scheduled activity.

There is no point ignoring what is immediate and urgent because of the time blocking. No harm in not achieving the many things we have in our lives, so long as we don’t let that deviation from the schedule become an everyday occurrence.

Not every week will be the same

One thing I see people doing with time blocking is simply setting up recurring tasks and hoping each week will be the same. This is a good thing to do for certain routines and habits, but not every week will be the same.

I tend to plan my week on a Sunday evening by moving the various recurring blocks around (as they are typically pillar items) and then filling in the gaps with emerging activities. It works for me, but I spent a long time getting this routine going. Play around and find what works for you.

There you have it, that’s how I use Time Blocking too. Let me know.