Calendar Blocking: My experience, thoughts and advice
With a busy, hectic schedule comes the importance of managing your time effectively, so that you can be your most productive, efficient and content self. But how do you ensure you're managing all of your commitments and finding time to live life, especially when life post-lockdown has likely meant you're eager to take on as many opportunities as you can?
One of the most constructive ways for managing your time is writing everything down and making a note of what you've got going on and coming up in the near future. There's lots of ways to do this: bullet journals, list making, using your phone calendar, etc.
After trying numerous planners (yearly, monthly, daily), apps for scheduling commitments and more, I've never truly settled with a way to track and monitor my time. So, when I was looking for a way to ensure I could manage all my commitments as I entered my final year at university, I turned to calendar blocking. During recent months, I've become a calendar blocking addict.
The start of a new year is the perfect time to reset, reflect and consider changing things up in your day to day life. So, whilst I'm still finding my feet with calendar blocking and navigating ways I can use it most effectively, I thought I'd share a blog post on the things I've learnt about 'blocking time' and some tips for if you're looking to start using a calendar for this purpose as 2022 unfolds.
What is 'calendar blocking'?
In its simplest terms, 'calendar blocking' denotes blocking time off for everything you want to get done in the day, designating specific time slots to specific things so you schedule your day around what you need to get done.
I can't remember the first time I heard the term 'calendar blocking', but the moment that provoked me to give it a go was when I watched the incredible Hannah Witton try it in a YouTube video last year. Watching how she blocks time in her own calendar, it struck me that calendar blocking might be something that would work for me. In the past, I have struggled with being strict with myself about how long I spent on individual tasks. For example, I may envision working on a university assignment for a certain period of time, but if I didn't allocate myself a time slot to do it within (with a firm start and firm end time), I could keep working on that assignment for hours and completely lose track of the day. Calendar blocking seemed like a possible solution to this problem, and so far, it seems to have worked.
How I use calendar blocking
My chosen medium for calendar blocking is Google Calendar. It's free to use, accessible on my phone and laptop, very user friendly and synchs to your Google account, which I love because it feels like everything I do to be productive is connected to one digital space. I block everything, from the moment I wake up to the time my working day ends. If I want to start my day at 7am, I'll block time to eat breakfast, get ready and head to wherever I'm going (the library, for example). If I want to finish all my work by 5pm, I'll block the time up until 5pm and leave the succeeding hours blank, so I know that time is for myself and cannot be used for anything else.
I also use colour coding in my calendar. Anything to do with my university studies (lectures, seminars, study sessions, assignments etc.) are in one colour, work-related tasks outside of university (freelance jobs, radio commitments etc.) are in another, fitness and training time is in another, and so on. Using colours helps me visualise how much time I am giving to different commitments, so I can monitor whether I'm spending too much time on certain aspects of my life (university, for example). And, it makes my calendar very aesthetically pleasing.
Thoughts on calendar blocking - does it work?
In my experience, one of the most beneficial aspects of calendar blocking is how it offers you a clear idea of how much time you realistically have in your day. I'm a visual learner, so once I schedule my university teaching hours, professional work and extra-curricular commitments into the calendar, alongside travel time, meal times and time to spend with friends and loved ones, I can visualise how much time I have outside of these hours to study and work. This has really helped me stick to select times for tasks and keep track of everything I need to achieve in any given day.
Another benefit of calendar blocking is contingent on the format you use: by this, I mean whether you use a digital calendar or a paper calendar. As I use Google Calendar, I am able to change around the blocks of time as it suits me very easily, simply by dragging blocks into different places on the calendar sheet. This becomes helpful if you need to change things around in your calendar. For example, if I’ve blocked time for writing an essay at 9am but I’d like to switch this block for reading some set material for a seminar (which I originally scheduled to do at 11am), I can easily switch this in the calendar. This, of course, has the potential for abuse if you constantly push your commitments back further and further and constantly swap things around so that you end up cultivating unproductively. However, I love the flexibility digital calendar blocking offers you to wiggle your tasks round if what you envisioned doing at certain times you don’t feel like doing in the moment. Crucially, this flexibility has not undermined how effective calendar blocking has been for helping me see how much time I have to dedicate to individual tasks. This may be more tricky if you choose to use a manual/paper calendar, however you can always scribble things out and use arrows to reflect the change in schedule. With a digital calendar, however, you can simply switch blocks around with a click of a button.
I also like how the time is tracked live in your calendar; a line appears throughout the day to show you where you should be in your schedule at any particular time, and the preceding blocks are blurred out. This is a great visual reminder that you need to keep moving through your tasks and assists you in ensuring you don't get too caught up in one block when you should have moved onto another.
A wonderful element of Google Calendar is that you can share your calendars with other people. Admittedly I don't have use for this feature right now, however I can see the benefit of it for those who manage/work within a team, as you can sync calendars and allow others to see how your day is planned; I imagine this is particularly useful for collaborative work and scheduling meetings.
Finally, I love how everything is in one preview. I can view my whole week in one shot, and it means I can keep a constant track of what is coming up, how long I have until deadlines, and when I can take some time off for myself. Additionally, if something unexpected comes up that means you have to alter your schedule, you have the ability to see where the gaps in your calendar are so you can swiftly move tasks to a later date.
Tips for using calendar blocking
Find a medium that works for you: I use Google Calendar, however it's important to find the platform that works for your style of scheduling and time management, as this is a big part of whether you'll enjoy calendar blocking and find it productive. I like the way you can see the whole week, month, or day as you choose and the ability to colour code blocks, but what are your prioritises when using a calendar? Think about what features you feel will help you on your journey to becoming your most productive and organised self, and then have a perusal of the options available to see which ones align with your preferences.
Allow yourself to be flexible: Don't see the blocks of time as fixed and unchangeable. If you have to change things around, that's totally fine. See calendar blocking as something that can help you manage your time, rather than hindering your flexibility and restricting you from changing things up as and when you need to.
Don't block all your time: It's easy to timetable every second of the day, especially when you see empty blocks and are then tempted to fill it with something. Leaving space blank offers you the flexibility to do with this time what you wish.