We all wish we had more hours in a day, but our best hope of getting more done in a day is to better organize, plan, and spend the hours we do have. One of the most efficient strategies to accomplish this is time blocking, and with the help of the right time blocking apps, you can use it to significantly improve your productivity.
Table of Contents
- What Is Time Blocking?
- What Makes Time Blocking Effective?
- The Best Time Blocking Apps
- Key Tips for Effective Time Blocking
What Is Time Blocking?
Let’s start with explaining the basic idea of time blocking. Think of your work day as unfolding over 8 hours. Each of these hours can be subdivided into “blocks” of 15 minutes, 30 minutes, 45 minutes, or a full hour. You’ll use these incremental blocks to predict how long each of your tasks for the day will take, then schedule those tasks in a way that makes full use of your 8 available hours.
For example, you might have a 1-hour meeting, an hour of a project to do, and 30 minutes of emails to catch up on. You could schedule these in subsequent blocks, taking up 2.5 hours and leaving you with 5.5 hours left.
It’s a simple strategy, but it serves many purposes. It forces you to estimate how long your tasks are taking, so you can better plan for them and learn where you’re wasting time the most. It helps you make the most of your limited amount of time. It also gives you the option to “batch” your small and shallow tasks together into a single block.
Time blocking is related to several other productivity strategies:
- Task batching. Task batching is the process of bundling several tasks together into a single line item, or single time block. For example, let’s say you have two voicemails to listen to, a call to return, 15 unread emails, and 10 unread project management system notifications. You can batch all these together as a single item: “catch up on communication,” and block it for 30 minutes (or as long as you need).
- Day theming. Day theming is great for people who wear many different hats. In this strategy, you’ll be working with bigger blocks that take the span of an entire day; each day of your week will serve a different purpose, so you can remain focused throughout the entire day.
- Time boxing. Time boxing is a strategy that forces you to set an upper limit for the time it takes to do each task. For example, you might commit to writing 2 pages of a proposal within the first hour of your workday.
What Makes Time Blocking Effective?
Why is time blocking effective? Time blocking helps you in several ways:
When blocking time, you’re forced to set firm priorities. You’re allocating time blocks for 8 hours of work, so if you have 12 hours of blocked tasks, you need to figure out which of your tasks can wait or be delegated. This is much easier to do when you have a firm idea of how much time you truly need.
Preventing distractions and interruptions.
Most people wander almost aimlessly through their workday, drifting from task to task in whatever way the day allows them. In this approach, you’re susceptible to distractions and interruptions—if someone asks you for a quick favor, or pops in to have a conversation, you’ll indulge them. But if you’re dead set on completing a block of tasks on your schedule, you’ll be less likely to be affected.
Promoting deep work.
Time blocking allows you to schedule time for “deep” work that requires your focus. This increases your chances of achieving a “flow” state, where your focus and productivity are at their peak.
Managing shallow work.
This is also a great way of managing “shallow” work, which doesn’t demand your complete attention, but is still important. Responding to emails and scheduling meetings are great examples here. With time blocking, you can easily bundle these shallow tasks together and get them all done at once, so they no longer annoy you by sitting idly on your back burner.
Improving time awareness.
When you practice time blocking, you’ll automatically increase your time awareness. When scheduling time for tasks, you’ll be forced to estimate how long each task takes. At the end of each day, you’ll be able to easily determine which of your estimates were correct and which need revisiting.
After just a few days of using one of the following time blocking apps , you’ll have a much better sense of how much time your projects and tasks take from you, and a keener idea of where your productivity can be improved.
Taking advantage of Parkinson’s law.
Parkinson’s law is an informal “law” that states that the time it takes to do something will swell to fill whatever time was allocated. This is commonly used in reference to meetings; if you schedule a meeting for an hour, it will take an hour. If you schedule that same meeting for 45 minutes, suddenly you’ll find you’re able to get the same amount done in less time.
Time blocking gives you the opportunity to schedule less time than you think you need for each task, motivating you to be more productive, make time go faster, and get things done faster.
The Best Time Blocking Apps
These are some of the best time blocking apps available today:
1. Google Calendar.
If you don’t need extra bells and whistles, or if you like the art of manually planning, you could use Google Calendar (or any similar calendar app) for all your time blocking needs. With it, you can schedule tasks, projects, appointments, and events for set blocks of time, then visualize those blocks in one convenient platform.
SkedPal is an app that integrates directly with Google, Outlook, iCloud and other calendars; when you do this, you’ll be able to migrate all your existing tasks and appointments. From there, you can estimate how much time each task or appointment will take, and prioritize it based on its urgency. Once you’ve done this, SchedPal will automatically schedule all tasks on a calendar on your behalf—taking out half the work of time blocking in an instant.
Plan is another calendar-based app that also doubles as an interactive to-do list. It can integrate with Google and Outlook calendars, so you can easily transfer over all your existing data. Once there, you can group your tasks and appointments together in time blocks as you see fit, and rearrange them with a useful drag and drop mechanic.
There’s also Planyway, which functions as a team calendar and timeline specifically for Trello. I’ve written about Trello before because of its utility as a project management and task management system. With Planyway, you can create tasks in Trello as normal, then use Planyway’s integrated calendar to organize and rearrange those tasks in blocked format.
5. Edo Agenda.
Edo Agenda functions as an agenda organizer and a personal workspace. With the journal view feature, you can create new tasks for yourself, set automatic reminders so you don’t forget about them, and define certain tasks as “floating” if they’re shallow or non-urgent. You can also associate your tasks with pictures, making it much easier to visualize your time blocking and task grouping.
Not to be mistaken for a social media craze, TickTick is a time blocking app designed with the Pomodoro technique in mind. With it, you’ll be able to create and compile all your tasks and block them out in a calendar however you see fit. It also features a built-in Pomodoro timer, so you can easily schedule breaks and stagger your workload to achieve peak productivity.
Clockify is a time tracking app at heart, allowing you to use automatic timers to track the hours you spend on tasks each day. However, it also comes with a host of time blocking features, giving you the ability to schedule tasks for predefined time blocks in the future and retroactively analyze your past work with interactive data visuals.
DigiCal is a calendar app that works great as an online organizer. With it, you’ll be able to view all your appointments and tasks using one of seven different calendar views. There are many built-in widgets to help you take advantage of additional time blocking features, or you can customize some widgets of your own.
HourStack is a task management app that can help you time block your day. It allows you to easily estimate how long each of your tasks is going to take, then reconcile that with the amount of time you actually spend on those tasks. Accordingly, it also works as a time tracking tool. Like many of the tools on this list, it comes with features that allow you to edit your time blocks by dragging and dropping, and it integrates with many existing calendar apps.
10. Time Hero.
Similar to SkedPal, Time Hero is another app that helps you automate your time blocking. With it, you’ll be able to link tasks together so you can make sure to execute them in the right order. You can also integrate directly into Outlook, Google Calendar, and other common apps. It’s a great app for teams as well, since it has built-in reporting and team scheduling options.
Key Tips for Effective Time Blocking
If you want to be effective with time blocking, you need more than just apps for time blocking; you’ll want to follow these important tips:
Choose the best tool for you.
I’ve listed 10 of the best time blocking apps in the preceding section, and there are dozens more to explore. However, it’s impossible to rank any individual app as being better than their contemporaries. While one person may prefer an in-depth, highly customizable app with many features and functions, another may prefer something simple and straightforward. Use the time blocking app that best aligns with your goals and your work style.
Be firm, yet flexible.
Time blocking requires a delicate balance between firmness and flexibility. The strategy derives its power from forcing you to follow a strict schedule; when you allocate 30 minutes to a specific task, you need to spend those minutes focused on that task. However, if you’re too rigid, it can prevent you from adapting to new information and new priorities. Be as rigid as you can, while still accommodating new information as it becomes available to you.
Allow empty space for catching up.
New time blockers are often tempted to fill their schedules tightly, utilizing every minute of their 8-hour workday. However, this is bad for two reasons. First, it encourages you to skip or ignore breaks. Second, it leaves you practically no wiggle room to take care of newly urgent or unforeseen tasks. Try to leave yourself at least 5-10 minutes between each block of tasks, which you can use as a break or to improvise some work. Then, leave at least a few larger breaks (15 minutes or more) throughout the day. Use these blocks for breaks if you can.
Experiment and adapt.
Don’t start time blocking under the pretense that this is magically going to solve all your productivity issues. This is a process that requires experimentation and adaptation. Try out a few different time blocking apps, and tinker with a few different methods. Over time, you’ll learn which strategies work best for you, the best way to schedule your common tasks, and how to boost your personal productivity in other ways.
Are you interested in improving your awareness of how you’re spending your time? Or do you need help organizing other areas of your life, like your email inbox and communications? EmailAnalytics might be the answer. Once integrated with your Gmail account, EmailAnalytics will help you analyze the emails you send and receive, and the threads in which you participate. Sign up for a free trial today, and learn more about how it can help you get more done every day.
Jayson is a long-time columnist for Forbes, Entrepreneur, BusinessInsider, Inc.com, and various other major media publications, where he has authored over 1,000 articles since 2012, covering technology, marketing, and entrepreneurship. He keynoted the 2013 MarketingProfs University, and won the “Entrepreneur Blogger of the Year” award in 2015 from the Oxford Center for Entrepreneurs. In 2010, he founded a marketing agency that appeared on the Inc. 5000 before selling it in January of 2019, and he is now the CEO of EmailAnalytics.