094: Using Routines to Limit Distractions and Increase Productivity | Tanya Dalton Skip to the content
October 30, 2018   |   Episode #:

094: Using Routines to Limit Distractions and Increase Productivity

In This Episode:

Time blocking and routines are two solid ways to focus on doing things that really matter the most to us. We all function in many different roles and if we don’t intentionally plan our time, we can find ourselves feeling overwhelmed and overstressed. Today, we’re going to be talking about creating routines and utilizing time blocking to help move you closer to achieving your goals and your dreams.

Show Transcript:

The Big Idea

Your days can feel productive and meaningful.

Questions I Answer

  • What are the best tips for being more productive?
  • How do I create a morning routine?
  • How do I make my days feel productive and meaningful?
  • What is time blocking?

Actions to Take

  • Watch this week’s TanyaTV video on How to Create an Evening routine.
  • Take a look at your calendar at the beginning of each year or each month or each week, and block time off. When you’re planning your time, ask yourself how do I choose to spend my time, what are my priorities, and how can I treat them this way. Remember mindfulness isn’t just about paying attention to yourself, but also to others and to the legacy that you’re creating. Make choices that move you closer to achieving your goals and your dreams.

Key Topics in the Show

  • Cultivating and creating intentional habits so you can focus on what’s most important

  • Using time blocking to organize your day instead of just organizing our tasks

  • Overcoming the planning fallacy

  • Adding structure to your life with routines

Resources and Links

Show Transcript

Welcome to season eight of Productivity Paradox with Tanya Dalton. A  podcast focused on using productivity not just to do more, but to achieve what’s  most important to you. Join Tanya this season as she focuses on planning for  success using proven productivity strategies. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes  To Peak Productivity, simply go to inkWELLpress.com/podcast. To get her free checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast.  

Hello. Hello, everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya  Dalton, and this is episode 94. 

Today we’re going to be talking about time blocking and using end of the day  routines to be more productive. I want you to make sure to stay all the way to the  end, because I’ve got a great giveaway that I’ll be sharing details about at the very  end of the show.  

As you know, the focus for season 8 is all about planning for success. Planning  systems are what makes it possible to function in all the many roles we play. I’ve  talked in the past about systems and automations, and the ways that we can really  take the thinking out of it, which opens up and frees our brain to really spend time to  focus on what’s really most important. Productivity isn’t about doing more. It’s about  doing what matters most.  

Time blocking and routines are two really solid ways to focus on doing things  that really matter the most to us. Researchers at Duke University have found that  40% to 45% of our daily actions are actually habits, and I know you’ve probably heard  me give that study in the past because it’s one of my favorites. I love this idea that we  can use habits to our own benefit. We can really cultivate and create intentional  habits so we can focus on what’s most important. 

Think about habits you already have, like putting your keys in the same place  when you come home, or brushing your teeth before you go to bed. These are things  that become automatic, and they help provide a sense of stability and keep us from  just thoughtlessly stumbling through our day. I think that’s a really bad feeling, this  idea of thoughtlessly stumbling through our day. It’s that idea of getting into bed,  and thinking oh, my gosh, I was so busy, I’m so stressed out, what did I do today?  

That’s a really self-defeating thought, when you feel like you’ve stressed  yourself out and you’ve been busy all day long, but you haven’t done enough, or  you’re not even sure what you’ve done. We really wanna live a little more  intentionally, making sure that we’re focusing our time where we really wanna focus  it.  

Former Productivity Paradox guest, Gretchen Ruben, says, “I feel like habits are  freeing,” and I completely agree with her. They eliminate the need for decision  

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making, and they free our minds to really focus on those important things.  Establishing routines also helps us limit the distractions that are all around us,  because there are distractions everywhere. When we’re deliberate with our time  instead of focused for our intentions, we’re more productive.  

Productive people have many traits in common. You often don’t hear them  talking about their tasks, necessarily, or their to-do lists. They talk about their time  and how it’s organized. They talk about prioritizing and using a system to organize  the time they have so they’re making sure they’re doing the important work. 

Time blocking is a way of organizing your day. It’s a way of taking your time  and building it into chunks, with time devoted to each task. It’s a way to combat that  feeling of where does my time go. That’s a terrible feeling, when you don’t know  where your time has gone. Instead, we want to own our time, and we want to be in  charge of it on our own terms. The most important things get done because you set  aside time for them. 

When we shift our mindset to organizing our time, and not just our tasks, it  truly is life changing. You see, time blocking forces us to be realistic with what we can  do. Too often we create these impossibly long lists of what we want to accomplish  each day, and we’re setting ourselves up for failure. Time blocking gives us a dose of  reality, and don’t we all need a little dose of reality sometimes? We’re always busy  and running, and going and doing, and it’s really important to make sure that we’re  not trying to cram so much in our day that it’s unachievable. 

You might remember back in episode 18, when we talked about planning  fallacy, which tells us that most people grossly underestimate the amount of time it  actually takes to do a task. Because we chronically underestimate how long tasks  take, we end up butting one thing after another. We need to make sure that we’re  blocking in some buffer time. This is something you’ve heard me talk about in the  past as well.  

Essentially, estimate how long a task is going to take, and then add 50% more  time. If you know it takes 20 minutes to get yourself and your family out of the house,  give yourself 30 minutes. If you arrive early, great. That’s bonus time. Use that extra  time to read an article that you’ve saved, or a chapter of a book you wanna finish, or  use it to have a deep conversation with your kids. Adding a buffer allows you to give  yourself some grace, and that’s what allows us to live happier more productive lives. 

In order to really understand how much time we need to allot, it’s important to  track our time for at least a week, to get a baseline. Jot down some notes. Start just  making a list of okay, I’m doing these tasks repeatedly, this is how much time I’m  taking. This is how long it takes me to get to work, this is how long it generally takes  me to make dinner, and so on. Then use those as a reference. Before you start just  blocking time blindly on your calendar, take a look at your tracker and see what  you’ve learned there when you’re scheduling in your activities.  

The other thing to consider is your natural rhythms. You’ve heard me talk  before about the ultradian rhythm, which is the cycle our bodies move through on a  daily basis, with about 90 to 120 minutes of focused energy followed by 20 minutes  

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or rest and renewal. I want you to ask yourself these questions before you start time  blocking. What time of day is best suited towards this task? If I feel more creative in  the morning, what tasks do I want to do then? Or if you’re susceptible to the after lunch slump, what activities should I slot in for that time? Really make sure that you’re  keeping those natural rhythms in mind when you’re doing your time blocking. Block  in the important work during your high focus times, and the not-so-important work  during the lower focus times. 

Understanding and realizing these 90 to 120 minute blocks of time really can  contribute to you achieving your vision, because you can focus on making progress  towards your big goals and dreams during those peak times. These fluctuations of  our alertness, they contribute to how effective we are when we’re carrying out our  daily tasks. We can use that to our advantage, too, because we can also set aside  time for our administrative tasks like checking emails, or going through stacks of  paper on your desk during that downtime, during that 20 minutes where we aren’t  really able to focus as well. Do some of the mindless tasks during those times. The  bonus of doing that is that if you have designated email checking times during that  20 minutes, that prevents the constant inbox alerts from being distractions when  you’re doing your bigger work.  

That’s the thing, is we are surrounded by distractions. One study shows that  the average employee spends 13 hours a week on emails, 13. If you’re working full time, that’s over 30% of your workweek on email. Instead, try an email blitz,  responding to emails during your designated times, especially your lower times  during the day. If your goal is something like inbox zero, think of it like a challenge.  How quickly can you delegate and delete and categorize your messages? That’s what  I really want you to do.  

When you’re looking at your day, and you’re wanting to think about blocking in  your time, think about the times when you have the most focus, the most creativity,  and the most energy, and then empower yourself to block your time with those  things in mind. Some people even block entire days. Dustin Moskowitz, co-founder of  productivity app Asana, which is an app that we use actually here at inkWELL Press,  he has a policy of no meeting Wednesdays. That means there are absolutely  positively no meetings scheduled on Wednesdays. This allows his team to dedicate  the entire day to creating and doing, rather than meetings and interruptions. I love  that idea of really eliminating distractions fully on one day of the week. Really it’d be  great if you could do it more than one day a week, but really focusing that time. You  could even do something similar with having designated days where you do meet.  Maybe Tuesdays and Thursdays are your meeting days, allowing Monday, Wednesday,  and Friday to be bigger work focus days. 

Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, has taken this idea even further. He  blocks off his entire day every day. On Monday, the focus is management. Tuesdays  he focuses on products. Wednesday is marketing communications, and so on. Having  themes or objectives for the day’s tasks, that’s a really effective way to limit  distractions. You know that there’s time for each item so you’re not consumed  thinking about them on other days. We do this, too, to a degree. I find this tactic to  be especially helpful when you’re building up your own business. That’s something I  did when I was wearing all the hats for my business. There are far too many hats to  

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wear, so I would carve out a day for each one. When I started, I did marketing  Mondays, team Tuesdays, warehouse Wednesdays, and so on. That allowed me to  focus on the different areas of my business and dive deeper. 

You could do this, too, especially if you manage multiple teams. Give each  team either their own day or their own time where they get your uninterrupted focus  every week. That will keep them from disturbing you at other times, and allow you to  get the deeper work that ultimately helps you to grow.  

Time blocking is a way to block off your time and your mind from other things.  When we block time for specific tasks, essentially we’re prioritizing them. To do this,  though, we have to shift our mindset and our focus on minutes instead of just hours.  This is hard. A lot of our online calendars default to 30 and 60 minute blocks of time.  People like Bill Gates and Elon Musk make use of even the smallest blocks of time. If  you have a small task, you don’t need to give it 30 minutes, you don’t have to give it  an hour. Give it five minutes, or give it 15 minutes. That’s really the most effective use  of our 1440 minutes that we have every day.  

Some tasks don’t need the full 30 minutes, or they don’t need the full hour.  Give them just the time that they need. I want you to ask yourself how can I use my  time more effectively. Make sure you’re thinking through how long a task really takes.  Keep that planning fallacy in mind. For example, maybe you like to start your day  with the morning workout, which is a great part of a morning routine. Based on the  schedule of your gym or studio, that may be from 9 AM to 10 AM, but does it really  only take that time? You have to drive to the studio, and back, which takes 15 minutes  each way, so really you need to make sure you’re blocking your time from 8:45 to  10:15 for this task, again keeping in mind that you need to have buffers.  

You can do this whether you use a paper planner or a digital calendar. Really it  doesn’t matter where you’re doing it. What matters is that when you block time in  your day you’re being specific about your priorities. It’s important to make sure that  we are prioritizing, especially time for personal and professional growth. I think we  often lose sight of that in the business of our days. 

Some offices institute a company-wide power hour. Power hour is a quiet time  with no meetings and interruptions. All employees respect this time, and even look  forward to it. You can do something like that at home. During the summer when my  kids are home we do power hour after lunch, for reading, and development, to allow  them time to explore topics they’re really interested in, or they wanna research.  

Really at its heart, though, time blocking is enabling us to choose when we’re  going to work, and how we can best use our time to move forward to our big goals.  That includes allowing time for things like personal development. It encourages us to  be proactive, rather than just reactive. It really is about being intentional with our  time.  

You’ll find that time blocking and routines are not restrictive at all. They  actually allow you a lot more freedom and a lot more flexibility. You’re always free to  shift your blocks around as necessary. I like to do my time blocking each morning,  

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when I come in and do my planning, because then I can really think about what I  wanna get accomplished, and when I wanna accomplish it each day. 

When you block your time, you’re intentionally choosing to do what matters.  You’re giving those priority items a chunk of focused time so you can be effective.  There’s a really big difference between being effective and being efficient. We wanna  focus on being effective, and to do that we have to move away from the idea of being  efficient, which means trying to do a lot of things all at the same time.  

You’ve heard me talk in the past about how multitasking hurts our productivity,  but researchers at the University of Michigan also found that we’re not more  productive, we actually decrease our productivity by 40% when we try to do two or  more things at once. Even Oprah agrees. She says the whole thing about  multitasking, that’s a joke for me. When I try to do that, I don’t do anything well.  

I can promise you, you’re just like Oprah. You don’t do anything really well  when you try to do too much at the same time. She’s absolutely right. Instead of  trying to do all the things, focus on doing one thing at a time. When we time block,  that’s what we’re allowing ourselves to do. We’re allowing ourselves to do our very  best work, to be present and really eliminate distractions by focusing in on that one  task.  

That’s what I love about time blocking. Time blocking is essentially a routine  that we set for ourselves. I think routines are important because they give us  direction. We don’t have to think about what the first step is, or the next step, or the  step after that. We’ve taken the brain work out of what we’re doing, allowing it to  really spend its calories and its energy on things that are really more important to us.  Having a routine helps limit our distractions, and there are so many distractions in  today’s world. Did you know a typical office worker is interrupted every 11 minutes?  That’s amazing that anyone gets anything done, if that’s the case. When we start our  day with a routine, we’re less likely to get distracted because we’re really very  intentionally making sure that we’re scheduling in the things that are really important  to us.  

Ask yourself what does your routine look like. First thing in the morning, when  you wake up, do you go straight to your phone or your inbox? You’re not alone if you  do. I hear this all the time, and people ask how they can choose another way. Well, I  found that having a routine in place eliminates the need or that pull to do something  unproductive. That’s what routines do. They automate things so you don’t have to  make those decisions. They take the thinking out of it.  

An example of this is part of my morning routine is to take ten minutes to set  the rhythm of my day. I love having those ten minutes to really focus in on what I  wanna accomplish for that day. I’ve reviewed my weekly Kickstart notes for those  items I’ve decided to focus on for the week, and then I create a priority list for that  day. I categorize items as immediate, important, or insignificant. Then once this is  done I block my appointments and these tasks into my daily planner. Then I check my  email, and then I allow other people to start putting things into my calendar. This  routine has added so much structure to my life. That’s what routines do.  

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Just like morning routines are important for focusing your day, end of the  workday routines do that as well. Author and organizational psychologist, Doctor  Woody Woodward, says closing your day in an orderly and positive way is critical to  making that clean transition to the personal side of life. I really believe that’s true. I  like to think of it as closing one door and opening the next. I find that by doing this,  by having a routine, it allows me to compartmentalize my work life and keep it  separate from my home life. Then I can really focus more on my family and the time  we’re spending together.  

For my end of the workday routine, I do something I call my Five Minutes to  Peak Productivity, and I use my notepad, called the Daily Download, to do it. I happen  to have a notepad that walks you through this. You could easily do the same thing on  a blank sheet of paper. All you need is space to reflect, to process, and prioritize.  

Essentially the five minutes go like this. Minute one, I spend writing down  today’s accomplishments. I think about what I did well, what went really good today. I  think a lot of times we forget about the things we’ve done well. We’re so busy  thinking about the things that didn’t go well. It really is important to take one minute  at the end of your day to write down the things that did go well. 

Then for minute two, I assess how I felt. How did I feel about my stress, how  did I feel about the amount of work I put on my plate today? I give myself a quick  assessment. Then for minute three I write down three things that I am grateful for, for  that day. What are three things that happened throughout my day that made today  great? For minute four, I write down one thing I did to work towards a big goal. I think  it’s really important that every single day we’re working towards our big goals and  dreams. That’s just a way to keep myself accountable, and make sure I’m making  small incremental movements towards my bigger goals.  

Then minute five is really for adding momentum for tomorrow. I write down  what are the big tasks I really want to get accomplished for tomorrow. I’m not  scheduling them in. I’m just writing them down, so I’m getting them out of my head  on to the paper, so when I go home at the end of the day I’m really able to focus on  my family. What I love about the Daily Download is I use that as a springboard for my  morning planning. As I mentioned earlier, I spend ten minute at the beginning of my  day planning out that day. My Daily Download gives me a small win to get me started.  I can review what I’ve accomplished from the day before, and I have a blueprint for  what really wanna focus in on that day, and then I can block them into my schedule. 

It’s not just building momentum at the end of our workday. I have a routine  that I use at the end of my day before I go to bed at night, that I’m gonna walk  through as my Tanya TV episode this week. If you’re interested in seeing how I close  out my day so I can go to bed at night, be sure to watch that. You see, time blocking  and routines aren’t just for work time. We should be using these systems to reserve  time for ourselves, even in our personal life. Whether it’s making time to exercise or  garden or craft or read, or do whatever it is your heart so desires, it’s important to set  aside time for yourself every day.  

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Maybe you wanna make it known that you’re unavailable every morning, or  every evening from 6:00 to 8:00, to work on a passion project. By blocking time and  space for these pursuits, you’re saying yes to plans for your future self. 

How do you make this happen? Take a look at your calendar at the beginning  of each year or each month or each week, and block time off. Make time for date  nights, make time for long weekends, make time for long vacations. It’s really  necessary to recharge and refocus. When you’re planning your time, ask yourself how  do I choose to spend my time, what are my priorities, and how can I treat them this  way. Remember mindfulness isn’t just about paying attention to yourself, but also to  others and to the legacy that you’re creating. Make choices that move you closer to  achieving your goals and your dreams. That’s the key to a productive beautiful life. 

I really wanna encourage you to try time blocking, and create some routines  for yourself. As I mentioned, I have an episode of Tanya TV on my productive evening  routine for success. Be sure to look at that, at inkWELLPress.com/YouTube, and you’ll  be able to go straight to my channel. 

Before I sign off, I do want to share with you about this giveaway, because I  believe this giveaway can help you track your time. I’m giving away one Zei. If you’re  not familiar with what a Zei is, make sure you head over to my Instagram feed, where  I will have the entry details. Basically it’s like this cube that you set on your desk, and  you flip it over each time you change tasks, and it tracks your time for you seamlessly.  It sends it to your computer, so you can see exactly how much time you’re spending.  If you’re a freelancer, this is a great way for tracking your time for your clients. If  you’re just a normal everyday person, like me, I love it because I can really see how  I’m choosing to spend my time. As I said, it seamlessly sends it to your computer, and  you get all the information and the data on how you’re spending your time. I’m giving  away one of these on my Instagram feed.  

To go to my Instagram feed, go to inkWELLPress.com/T as in Tanya, D as in  Dalton, Instagram. InkWELLPress.com/TDInstagram, and you’ll find my Instagram  account. You can also go on to Instagram, and look for the username Tanya Dalton,  underscore, Tanya with an O. All right. I would love to see you sign up for that  giveaway because I really do think this is an amazing tool. Even if you’re not  interested in a giveaway, go check it out. Because it’s such a unique and interesting  tool.  

All right. Next week we’re going to be talking about shifting our focus from  business to productivity. I wanna remind you that I will have an Ask Tanya episode  coming up very soon, so you can submit questions at inkWELLPress.com/question.  

All right. Until next time have a beautiful and productive week.  

Thanks for listening to Productivity Paradox. To get free access to Tanya’s  valuable checklist, Five Minutes To Peak Productivity, simply go to  inkWELLpress.com/podcast.