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
- Related Episodes: Episode 018: Cushioning Your Time: Build Buffers Into Your Life
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.