3 easy steps to be more productive
Time blocking is the key to getting more of the right stuff done.
It’s almost embarrassing to admit, but there was a time when I didn’t effectively plan my day. In my defense, my old profession was a teacher and in reality the clock told me what to do (e.g. teach this during 1st period, this class during 2nd …). As a school administrator, I wasn’t told where to be as often. Like an author, the blank page I stared at was my calendar. As an entrepreneur, everything I do is a blank page — both a gift and a curse.
I wanted to become a master of my time so I researched what other high-performing individuals did. The answer was clear: Time blocking.
Give yourself the gift of deep work and become irreplaceable.
There is a difference between deep work and shallow work.
Shallow work is the low-level hum that is always there. Creating agendas, responding to email, sending out invoices. Shallow work helps you maintain your job. Deep work is something different altogether.
Individuals who invest in deep work create massive value for their organizations and as a result, they become indispensable — a linchpin. Deep work often gets put off because of the urgent quality of shallow work. The solution is simple. Sometime early in your workweek give yourself the gift of 1.5–3 hours to work on a major project and push it forward to completion. The investment of your focus and execution during your deep work time will dramatically change the results you are currently getting.
This one tactic alone will set you apart from the majority of your peers.
Use the power of batching: it’s what all super-productive people do.
Batching is an underutilized productivity tool available to all.
Once deep work is set on your calendar, then start placing blocks of time to batch similar tasks. Instead of checking email intermittently throughout the day, check email once for 30–60 minutes at the beginning and end of the day. By giving yourself the constraint of time, you force yourself to focus and avoid wasting time on shallow activities. Anything that is a similar task you can batch.
When I was a principal it looked like this:
- Creating the week’s agendas for all meetings at the same time.
- Writing up observation notes and completing agendas at the same time.
- Signing checks and other bureaucratic forms at the same time.
- Returning phone calls at the same time.
Multitasking can zap your productivity by 40%. Why do that intentionally?
Imagine you are on a date with your partner. A romantic evening is planned and you want to get to the restaurant as quickly as possible. You have two routes ahead of you.
OPTION A is an open highway with no traffic.
OPTION B is another highway with stop-and-go traffic.
Which route do you choose?
By batching work you choose OPTION A. If you multitask, you are intentionally choosing to drive in traffic.
Here is how to estimate and plan your calendar with confidence.
I learned this lesson the hard way.
I used to overschedule my calendar. Consistently this leads to negative outcomes in my life:
- I sorry for myself or frustrated that I didn’t get done what was “planned.”
- I turn into a big jerk.
- I am less enjoyable to be around.
- Then I judge myself for being a jerk and I produce lesser quality work.
I sometimes still make this mistake.
What helped me learn how to accurately schedule my calendar was doing a time audit. For two weeks I used a free app (Toggl) to measure how long it took me to complete recurring tasks. What I learned after two weeks is that I was terrible at estimating how long my work took. Sometimes I was off by as much 3.5x the real amount of time. This one step helped me get more done by making my calendar less busy.
In this article, I didn’t address where you put recurring meetings and many other kinds of tasks that can go on your calendar. Nor did I talk about buffer blocks and the gift of “white space.” For a deeper dive into time blocking, check out this blog post and if you like, sign up for a free course on creating your ideal week.