Time Blocks

With everyone working remotely, the demands on the day seemed to increase exponentially. Many people feel like they have lost control of their schedules with video calls back to back from dawn til dusk. Author Cal Newport proposes to time blocks in his book The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World.

Schedule Breaks

It is easy for the day to eat into lunch and coffee breaks when you don’t have to leave the house. Newport suggests that you make sure to schedule time in your calendar for lunch and breaks.

Intentionally Allocate Your Time and Attention

Set a regular time to plan your week, consider the best way to spend your working hours and map it into your calendar. Schedule blocks of focus time. When you are following the schedule “You know what you’re supposed to be doing, and you don’t want to fall behind”.

“When you intentionally allocate your time and attention, you get way more back than if you don’t. Whatever time you lose planning, you make back five times over the course of the week,”

Cal Newport

Remain Flexible and Continually Optimise Your Plan

Everyone faces interruptions in the working day and no plan is immune to change. So when something comes up, review the priorities for the day and rebuild into the blocks of time available.

It is not essential to stick exactly to the plan, rather it is to establish a working pattern in a series of time blocks. In each time block you apply your effort to the area of highest priority.

By continually updating and optimising the plan you have a clear view on what tasks remain outstanding and how you have chosen to prioritise your work to the available time blocks.

Time blocks help you master your day by:

  • Making best use of small blocks of time – even a few minutes can be best applied.
  • Creating a plan and timeline – helping to know how long the work is likely to take.
  • Structuring your task list and priorities – helping you be most effective with your time.
  • Establish a close to the work day – by creating a routine you can help your subconscious break from the work routine to the relax routine.

Recent studies found that the most productive people take effective breaks. Specifically, they work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes then get back to it. Think about each block of 52 minutes as an Agile Sprint, working with intense purpose followed by 17 minutes of effective rest.

“Employees with the highest productivity ratings, in fact, don’t even work eight-hour days….the secret to retaining the highest level of productivity over the span of a workday is not working longer—but working smarter with frequent breaks.”

Julia Gifford – The Muse

Sometimes referred to as the 100% dedication theory, employees who work with total focus for 52 minutes get more done due to the focus and refreshed energy levels.

Cornell University ran a study in 1999 to see if short breaks correlated with higher productivity. By using a computer program to remind workers to take short breaks. The project concluded workers receiving the alerts [stop working] were 13 percent more accurate in their work. the first observational study to show that short breaks correlate with higher productivity.

“Constant stimulation is registered by our brains as unimportant, to the point that the brain erases it from our awareness,” Lleras said. “So I thought, well, if there’s some kind of analogy about the ways the brain fundamentally processes information, things that are true for sensations ought to be true for thoughts. If sustained attention to a sensation makes that sensation vanish from our awareness, sustained attention to a thought should also lead to that thought’s disappearance from our mind!

Asunori Ariga, Alejandro Lleras 2011

Key Takeaways

  • Time blocks can help you build a routine and rituals to help manage the work from home burnout.
  • Further applying focus time for ~50-52 minutes and then by taking effective breaks you are more likely to be more refreshed and more productive.
DIGEST of an article from TODAY
Time-blocking: the time-management strategy that can help reduce stress
By Stephanie Thurrott
Published: 11th November 2020

and from The Muse
The Rule of 52 and 17: It's Random, But it Ups Your Productivity
By Julia Gifford

and from The Muse
Take it From Someone Who Hates Productivity Hacks—the Pomodoro Technique Actually Works
By Kat Boogaard

and from Science Daily
Brief diversions vastly improve focus, researchers find
By Atsunori Ariga, Alejandro Lleras. 
Published: 8th February 2011

and from Inc.
For the Most Productive Workday, Science Says Make Sure to Do This
Your co-workers might think you're being lazy if you do it right.
By Minda Zetlin

and from The Atlantic
A Formula for Perfect Productivity: Work for 52 Minutes, Break for 17
by Derek Thompson
Published: 17th September 2014

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