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Blocktober: A 31-Day Time Blocking Challenge

October is officially here, which means it's time for our tenth monthly challenge of the year! Join us and finish the last quarter of 2019 out strong.


We've talked everything from meditation to kindness so far, and this month's challenge is a great way to pull all of the new habits you've been working on together.

The goal of "Blocktober" is simple: Block off your calendar for the month of October. Then stick to the schedule you make!

If you want to learn more about time blocking and its advantages, check out this article. And if you're already sold on its potential to make you more productive, focused, and happy, get started with the following tips!

1) Plan ahead

Look at what you need to do for the week, and block off time on your calendar accordingly. You can decide the cadence that makes the most sense for you, i.e. blocking off the entire month at once, blocking off a week at a time, or a hybrid thereof.

What things do you need/want to do each day? Have an important meeting every Thursday you need to prep for? Block off prep time and meeting time.

Want to go for a run every morning at 7? Create a recurring event so that time is accounted for each day. Want to meditate for 10 minutes every Friday? Schedule it in advance. Always pick up the kids at 4:30? Block it off. Which brings us to #2....

2) Build a routine

If each of your days is wildly different, you'll find yourself less focused and more overwhelmed. Routines and rituals have tremendous benefits, and by bringing a bit of elementary-school-esque discipline to our work day (remember how excited you'd get for recess or your favorite class? Imagine recreating that kind of reward during your work day!), we can be more present while we work.

The key here is that we shouldn't just create recurring events for the obvious things, like picking the kids up. We should also create recurring events for any tasks we know we'll need to do each day. Get 10 new emails a day? Block 30 minutes off to answer them all at once, and snooze them when you're doing work that requires critical thinking.

Chances are you won't know exactly which tasks you need to do each day, but you will know what kinds of tasks you have to do. You could choose buckets like writing, research, and data analysis. Then schedule 15 minutes a day to slot your more specific tasks accordingly.

  • For example, if your boss asks you on Monday morning to write an email update for investors, and you have 90 minutes scheduled for "writing" each day, check and see which specific tasks you have slotted. If you have time to handle the task same day, add it to the "details" space on the calendar invite.

3) Decline or reschedule meetings *in advance* when necessary

It's important to learn about when you work best (if you're not sure, there's a whole "when-to" book to help you learn!). Sometimes, meetings will get in the way of that. When possible, decline or reschedule meetings that interrupt the blocks of time when you're most productive.

Lots of work (think anything creative or problem-solving oriented, like writing or coding) requires getting in a sort of "flow" state. "Makers" often need at least a few hours to get in that flow, so if meetings are interrupting that dedicated time, speak up and reschedule them!

This is a great time to mention that blocking your calendar in advance will prevent folks from putting non-stop 30 minute meetings on your calendar and sucking up your whole day!

4) Don't underestimate how long work takes & schedule breaks

This brings us naturally to point four. It's easy to convince ourselves that we write killer blog posts in an hour, or that we only need 20 minutes to answer needy emails from clients. But that's often because we're thinking strictly of how long something takes us when we're at peak focus.

To actually be at peak focus, we often 1) need a warm-up and 2) need breaks. So if you're a writer who always takes 20 minutes perusing semi-relevant articles to get started, account for that time.

And if you can bang work out for 3 hours straight once you're in a flow-state, give yourself a break afterwards. None of us can keep going non-stop, so you absolutely need to be realistic about the length of time you block off for tasks, and then you need to pad these tasks (especially the more exhausting ones) with breaks.

5) Don't cancel on yourself

This is perhaps the most important item on the list. If you put 30 minutes on your calendar M-F to read the latest research in your field, do it. You and this time are important. Don't cancel it just because something seemingly more pressing comes up.

And if you're convinced that this would be the first thing you'd cancel if something "urgent" came up, ask yourself why you're doing it in the first place, and what you can realistically commit to. Then maybe consider making it twice a week instead of five days a week, and commit to that.

This goes for the morning run you schedule, the afternoon meditation break, etc.... Your plans with yourself are no less important than your plans to check in with your boss or meet your friend for drinks after work. The stuff that no one is directly holding us accountable for is the easiest to drop when things get busy, but putting ourselves first will help us be more productive in the long-term.

----

Need some inspiration? Here's a sample week from my calendar. Feel free to go as crazy with color coding as you like:


So block off your calendar, and go forth and be productive!

(And be sure to tell us how you do and what other scheduling tools you like to use in the comments!)

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