I Time-Blocked For 500+ Days — And Had This Magical Revelation

Photo: David Gyung / Shutterstock
woman with pink hair working

If you time block every day for a year, your whole life would change.

I’m not even kidding.

This seemingly insignificant micro-habit is so powerful. It completely changes your relationship with time. And allows you to make the most of your limited hours on this planet.

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If you don’t know what time blocking is, it’s simply a method that involves dividing your day into 30-minute blocks and assigning tasks to them.

In this article, I want to discuss how time blocking for 500+ days helped me in life.

Here are 5 magical revelations I had when I started time-blocking for 500+ hours:

1. I ended up permanently ditching the “I don’t have time” excuse

Most people believe that they don’t have time to do this or that. And the psychological reason is simple enough.

It’s a way to avoid responsibility. “I don’t have time” is a defense mechanism developed by your ego.

“It’s not me. I want to make a change. It’s just that life is not allowing me to do so.”

However, when you time-block, something interesting happens. You lay out your day on a piece of paper. And then you start filling out the blocks with tasks. When you do so, you’ll start to realize that even after accommodating all your important tasks — there’s still time left, especially on days off work.

On the one hand, your ego is lying to you — “I don’t have time.” But time blocking counters this. It tells you — “You have time.” And it gives you physical proof. Hence, when you do this every day for a long time, the message keeps repeating itself. And it subconsciously rewires you to ditch the “I don’t have” time excuse.

2. I found the perfect balance of planning and spontaneity

Before time-blocking:

  • My days were not planned.
  • Life was too erratic.
  • Didn’t achieve many long-term results because I didn’t allow my actions to compound.

With time-blocking (as a beginner):

  • My days were overly planned.
  • Life felt too mechanical.
  • I clocked in the hours to achieve my long-term goals but paradoxically failed to enjoy the present.

With time-blocking (as a veteran):

  • I found the perfect balance of planning and spontaneity.
  • Planning allows for disciplined action and builds purpose that causes me to take my life seriously. Spontaneity allows me to be free enough to make decisions at the moment which allows me to not take life too seriously. Ah! The perfect balance.
  • Planning allows me to build my future. Spontaneity allows me to enjoy my present.

And the way I achieved this balance is simple (but not at all easy). I plan my day to a degree but I always leave room for spontaneity. Of course, it’s much easier said than done. Because the world and your motivated self will always push you to do more. And your lazy self will want you to do less.

It’s a constant tug of war.

And hence, it takes several repetitions of time-blocking to find the sweet spot.

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3. I realized that you must give any practice a fair share of time before it works for you

People keep looking for secrets. That “one practice” will change their lives. However, secrets don’t exist. As Charles Poquin elegantly observed:

The rule is: the basics are the basics and you can’t beat the basics.

It’s the simple basic practices that when done consistently over a long time that will change your life. Such is the case with time-blocking.

When I began the practice, there were many subtleties of time-blocking I hadn’t comprehended yet. And hence, it didn’t change my life in a week. However, after time-blocking for 500+ days, I understand the minute subtleties of time-blocking that help me exploit it to the best. These subtleties, are of course, invisible to the beginner.

And hence, my advice is: don’t just time-block for a week and call it quits because it hasn’t changed your life yet. Give it time. Give it iterations. Do it for a year, and keep tweaking it to make the best of your time — and in turn, your life.

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4. It taught me to keep my word: and in turn, build my self-esteem

Before time-blocking, I used to make promises to myself and break them without feeling much guilt. Because there was no physical proof of the promises I made to myself — my brain could just choose to forget that I even made a promise to myself and hence, no (healthy) guilt was induced.

But time-blocking shows me a mirror — every day.

When I block an hour for writing, I’m making a promise to myself that I’ll write at that time — and I put in on paper so there’s proof. At night, when I do a quick review of how I spent my day, I have to face the truth — “Did I write or not?”

Forgetting is not an option. Acting like the promise wasn’t a promise isn’t either. The promise is there. In ink. On paper. There’s no running away from it. So if I break my promise, I have to face myself. And that induces guilt — the kind that’s healthy.

To avoid this guilt, I slowly learned to keep the promises I make to myself. This in turn has sky-rocketed my self-esteem — because I now know that I’ll do what I say. My word is worth a million to me.

5. I learned to optimize my evenings

There’s some science to this. According to the circadian rhythm:

  • Mornings: Cortisol (the stress hormone) is high and melatonin (the sleep hormone) is low.
  • Nights: Cortisol is low and melatonin is high.

In the beginning, due to my scientific ignorance and inexperience, I used to often schedule stressful and cognitively challenging tasks — like writing or working out in the evenings. But now, my approach has changed.

Now that I know that my cortisol should be low in the evenings, I try my best (but don’t always succeed) to schedule my day like this.

  • Stress (and in turn, cortisol) inducing tasks in the first half of the day: For example, writing, working out, etc.
  • Non-stressful tasks or relaxing tasks in the evening. Examples: reading, family time, walking, playing the ukulele, mild yoga sessions, etc.

Yes, life is not perfect and sometimes, I have to work out or write in the evenings or even late at night. But that’s not my go-to approach. The approach laid out above is what I prefer because it’s aligned with our natural physiology and will allow me to play the long game.

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How to time-block effectively:

1. Leave buffers

Life is unpredictable and buffers are always a good idea.

Earlier, I used to assign tasks to every minute of my day. Every hour was blocked for something productive. I wanted to “MAXIMISE” my day. You know, like — Carpe Diem! Robin Williams did inspire us to seize the day after all.

However, only on very rare occasions did my day go as I planned. More often than not, it didn’t. And then, I used to blame myself. “Why was I not able to follow my plan? Am I being lazy?”

Not really. The problem was not in my lack of willingness to stick to my plan — but the unreasonable nature of my plan itself. I didn’t account for the unpredictability of life.

Fast forward to today, I always schedule time for my most important tasks. But I also schedule buffers for them — an hour or two — in case life gets in the way of my important tasks.

If I don’t need my buffer, I spend it spontaneously — doing what I feel like doing.

2. Use two colors

I figured out that I must use two colors to time block to not let my focus get diluted. The problem that many people (unknowingly) face with time blocking is that it can overwhelm you and dilute your focus — and distract you from doing the most important things.

For example: when you block your day like this —

Image by the author

You can easily be overwhelmed by the number of tasks you’re supposed to do. This can dilute your focus. And you may end up not doing your most important tasks (writing and working out in my case).

The solution is simple.

Use two colors. Red for the most important tasks. And black or blue for all other tasks.

Image by the author

This tells you that red blocks are the ones that matter most. You must complete those. You must protect those as if they’re your infant child. And if you don’t complete the black blocks, it’s okay — as long as the red blocks are done.

This simple tweak:

  • Will protect you from being overwhelmed.
  • And will protect your focus from being too diluted.

It’s fascinating how such a simple tweak can make such a big difference.

In closing

Time-blocking is a micro-habit. But it has a lot of subtleties that will only reveal themselves to you if you put in the reps.

If you can time-block consistently for a long time, you will change your life.

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Akshad Singi, M.D. has been published in Better Humans, Mind Cafe, and more. 

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.