How to use your to do list and time blocking to get stuff done!
I am a chronic over-thinker and over-planner. I'll add over-complicator as well. That may not be a word but it is definitely a thing!
Every year I purchase multiple day planners. I'll find one that looks “perfect” and use it for a week to find it's not quite right. Some are too pretty that they are intimidating to write in. I mean, I don't want to ruin them up with my messy lefty handwriting and scribbling things out. So, I search for another one and go through the same thing only to find myself around April going back to my same, old system.
Bottom line, my life doesn't fit perfectly into somebody else's box.
There's no shortage of time management strategies out there. They all work – for some people. The trick really is finding a way to make them work for you. In recent years, one strategy I've heard a lot about is time blocking. Beth Anne has some great time blocking pages in her Brilliant Life Planner. My challenge with time blocking has been that I was breaking my tasks down too small which made it too overwhelming. Instead of a block for “Business”, I'd have Client Work and Marketing and Writing and Social Media and Admin and Education and Email, etc…
Too many buckets!
When I would see other people share their nice neat time blocked schedules that were so easy to look at and seemed so doable and simple, I was left wondering what I was doing wrong. Did I have more things on my plate? I didn't think so. When I would break down my schedule, into my itty-bitty categories, it didn't look like theirs at all.
Another hurdle in my time blocking journey was scheduling with a 4 year old. It's very hard to create a detailed time blocked schedule that works with the frequent interruptions that come with a young child. One unscheduled interruption and the whole day becomes derailed. My inner perfectionist would become so frustrated I figured the entire day's schedule was shot. “Maybe this just won't work for me.”
Find a strategy you like and make it work for YOU!
Over time I have begun to develop a system that does work for me. It took a while for me to acknowledge it as a working system because it didn't fit into any of the boxes I was trying to fit into. It wasn't pretty or expensive or decorated with Washi tape and stickers (though it IS color coded, cause that's how I roll!). The important thing is that it works. Well, I'm not dropping any major balls and most of the important items are getting taken care of so I'll take that as a win.
Here's how I do it
What you need:
- A basic 2-column steno pad that you can find for $2 at most local office supply stores for your to do list (Here’s one on Amazon)
- A time blocked calendar (you can use your Google Calendar if you prefer digital)
Note: You can also use a planner that has both of these built in like the Brilliant Life Planner (*wink*)
- Create a master weekly to do list: On Sunday nights, I sit down to make my list for the week. I'll write down everything that I need to do or would like to get done that week. Some people say not to do the extra work of categorizing the items but for me, my brain likes to organize it. It helps me to see like grouped with like. Do whichever works best for your brain. This is why I love the steno pad because I can add all of my business-related tasks on one side and personal tasks on the other.
If you do categorize as you braindump, keep the number of categories to a minimum, 3-5 max. Currently, I use Client Work, Business Work, Personal, Financial & Family/Home. Use whatever works for your life and business. The point is to make these big buckets and not break it down too much.
When you do this list, write down EVERYTHING that is in your head that you might possibly want to do. You won't get to it all but your brain will rest knowing that all of the swirling tasks have been accounted for and you don't have to remember them anymore. You'll decide which items are most important later. By writing your lists in one central location, like a steno pad or planner, you can always refer back to previous lists to see what still hasn't been done and reassess.
(Note: For my client work, I currently use Asana to manage my projects. When I make my weekly list, I'll also check in there to see what client projects need attention that week as well.)
2. Block out appointments: When I'm done with my list of tasks, I'll check my Google calendar for any fixed appointments and block those out first. (I live at least 25 minutes from everything so I add travel time and get ready time in the block.) I’ll also add in any recurring daily things – like workouts, mealtimes and bedtime with my daughter.
3. Plan the next day's tasks: Each night, I review my master list and write a new list of what needs to get done the next day. (Here's why I do this at night )I keep things categorized in their big buckets (Client work, Business, Personal, etc). As I write this list, I estimate how much time that it will take to finish each task. This helps to keep my list within reason. It also helps when creating your blocks.
When I originally wrote this post, I said to write out everything that you’d like to get done. I’m changing that though. Lately, I’ve been adding too many things to that list and have been getting that overwhelmed feeling again. It’s still likely that not everything will get done and that's ok. There's no prize for crossing every single item off your list. (This is coming from a person that will write something on her list AFTER it's done so I can cross it off.) Do yourself a favor and try to be as realistic as possible here. It’s not an exact science.
4. Select your must dos: Next, I review my list and star the must-dos. Note: Not everything on your list will be a must do for that day! Things with deadlines (especially related to client work) and appointments are must dos for me. In September, I'm going to begin homeschooling my daughter so school time will be added to my must dos. Overall, I try to keep the must dos down to 3-5 max. Those are now my priority items for the next day. At the end of the day, as long as the must dos get done, the day is a success.
5. Block your day: Here's something that I do a little differently, I don't block the entire week at once. I create my blocks for the next day, which is easy because I have my list for the next day ready with my must do items and estimated time needed.
Here's where the magic happens: When you set up your time blocks for the tasks, block out your big bucket categories, not individual tasks. For example, I’ll have a Client Work block. When I'm in that block, I go to my list to see what I need to do in that block. That's how you keep a clean looking calendar! (My steno pad, on the other hand, is a mess!)
Here's another tip: Plan more time then you estimate to account for things coming up, which will ALWAYS HAPPEN. Allowing yourself space for these things is the key to making this work, especially if you have little kids at home. My blocks are pretty big – none shorter than an hour – and I keep them broad. I also try to “Eat That Frog” by putting my must dos toward the beginning of the day, if possible. Nothing like crossing those items off before lunch!
I can't stress enough the importance of being realistic on your time AND being patient with yourself. I'm constantly needing to check myself on this. For example, 2 days a week, I have family that watches my daughter. For the longest time, I insisted on planning my work block at 9am on those days because that's when I thought I “should” start by. The reality is that I spend more time talking with my mom or my sister (depending on the day) and I was never home and ready to work before 9:30-10am. I was failing before my day even started.
The reality is that I want to be able to have a conversation with my mom and not be rushed. It's the one day I'm at her house. Same for my sister. I'm choosing to NOT feel guilty about that. Once I accepted that those moments are important to me, I adjusted my blocks. 8-10 is drop off (again, that pesky travel time!) and 10 starts my work block. That is a much more realistic and doable schedule. My day starts better because I'm not feeling so rushed and behind right out of the gate.
That's it. This sounds like a lot but it's really simple:
- Brain dump everything you need to do this week (preferably before Monday morning). This is your master to do list
- Block out appointments
- Review your master to do list for the tasks that need to get done the next day (Do this every evening)
- Star the must dos
- Block your next day, adding your priority items towards the beginning of the day, if possible.
- Wake up, be patient and kick butt!
I hope that this gives you another way of managing your to do list and making time blocking work for you. Remember, this is your life and your business. You don't have to fit into someone else's box! If you're looking for more ways to get more done in your business and life, check out 5 Ways to Get More Done In Your Business (even with young kids at home!).
Deb McGranaghan is a Content Marketing Consultant, Mompreneur Blogger, wife, mom, personal development junkie and lover of all things dance. She is committed to helping mompreneurs ditch the guilt and overwhelm and learn to honor their values so they can live THEIR prioritized life! You can find out more about what she offers at at www.debmcgranaghan.com
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