Everyone has the same amount of time in their day, so why are some people more productive than others?
No matter if you're an agency owner, SMB, or even a solopreneur, the one part of your day that you need to have control over is your time, which is why so many people are turning to the concept of “time blocking.” At its core, time blocking is simple: you block off time in your calendar to work on a single project or task without interruptions, and then you move onto the next one. Easy, right?
It’s the exact technique numerous agencies, including WSI, are using to deliver their best work to their clients. WSI agency owner Andre’ Savoie says that with agencies being pulled in different directions from clients, employees, and vendors, time blocking is crucial.
"During the day, it's critical that you block out 30 minutes to several hours to work on specific projects or tasks to focus on them without interruption. I've found that by managing my day in this way, I'm able to do better quality work in less time."
How can you use time blocking techniques in your workflows to help you and your team plan your time more accurately? We'll get to that, but first, let's brush up on your time blocking knowledge.
What is time blocking?
Let’s talk about what time blocking actually is.
Time blocking is when you block off a spot on your calendar and allocate a set number of hours to a single task. By blocking off your time (and your mind) from other projects, you eliminate anything that demands your attention outside of the allocated task.
The idea relates back to Parkinson's Law, which suggests that work expands to fill the time available to complete it. Have you ever had a project that should take 3 hours to complete but it actually took you the whole day because of interruptions and multitasking? That my friends is an example of Parkinson's Law.
Time blocking is a to-do list that actually works. The author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, Kevin Kruse, favors time blocks over to-do lists “because of the discipline and order it applies to your tasks.”
How exactly are to-do lists and time blocks different? Well, while a standard to-do list tells you what you need to do, time blocking tells you when you’re going to do it.
Before you start picturing your calendar turning into an unruly mess, let me explain. When your calendar is full of tasks and projects you need to get done, it's harder for others to steal your time. And if you use the same system to block your team’s time, you'll be able to track it more accurately.
Cal Newport, the author of Deep Work, says that people's biggest misconception with time blocking their day is that the goal is to stick with the schedule no matter what. According to Newport, a better way to use time blocking is to rework your time blocks throughout the day as circumstances change. “The goal is to make sure you always have an intentional plan for the time that remains in the workday.”
Time blocking works, but it needs to change with your team’s circumstances. So what does time blocking look like if you use it in your workflow?
How does time blocking work?
Every one of your team members works differently. They all have a different time when they are at their most (and least) productive. Without the knowledge of how and when they complete tasks, they won't be able to accurately time block, which is why identifying your team’s productivity times is the first step to effective time blocking.
Once that's settled, time blocking can help your agency plan your team's schedules easier and more effectively. Let's say your agency recently signed a retainer contract for 6 months of work. You know this project will need 4 team members at 20 hours a week for 6 months to get done. Using time blocking, you can assign time blocks to each team member for the upcoming contracted weeks. With a tool like Float, you can add these as a recurring task into your team’s schedule for the duration of the contract, meaning your resource planning for the project is effectively finished.
Design and full-stack consulting company Dynamo was using time blocking to manage their team’s schedules. The problem? They were organizing their team using Google Sheets, which only made things more complex, and eventually unmanageable.
The process left Dynamo somewhat better organized than before, but they were limited functionality-wise. In 2016, the company's Digital Project Manager, Nick Lépine, began searching for time blocking solutions that would meet the needs of their team’s busy schedules. Lepine quickly discovered Float, which allowed him to allocate blocks of time on various projects for each team member using one shared schedule.
Lepine says that by using Float, Dynamo was able to build weekly recurring time blocks, and book them weeks in advance. “We work with 2 blocks per day - a block of 3.5 hours in the morning, and another block of 3.5 hours in the afternoon. This means we allocate 10 blocks per team member on a regular week.”
“For most of our projects, we can be flexible and let our humans choose which days they prefer working on specific client projects,” he says.
Float also gives team leaders a clear view of how busy their creatives are in the future, which is key for healthy pipeline forecasting.
That’s the beauty of a time blocking tool. It adapts to your team and their work methods, not the other way around. Now the question you've been waiting for: how does it make your team more productive?
4 ways time blocking will make your team more productive
When you start using time blocking, it’s important to stay on top of and in control of your team's schedules. Here’s how:
- Approach time blocking with the knowledge that your team won’t be able to keep any of their workdays entirely free of distraction
- Schedule what’s urgent separate from what can be assigned to the appropriate day
- Be open to the option of building “themed days” into their calendars. One day they are only working on project A, and the next day, they’re only working on project B
So how exactly will time blocking make your team more productive?
1. It moves work to the top of the priority list
Time blocking not only adds every task to a team member’s schedule, it also prioritizes their projects.
By giving tasks a dedicated time slot, they become a non-negotiable event. That stops your creatives from neglecting important projects if they get invited to a meeting or an outside event, and ensures that they’re able to dedicate the required hours (or days) when there’s a project deadline that simply can’t be missed.
Time blocking makes it easier to break a creative’s “to-do” tasks into daily or weekly time blocks based on their priorities. In turn, it makes sure that projects are moved to the top of their priority list, and everything else fits in around them.
When Australasian creative agency Principals needed a way to manage their 50+ team of creatives, they turned to Float to help them work more productively.
“It's been invaluable for design resource planning and tracking. Both designers and account managers can see their plan for the week,ensuring we have enough hands on deck,” she says.
"There are tons of great features: color coding of projects, annual leave and public holiday entry, and being able to scale our team’s time blocks."
2. It stops them from switching between tasks
This just in: multitasking isn’t productive!
It’s estimated that you can lose up to 40% of your productivity if you multitask. That is because most people are just switching between tasks without getting much done. We often make the mistake of thinking that being busy means being productive.
News flash: it doesn’t.
Time blocking stops the losses incurred by unproductive task switching. When you use it in your workflow, your team works on completing dedicated tasks instead of attempting to “multitask.”
Author Kevin Kruse says that as humans, we chronically underestimate how long things will take. As a result, we are constantly running over our time allocations and not getting to the stuff we have on our schedule. “You can make the most out of time blocking by adding time block buffer zones,” he says. “In other words, add one to three 30-minute blocks of time so if you run over, you can bump another appointment into the buffer zone.”
If you’re on schedule, the buffer will turn into a bit of spare time you can use to recharge your batteries. If you’re running behind schedule, it can stop you from blowing a gasket when a deadline approaches or a project takes a sudden turn.
Each day (and task) is different, so it makes sense to make time blocking work for you, and not the other way around. Using a time blocking tool like Float makes it easy for project managers to chop tasks up into manageable pieces if a project or task needs to be amended (and they inevitably will).
With Float, you can replace, insert, and split tasks whenever you need to change up a team member's schedule. If you need to replicate the task or assign it to another team member, all you need to do is drag and drop, and it will be reassigned to their calendars.
This keeps schedules on track and stops team members from “task switching” because they’ve overrun their allocated time.
3. It allows your team to work without distractions
No matter how much you try and avoid them, distractions are a part of life.
Time blocking can help your team avoid distractions, as they've got a dedicated block of time to get stuff done. The more time blocking becomes a part of your workflow, the easier it will be for them to successfully navigate interruptions, and get back to work.
Business strategist and CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute, David Horsager, is an avid time blocker. He says that the best way to use time blocking as a distraction-free zone is to turn off push notifications and, if possible, turn off your phone and let calls go to voicemail.
He and his team also schedule in a “power hour” each day. It’s a block of time where team members can focus on their work with no meetings and minimal interruptions.
4. It closes open loops
When you’ve got a project that needs to get done, but there aren’t any concrete steps to keep it moving forward, that is an open loop.
Open loops use up our mental processing power. It can be super draining to your team's mental capacity to try and figure out what they need to start working on next, and what should be prioritized. An open loop makes you actively think (and think, and think) about the next steps you need to be taking every time you complete a task.
Time blocking helps close the open loops.
It puts clear, concise tasks into your team's schedules, so they always know what their next steps are. Using a time blocking tool like Float, you can plot your team's time days, weeks, or even months ahead for any project in your pipeline.
Taking control of your team’s time is the secret sauce to making them as productive as possible.
Time blocking is the ultimate way to schedule your team’s time in a way that makes their work more productive. The more productive your team is, the better off your business will be. It really is that simple.
Time blocking eliminates distractions and moves high priority projects to the top of the pile, so your team can get their work done without missing deadlines. Having the right time blocking tools at your disposal helps ensure that your team is working efficiently and productively on projects and that your business is consistently delivering results to clients.
Want to learn more about how you can build a more productive team that meets their deadlines? Float is a simple, fast, and visual tool you can use to introduce time blocking into your team’s workflow. Try Float free for 30 days.