Time blocking organizes your calendar into allocated blocks of time to enable scheduled periods of uninterrupted deep work.
Everyone has 24 hours in a day. Yet, some people are more productive than others. Why is that?
If you're an agency owner, SMB, or solopreneur, the one part of your day you need to control is your time. It's why many are adopting a practice known as "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 interruption. Then you move on to the next task.
How can you use time blocking techniques in your workflows to help you and your team plan your time more accurately? This guide has the answers, as well as tips on how to make time blocking easier.
What is time blocking?
Time blocking is when you block off a spot on your calendar and allocate a set number of hours to a single task. You eliminate distractions outside of the specific task by blocking off your time (and your mind) from other projects.
Say your usual working day includes email checking, client work, lunch, and a team meeting. Block that time off on your calendar, and you'll see exactly how much time you have to complete each task without running from one task to the next, always in fear of running out of time.
An example of time blocking using Google Calendar. Image source.
The idea of time blocking can be traced 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 three hours to complete but that actually eats up a whole day because of interruptions and multitasking? That is an example of Parkinson's law—and likely why you're struggling to complete tasks efficiently. ⏰
Time blocking is a time management technique that actually works. Author Kevin Kruse favors time blocks over to-do lists "because of the discipline and order it applies to your tasks."
How are to-do lists and time blocks different?
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 picture your calendar turning into an unruly mess, let me explain. When your calendar is full of tasks and projects, 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 is the belief that you must 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."
How does time blocking work?
Everyone on your team works differently. People have different peak (and weak) productivity times. Some team members prefer to do deep work in the morning; others only wake up after lunch. Identifying those peaks for your team is the first step to adequate time blocking.
Once that's settled, time blocking makes planning your team's schedules easier and more effective. Let's say your agency recently signed a retainer contract for six months of work. You know the project will need four team members at 20 hours a week for six months, so you assign chunks of time to each team member for the upcoming contracted weeks.
With a tool like Float, you can add these time blocks as recurring work tasks on your team's schedule for the contract duration. Now, your resource planning for the project is complete!
Ever accidentally assigned the same project to two workers? If so, you understand the importance of having a central hub for team project management.
Mishaps like this led Social Chain to seek out a project planning software for their team. Head of Design Jamie Bryan says, "Back in our startup days, our design booking system relied solely on email communication. One morning we found ourselves both working on the same project without realizing another team member was already onto it! That was when we realized we needed an organized solution to help manage our schedule and balance our workload."
It also didn't help that the business and its team grew busier. Social Chain was at a crossroads—either they adopted a software tool to manage their workflow or risked falling behind schedule. They ultimately chose Float, and the benefits became apparent almost immediately. According to Jamie, they were able to eliminate double handling of emails and improve resource booking. "We began to save at least four hours a week on average," he says.
Float also gives team leaders a clear view of how busy their creatives are in the future, which is crucial 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!
The benefits of time blocking
Here's the question you've been waiting for: How does time blocking make your team more productive? The short answer is that it helps you stay on top of and in control of your team's daily schedule. With it, you can:
- Approach time blocking, knowing your team can't guarantee distraction-free workdays.
- Schedule what's urgent separate from what can be assigned to the appropriate day.
- Build "themed days" into your team's calendars (i.e., Monday for Project A; Tuesday for Project B) to stop excessive task switching.
Move tasks to the top of the priority list
Giving tasks a dedicated time slot on your calendar makes them non-negotiable events. This stops your creatives from neglecting essential tasks to attend a meeting or outside event. You'll also give the project the required hours (or days) to make sure it's completed by the deadline.
Time blocking makes it easier to break a creative's to-do tasks into daily or weekly time blocks based on their priorities. It moves projects to the top of their priority list, while everything else (i.e., smaller tasks) slots around them.
When Australasian creative agency Principals needed to manage its team of 50+ creatives, it turned to Float to work more productively. The Auckland office's Creative Director Jodine Bell says they've used Float for many years to daily and forward plan their resources. "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. 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."
Stop people from context switching
Multitasking is the biggest thief of productivity. Research shows employees can lose up to 40% of their productivity if they multitask! Why? Because it's hard for the brain to switch between tasks.
Replying to an email, designing a website, and attending a meeting are tasks that all require different skills (and brain space). Not only that, but most people are just switching between tasks without getting much done. We often mistake being busy as being productive.
Time blocking stops the losses incurred by unproductive task switching. When you use it in your workflow, your team completes dedicated tasks instead of attempting to multitask. Author Kevin Kruse says that, as humans, we chronically underestimate the amount of time 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," Kruse 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."
The buffer will act as spare time to recharge your batteries if you're on schedule. 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 into manageable pieces if a project or task needs to be amended (and they inevitably will).
Split and reassign tasks with easy shortcut tools in Float.
With Float, you can split, copy, or replace 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 the person's calendar.
This keeps schedules on track and stops team members from “task switching” because they’ve overrun their allocated time.
Whether you're working remotely or in the office, operating asynchronously provides breathing space for everyone. Your team can respond to messages when they're in the right headspace to do so.
With time blocking, managers can plan schedules, team members can see what to work on, and everyone's consistently on the same page. A natural byproduct of that is fewer meetings—a win for everyone. Fewer meetings empower teams with long stretches of uninterrupted time to work. 🙌
Resource management tools like Float make this even easier. Everyone can view the schedule wherever they are. Not sure if your lead designer is busy? Check the dashboard to see what they're working on and when without disturbing them. If you do need to reach out, send a Slack message or email. The receiver(s) can check it when they're not locked into a time block.
Work without interruptions
No matter how much you try to avoid them, distractions are a part of working life.
Time blocking works to diminish the detrimental impact those distractions have on your team. They've got a dedicated block of time to get stuff done. When they come out of their time block, they see the Slack messages waiting for them.
David Horsager, business strategist and CEO of the Trust Edge Leadership Institute, is an avid time blocker. He says 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 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.
In a nutshell: the more time blocking becomes a part of your workflow, the easier it'll be for your team to navigate interruptions successfully and get back to work.
Close 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, it creates an open loop.
Open loops use up our mental processing power. It can drain your team's mental capacity to figure out what they need to work on next and what to prioritize. An open loop makes you actively think (and think, and think) about the next steps you need to take every time you complete a task.
Time blocking closes those open loops. It puts clear, concise tasks into your team's schedules, so they always know their next steps.
Using Float, the tasks to complete a project can be planned and scheduled days, weeks, or months in advance.
If you're hosting a day of meetings, a 30-minute gap between them isn't enough time to get into a deep flow. You end up filling the time with shallow work because you don't have the mental power to get your teeth into a big project, only to wrap up half an hour later.
Remember Parkinson's law? Work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Multitasking continuously breaks your deep focus, making it impossible to complete anything. So if you plan your entire day in time blocks, you can perform more focused work.
Time blocking, however, means working on one task at a time—allowing you to enter deep focus. Once there, you can complete tasks faster and easier.
"Sometimes people ask why I bother with such a detailed level of planning. My answer is simple: it generates a massive amount of productivity. A 40-hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure."
How to accurately time block your calendar
Ready to start time blocking your team's calendar to work faster, asynchronously, and without interruptions? Here are seven tips for implementing time blocking for your workforce.
1. Choose a resource management tool
Believe it or not, some folks still use desktop calendars to manage their time. Time blocking your day using pen and paper (or nothing at all), is a challenge. There's no way to see your week in a meaningful way and no way to spot scheduling conflicts.
A resource management tool makes it easier to visualize what everyone's doing and when. But don't use just any calendar app. Float offers robust features to make time blocking even more effective, such as:
✅ Integrations with project management tools like Asana, Trello, and Teamwork.
✅ Capacity management features to see who's busy and when, so you can assign tasks that slot into the time blocks surrounding them.
✅ In-depth reporting to assess whether the time blocks you're allocating for each task are big enough to get the job done.
2. Track your time for accurate predictions
Guessing how much time each task should take is a good start. However, it's not an efficient process long term. You'll likely over or underestimate the time needed for projects. Then you'll blame time blocking for missed deadlines.
Solve this issue from wreaking havoc with your time blocks by tracking the time spent per task. If you know a design project takes four hours, you can properly allocate enough time to those tasks in the future.
With Float's time tracking features, you can view how long it took to complete all tasks throughout the month. You'll see where your team spends most of their time and can use this to determine how to prioritize tasks and adequately block time for each.
3. Batch similar tasks together
Task batching happens when you group similar items on your to-do list. You might also see it as day theming. For example: making phone calls, answering emails, and managing invoices all count as administrative work. Grouping them together makes sense. You can tackle all three tasks when you're in the frame of mind to deal with admin (which, let's face it, is rare for most of us!).
Task batching doesn't require you to switch to a different mindset to perform, slowing down your productivity. So, take a look at your weekly task list and group them into themes, such as:
💻 Admin tasks, like writing emails and replying to Slack messages.
🎙 Meetings, both internal and external.
📝 Client work, like writing or design projects.
👩👦 Personal time, such as lunch breaks or school pickups.
🚗 Travel to the office, via car, bike, bus, or two feet.
4. Don't be too rigid
It helps to make your time blocks as accurate as possible. But life happens, and things get in the way unexpectedly. There's no option but to push tasks aside and focus on something else that's of higher priority. If you're too rigid with your time blocks (and plan to the minute), you'll end up adjusting your schedule constantly.
Instead, try timeboxing—the process of boxing time to do tasks of a specific theme. Be less specific about what you're doing in a time block. For instance, block 30 minutes for team communication versus taking five minutes to reply to Suzie, 10 minutes to chat with Brian on Slack, and so on.
5. Have room for flexibility
Following on from flexibility, block time throughout your day for different tasks. Then, as your day progresses, choose which task to work on next (versus setting specific times for each). This way, you can work on the things you have interest and energy for at that moment.
One way to do this is to block extra time for smaller priority tasks after important work. If your client work overruns into an administrative time block, for example, you'll have the flexibility to continue working on higher priority tasks without sacrificing another.
Extending time-blocked tasks in Float is lightning fast and easy!
6. Leave catch-up time at the end of the day
You made it through all of your time blocks, and there's an extra 30 minutes to spare. What will you do with that free time? Having the luxury to decide doesn't come often, but if you proactively plan for it, it can happen. Remember: you're in control of your schedule!
Similarly, if you find that you're not leaving time for odd jobs that crop up throughout the day, add a time block titled "catch up" at the end of the day. This time gives you space to catch up on tasks you didn't complete. It acts as a bookend, providing breathing space to move on from tasks when you run out of time (without falling completely behind).
7. Don't forget lunch breaks
Time blocks are great for productivity and staving off procrastination. Yet, if you attempt to wade through without resurfacing for air, you'll likely suffocate in a sea of work.
Spare your mental capacity by scheduling time blocks for breaks, especially if you're doing Pomodoro sprints. Use this time to eat, drink, stretch, work out, or stare out a window—anything outside of deep work so you have regular mental breaks in between tasks.
Do this for your team too. They'll appreciate it!
Improve your team's productivity with time blocking
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 so they're more productive. It eliminates distractions and moves high-priority projects to the top of the pile, so your team can get their work done without missing deadlines. The more effective your team is, the better off your business will be.
Having the right time-blocking tools at your disposal ensures your team works efficiently and productively and that your business consistently delivers results to clients.
Want to build a more productive team that meets deadlines? Float is a simple, fast, and visual resource management platform tool you can use to introduce time blocking into your team's workflow. Try Float free for 30 days.