Timeblocking – the truly simple secret to a highly productive day
Caroline Atkin, June 2016
If you’ve ever experienced the feeling of working hard, yet getting nowhere, you’re going to love this strategy, one where the tiniest shift in mindset yields incredible results. Does this keep happening to you? You start working at 7.30 am and somewhere over the course of the morning your task list suddenly multiplies and you find yourself jumping from one fire to the next. Then, seemingly in the blink of an eye, it’s 6.30 pm, you’re tired and frustrated, and you’ve realised there are another four hours of work to do before you can actually switch off for the night. Are you feeling it right now? You aren’t alone. To get through the huge amounts of work we’re loading ourselves up with, a lot of us live our days in this constant state of firefighting.
"By prioritising sand tasks first up in the day, people neglect to consider how much time the rocks need to get done. "Ready to stop doing that? The principle I’m going to lay out for you below is something that changed my life from a scattered mind, constantly running from task to task, to a focused, organised and productive headspace that lets me switch off at night when I need to – minus the feeling of having a million things left to do. It’s all based on an idea best illustrated by Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. He has developed a fantastic metaphor for why the strategy of time blocking is so effective. He calls it The Big Rocks. I love this theory and when I implement it (we can’t all be perfect every day!) my productivity goes through the roof! For the purpose of this exercise, imagine an empty bowl that represents all the time you have in a day. There are three types of tasks you can fill this bowl with:
- Sand – these represent all the tiny, small things that you do all day long: the quick email reply you needed to send right away, that document you wanted to print and that five-minute chat with a colleague. They are small brief tasks that, when combined, create a lot of sand (distraction in your day).
- Pebbles – these are the mid-sized tasks you do each day. The things that require you to focus for 10 to 30 minutes to get them completed. There are several of these in a day, but not as much as the sand.
- Rocks – These are the big, key things that require you to focus for more than half an hour at a time. They are the bulk of your work and, typically the part that makes your money or gets you closer to finishing that project you’re working on.
- Sand first – The sand is irritating and distracting – but easy to tick off. For this reason many people will plough through a bunch of sand tasks first in their day, feeling like they are ticking a lot of small things off their plate. Their bowl quickly gets filled as they move from one sand task to the next and before they know it, a few hours of their day are gone.
- Pebbles Next – People will start on the pebble-sized tasks once they either run out of sand or receive pressure to get these medium-sized tasks finished.
- Lastly Rocks – Towards the end of the day they will consider their rocks. They might have space for one or two but the majority will need to be shifted to tomorrow’s bowl. The problem is that most people already have a few rocks waiting for tomorrow’s bowl, so these additional rocks are just going to keep building up through the week.