If Time Blocking Isn’t Working, Create Systems Instead
Whether you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer, or a Type-A planner, you’ve likely heard all about the life-changing benefits of scheduling your day with a method known as time blocking. Maybe it’s even your preferred way to organize your day.
According to ToDoIst, time blocking is a time management method where you divide your day into blocks that are dedicated to accomplishing specific tasks and only those specific tasks. By focusing on one task at a time rather than keeping a running to-do list, you’re essentially able to start each day with a concrete schedule to keep you on track.
But, time blocking doesn’t reap the same benefits for everybody. It sure doesn’t work for me.
When I started freelancing 2 years ago, it seemed like the only thing that the entrepreneurs I followed on Instagram were talking about. Time blocking: the pinnacle way to organize your day. Accordingly, I tried it out myself — and I failed miserably. Sorry to disappoint, Gary Vee.
Time blocking doesn’t work for me for a few different reasons:
- I was overzealous in planning my day and underestimated how much time a task would take to complete. When the time was up, I’d feel stressed about not completing it and having to return to it later.
- I planned my schedule so specifically from sunrise to sunset, and my day would seldom play out that way. I’d start working later than I wanted to and it would push everything back, which made me feel guilty.
- I’d forget to plan out meal or break times — which again, would push my schedule back.
- The sheer sight of my colorfully blocked calendar completely overwhelmed me, often leaving me with analysis paralysis.
When I realized that time blocking wasn’t for me, I knew I had to switch it up. That’s when I began creating systems to simplify my life. Using systems has removed the shame I often felt for not getting enough done while keeping my concentration sharp. I haven’t turned back since.
What are systems?
In business, there are systems and processes.
Systems help you run a business and are made up of sub-systems and processes, according to Savvy in Business. They’re broken up into different business categories, such as marketing, finance, and admin.
On the other hand, processes are the actual steps taken to make the system work. For example, scheduling social media posts and prospecting potential clients are processes that may fall under the marketing category.
Systems and processes exist to keep daily work tasks organized, efficient, and streamlined. That way, everyone is on the same page as to how things get done.
Systems Aren’t Just for Business
That’s right. You can use systems, too. Just like systems create eased organization and efficiency for businesses, they can also help you streamline your everyday life.
Grocery shopping and meal prepping? There’s a system for that. Paying your bills? There’s a system for that. Running errands and making tedious calls? You guessed correctly — there’s a system for that, too.
Systems work because, just like a team of coworkers, you no longer will have to think about how you get a reoccurring task done. You’re setting yourself up to avoid procrastination and in turn, you’ll be able to better maintain your time and energy levels.
Seriously — how much time do you waste just thinking about what you’re going to start next? How much energy do you waste on mindless distractions and interruptions? When we time block, set goals, or rely on a running to-do list, it’s easy to fall into a spiral of feeling like we’ve fallen short when we fail to complete our ambitious endeavors for the day.
James Clear, the author of Atomic Habits, said it best:
The goal in any sport is to finish with the best score, but it would be ridiculous to spend the whole game staring at the scoreboard. The only way to actually win is to get better each day. In the words of three-time Super Bowl winner Bill Walsh, “The score takes care of itself.” The same is true for other areas of life. If you want better results, then forget about setting goals. Focus on your system instead.
Rather than focusing on the result of checking an item or goal off of your list, focus on the actual steps you take to get there.
How To Create Systems for Your Life
Step 1: Reflect.
To create systems for your life, begin by reflecting.
Self-audit your day and pinpoint the daily interruptions and distractions you face. Where are you wasting your time and energy? From there, you can begin to decide how you want your days to play out.
Step 2: Categorize.
Remember when we talked about businesses using systems for aspects like marketing? The next step is to do the same for the various aspects of your life.
Of course, yours will look much different from a business’. Think about your reoccurring tasks or actions that take ample time to complete. This’ll pinpoint how you need to break yours up.
Examples include finances, side-hustle work, and cleaning.
Step 3: Systemize.
Now, for the fun part: to create the actual systems.
Once you’ve got the categories down, determine the specific activities you’re aiming to systemize and create your own fool-proof method for completing it. Let’s take cleaning, for example.
Some examples of cleaning systems could be setting aside the same day every week to deep-clean your house, or tending to your garden every other Sunday.
Step 4: Adjust.
Our lives move in ebbs and flows. As our daily circumstances and we as individuals change, so do our systems.
Never be afraid to adjust your systems. Making tweaks is necessary to continue growing. If something’s no longer working or holding you back, adjust to it. Don’t hold onto a system just because you feel like you have to.
Time blocking has never worked for me. I’ve tried it countless amounts of times, only to be left with a day that feels fast and frazzled.
As a full-time fitness trainer and part-time freelancer, I wear a lot of different hats and need something to keep my days structured. Otherwise, I’ll always be forgetting something.
I’ve bought planners, just to leave the pages blank and empty. I’ve time blocked and gone whole days without actually getting a single thing done. Checklists were always my thing, and even those leave me with 10+ tedious tasks that I never get around to.
Using systems in my daily life has upped my productivity, brought clarity to my focus, and aided in lower stress levels. In fact, I have a system for almost everything: meal-prepping, sorting mail, completing my freelance work, the list goes on.
Systems undoubtedly help us take control of our time. Once we create them, our time opens up and we realize that it’s possible to run our schedules, rather than our schedules always running us.