Block Your Time to Unblock Your Productivity

The key to achieving better outcomes is not always working harder. Most of us are already working extra-long hours by taking work home and always completing deliverables to the best of our abilities. The key to being productive and staying productive is working smarter. This starts with a paradigm shift of how you view your days and, ultimately, your finite time on this Earth.

Budgeting time effectively is often the biggest trouble we have with getting productive and staying productive. I have found that, rather than looking at your day hour by hour, project by project, or event by event, splitting your day into 15-minute blocks is far easier to keep track of and to budget. It provides a level of granularity helpful for being accurate, yet not so much as to become overwhelming. For example, waking up and doing my morning chores consumes one 15-minute block. Watching one episode of my favorite sitcom consumes two blocks. In this way, you have 96 blocks of time every day, translating to 672 each week and 35,064 each year.

All 96 blocks of your day

Upon first inspection, “96 blocks” seems like a lot to keep track of. Let’s break it down. Begin by splitting your 96 daily blocks into three groups: 32 for sleeping, 32 for working, and 32 for everything else. This creates an even 8–8–8-hour distribution under a standard 40-hour work week.

Blue, yellow, and green denote sleeping, working, and “everything else,” respectively

Think you can be more productive by trading sleeping blocks for productivity blocks? Think again. If we were machines, the distribution of time would be easier: we could just eliminate the third spent sleeping. But because we’re human, we need to first acknowledge that not all our blocks can be productivity blocks and must ensure we’re constantly investing some to preserve the potency of others. Investing 32 blocks for sleep every night, for example, will improve the efficacy of your remaining 64 blocks. Furthermore, investing an additional 8–12 blocks (2–3 hours) every day to eating healthy, working out, doing yoga, meditating, planning, or taking breaks can also enhance your remaining productivity blocks.

Reflecting, relaxing, and planning by the Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica

Maintaining good health is of utmost importance, and the worst thing you can do to your body and, therefore, to your productivity, is to limit the power of your energy blocks by sacrificing your health. Increasing the number of your productivity blocks may lend better results in the short-term, but your body will inevitably catch up with you, causing future energy blocks to be weaker. We only get one body, and that body will have to last you. Treat it well.

So now that we have changed the way we think about our days, how do we decide how to spend our energy?

Start by writing down all the goals you have. Seriously. This can take some time, but it’s very important to make this list accurate. Feel free to really think about this and give yourself a few days to decide. Write down everything: life goals, relationship goals, professional goals, short-term project goals, etc. For this exercise, I want you to focus on the 32 blocks left from your day after factoring out work and sleep from your original 96. But remember: you can easily repeat this exercise for the 32 blocks related to work.

When I did this exercise, I came up with just over 100 goals. That’s a lot. Some of them are goals for today, some for the week, and others for my life. We need to simplify this list to something more manageable. Look at your list of goals and try to combine them. See which goals are related to each other and continue reorganizing until you have a distilled list of ten, all-encompassing goals. These should be a good representation of what you genuinely want to spend your time doing.

Ready for the hardest part? Rank them. Your number one goal should be the most important goal you have in your life right now, and your number ten should be the least important. Now, let’s look at how you might break up your 32 blocks to accommodate these goals:

Distributed the 32 blocks among the top 10 goals according to priority

Not bad, but we can do much better. How are you ever going to accomplish your goals if you spend 30 minutes or less on them every day? You must stay focused and constantly be diligent with your time to get the best results.

Since 32 energy blocks isn’t nearly enough to accomplish all ten goals, you should split your energy among your top three and eliminate everything else. You can pick up the “everything-else” list once you’ve accomplished your top three, highest priority goals. And until you’ve accomplished your top three, avoid the others at all costs. Look at the results:

Distributed the 32 blocks among the top 3 goals according to priority

By focusing your time between these three goals, you can stay focused, limit the time spent context switching resulting from pursuing too many things at once, and enable better, faster results. These goals you’ve identified, depending on how overarching they are, could change and evolve daily, weekly, or even monthly. A dynamic list of goals is perfectly fine; just remember: concentrating your energy on what really matters to you is the difference between being successful and being busy. Never mistake activity for achievement.

Ever since I started structuring my own life this way, I’ve been able to identify what really matters to me and have noticeably improved my level of focus over the long-term. By channeling my focus on fewer goals at a time, I have been able to achieve them faster and have saved valuable energy blocks that would have otherwise been spent switching from task to task, getting overwhelmed, or being just plain distracted.

What are your top three goals? Share some in the comments below!