Time Blocks

My wife gets me. She sent this link by Brooke Castillo to me. She thought I would be interested, and I am.

TL;DR: You should get rid of your to-do list. Instead, you should put everything on your calendar. You are then supposed to only allow yourself the time that you have given yourself on the calendar. I am familiar with this practice, which Cal Newport calls time blocking.

My wife’s email was timely. I had been time blocking, but I consciously moved away from it, thinking that I could save a couple minutes at the end of the day. However, Brooke Castillo’s article reminded me of something. Actually, I think that her article made me realize an aspect of time blocking that I hadn’t fully realized before. But first, some history.

I think that the single productivity strategy that has helped me the most is to have rigidly set hours for when I work. I did this very soon after my first child was born so that I could (1) spend more time with my newborn son and (2) help my wife at home. I decided that I would be home at 5 pm, and I wouldn’t work at home. I hadn’t expected this to make me more productive. Indeed, I expected to be less productive, since I had less time. However, I got a lot more done at work when I spent less time there and didn’t work at home. I think that there are two reasons for this.

The first reason is that I was able to rest at night. I would come to work the next day recharged. However, I think that the second reason is more important: I am forced to prioritize. I have found the following two things to be true: your task will take as long as the amount of time you give it, and you will spend as much money as is in your budget (I am working on ameliorating the second one, using the envelope system, as well, although I do not do it strictly using cash).

Once I started limiting the amount of time I had at work, I had to start prioritizing, which I didn’t need to do as much when I gave myself all day to work. I had to decide when something was “good enough” and not work toward “perfect.” I had to think about how to get to all my tasks by 5 pm, and I couldn’t lie to myself that I could do some of them at 11 pm after I was finished grading.

So: I think that time blocking does the same thing on a smaller scale. I have to referee a paper soon. If I do not time block, I am going to go crazy over every phrasing. If I time block instead, I am going to have to focus more on the big picture, which is going to be more useful to the authors and journal.

So once again, my wife helps me out. I have been doing it for two weeks, with varying amounts of success. One issue is that I didn’t properly schedule reactive time, which I need to do as department chair. I tried to essentially schedule a project at the same times as I scheduled reactive time, but the reactive time always take priority during that time (which means I didn’t really time block the project). I need to be less optimistic about how much I get done, but this will be good.

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