How many times a day do you let yourself get distracted by something? Whether that’s surfing the web, using social media or doing some minor task that does not have priority, many people tend to find some excuse to not have to do the task at hand. This act of delaying tasks is called procrastination.
It can be a real hindrance to your productiveness and overall happiness. Especially when you’re a freelancer and there’s nobody to boss you around. Fortunately, there is a way to deal with this. We’ll show you exactly how to overcome procrastination and boost your efficiency by learning how to time block and use Google Calendar.
Time blocking vs. checklist
Time blocking is when you schedule in real time to complete a specific task or bunch of tasks. It’s different from a checklist, which you are probably already familiar with. Most people use checklists to remember what they have to get done on a certain day. They write all their small and big tasks on their checklist, one after the other.
The problem with a normal checklist however, is that it doesn’t indicate the amount of time you allow yourself to spend on that particular task. So, this makes it seem like you can do all of those tasks in one day because they all take up the same amount of space on your list.
But in reality, how often do you get to finish all of your tasks on your checklist? Quite possibly, not that often. When you assign real time to your tasks though, you’ll see that you will be more realistic, efficient, and satisfied with your productivity.
Benefits of time blocking
- Improves focus: When you block a certain amount of time for a task, you help yourself to organize your time and improve your focus.
- Reduces multitasking: Setting up a time block for one specific task makes it easier for you to focus on that task only and not get distracted or overwhelmed by all the other tasks you (think you) need to do.
- Increases productivity: By being able to focus better on one specific task at a time, you’ll see you will get more things done in one day than ever before.
One well-known time management method is called the Pomodoro Technique. Developed by an Italian student called Francesco Cirillo in the 80’s, the technique uses a cooking timer to break down work into intervals. When the timer goes off, your time for task is over and you can have a short break until you move over to the next task.
25 minute time blocks
Cirillo used 25 minute time blocks to be able to focus even more. This is long enough to make serious progression, and short enough to not take up too much energy. Your brain will stay fresh and alert as you give yourself frequent breaks in between the intervals to recover and get ready for the next task.
Using Google Calendar for time blocking
Instead of using a cooking timer, it’s better to use a calendar. This allows you to schedule your tasks for the whole week, and provides you with a good real time overview of what needs to get done. You can use any calendar to block out real time for your tasks, but we recommend Google Calendar, which is one of the most easy tools to use for time management. It’s web-based so you can always access it, from any device.
You can quickly schedule your tasks, meetings and events, and you get reminders about upcoming tasks. You can even create multiple calendars that you and other people can use together.
In the next section we’ll show you a step-by-step guide on how to time block and use Google Calendar.
How to time block
Step #1: Prioritize your tasks
Identify your high priority tasks. If we would make a checklist of all the tasks we can come up with, it would be never-ending. That’s why we need to prioritize tasks and determine which tasks need to be completed first. What is so important that can’t wait till tomorrow? Focus on that first.
Step #2: Make a schedule for the whole week
When you make a schedule for the whole week, you can see more clearly which tasks you need to prioritize. Schedule in all of your activities. This does not only mean your tasks, events, and meetings, but also your free time, breakfast, lunch, and dinner time, social meetings, etc.
Step #3: Identify time-sucking activities
Identify unproductive, time-sucking activities and eliminate them. Avoid getting sucked into social media, internet surfing, or watching TV, which distracts you from your tasks.
- Sometimes we think that we only need one or two hours for a certain task. Afterhand though, you find out that you spent half a day on it because you got distracted by useless and unnecessary things. Analyse your day / week, see when and how you got distracted, and try to avoid it the next time.
- Schedule time where you check your email. Check your email just 3 times per day: in the morning, noon, and late afternoon. There’s no need to leave your email open all day, this will only distract you from your work.
- If you do need to use Facebook or Instagram, or you do like to lose yourself on social media, then schedule in some time for that as well. Just keep it short, allow yourself 10-15 minutes, and then move on to the next task.
- Find a quiet work spot where you won’t get interrupted – by other people or by your own distraction-seeking behavior. Some people work better in their own house, other people work better in a coffee shop or library.
Step #4: Schedule short intervals and breaks
Work with short time blocks of 25 or 30 minutes (30 minutes is the default setting in most calendars) and schedule a short break in between intervals.
- When you have a task that will take you longer than 30 minutes to complete, just assign multiple time blocks to it.
- Take a short break (5 minutes) in between the intervals so you stay fresh.
- Many big CEO’s use time blocking. They even schedule in 30 minutes buffers in between the intervals so they allow themselves more time to finish a certain task in case it takes longer than expected.
How to use Google Calendar
Step #1: Create an event
When you’ve opened Google Calendar, simply click on “Create” in the left top corner of your screen, or click on any time slot of the day.
Step #2: Choose your event time
Default time slots are 30 minutes. If you need more than 30 minutes, e.g. 2 hours, just click and drag your mouse over the time slots that you need. For 2 hours you would need 4 time slots.
You can also insert this manually when you click on “Create”.
When you’ve set your event, you can always adjust the time by clicking on your event, which makes a window pop up. Click on “Edit event” to change the time or add other information.
Step #3: Change your event colors
It might be useful to distinguish between work related tasks and private tasks.
- Click on your event / task. Left from your task’s name, you see a small down arrow. Click on it.
- Now select the the color you want from the palette.
Step #4: Set up recurring events
If you have a recurring task, such as daily blog writing, you can set up an event that automatically shows up in your agenda.
- Click on your event in your calendar, and then click on “Edit event”. You see a checkbox with “Repeat” just under the start and end time. Check it, and then choose when you want to repeat this task / event.
- Click on “Save”.
Step #5: Add reminders
When you are working on your computer and you have Google Calendar open, a small window pops up in the top right corner of your screen whenever a task is coming up. The default pop up time before the next task is 10 minutes. You can adjust that to your liking (jump to step #6).
You can also add an extra reminder. So, there are 2 types of reminders in Google Calendar:
- Event notifications: to remember an upcoming event (adjust notification settings following step #6).
- Personal reminders: to remember something on your to-do list.
How to set your personal reminder:
- Click on a desired time slot in Google Calendar when you want to be reminded of something.
- Click on “Reminder” next to “Event” in the top left corner of the small window that pops up.
- Set your reminder and finish by clicking on “Create”.
Step #6: Set up default event notification settings
- At the top right corner of your screen, click “Settings” and then again on “Settings”.
- At the top menu in the new window, click on the tab “Calendars”.
- Next to your calendar’s name, click “Edit notifications”.
- Choose how and when you want to be notified about different events and updates.