At the end of a long workday, do you ever find yourself knowing you were really busy but questioning what you actually accomplished? You’re not alone. Busy-ness doesn’t equate to productivity – and kwx executive chairman Gary Keller will be the first to shout that from the rooftops. In fact, Keller describes working long hours as “cheating,” something ProduKtive president Geoff Woods initially struggled to comprehend.
“I was taught that it’s all about your work ethic – work long, work hard, hustle, grind, and you will be successful,” Woods says. “And here was Gary saying, ‘No, it’s cheating because you can work long hours and do the wrong activities and still muscle your way to a result. But you actually cheat yourself out of what it means to live a life.’”
The lesson hit closer to home than Woods initially realized.
“I was wondering why my relationship with my wife wasn’t going in the right direction,” he recalls. “I was wondering why I didn’t feel as close to my kids. And I thought that I struggled to say no, but really, I said no to the people that mattered most every day because I was unclear on what to say yes to during the day.”
Abe Shreve, CEO of Business MAPS, ended up on a similar journey once he learned how to better leverage his time. “By the time you realize that you’re saying yes to things that aren’t really taking care of the things that are most important to you, you’re probably already in a little trouble,” he says.
However, recognizing later that more time is not equal to better results is infinitely better than not coming to the realization at all. Whether you need a moment to become accustomed to this perspective, or you’re ready to dive headfirst into making over the way you think about productivity, understanding time blocking is an essential first step to making the shift from spending time into investing it in the things that matter most.
Time Blocking: A Quick Primer
Time blocking is the art of scheduling time with yourself for what you deem important. And, the best thing about it is that it has compound results.
“What’s amazing is that the path to getting everything you want really does start by getting one thing at a time,” Woods says. “It means we have to think big, but actually start by going small and trusting that the dominoes will fall.”
Dominoes serve as one of the best analogies to explain how time blocking works. In 2009, a group in the Netherlands broke the world record for domino falls by lining up 4.5 million of them. Knocking over the first domino doesn’t take much effort, but it effectively unleashes 94,000 joules of energy, or as much as it would take you to do 545 consecutive push-ups.
Related reading: A Quick Formula for Unlocking Your Potential: The Domino Effect
“That one almost effortless action could unleash a massive reaction,” Woods says. “That’s what time blocking is. And when you do this over time, extraordinary things become possible because we know a two-inch domino does not just knock down one of equal size; it can actually compound and go 50% larger. So a two-inch knocks over three, a three-inch knocks over four and a half. By the 18th domino, you’re knocking down the Leaning Tower of Pisa, and by the 23rd domino, the Eiffel Tower. Thirty-one dominos, and we are 3,000 feet above Mount Everest, and by just the 57th domino, you could build a structure that would reach almost from the Earth to the moon.”
When you put time blocking in place and do it every day, the domino effect takes over, compounding your results and offering you an extraordinary business and an extraordinary life.
Five Tips for Effective Time Blocking
1) Get clear on what actually matters. Productivity culture offers us the lie that when it comes to ‘getting things done,’ all ‘things’ matter equally. Time blocking helps you zero in on what’s really important. “Most of the time, we don’t have a problem saying ‘no,’” Woods says. “We actually have a problem with clarity on what we should be saying ‘yes’ to.”
2) Write it down. Look through your calendar, whether it’s analog or digital, and write down your time blocks. Go beyond that, and mark off days or set times for vacations, spending time with your family, planning for your business, or any of your other priorities. Before the year starts, Woods blocks off school holidays and planned vacations, so work can’t creep into those days. “It has just made me so much more purposeful in creating moments with the people that matter most,” he says.
3) Prepare for it. That means showing up when you intend to and with everything you need. If you’re lead generating in your time block, have the list of who you’re going to call already in hand. “I preplan my failure by not preparing,” Shreve says. “So come into that time ready to go so that when the clock goes, we execute whatever we said was important.”
4) Preplan unplanned time. To keep your focus on your blocked time, allow room in your schedule for everything else. Shreve calls it “swim in the crazy” time, which follows his morning time blocking. “It allows me to lean in and do something because I know in a minute I can be totally reactive,” Shreve explains. “I can check my email and go on a walk. I can do other things. That’s my strategy to keep my focus in the morning on that one thing.”
5) Protect your time block. Turn off your internet and email. Make signs. Do whatever it takes to keep people from infringing on your time block. And, don’t forget to pack the snacks. Before you go into your time block, Woods suggests asking yourself these questions: “What is the ideal environment that’s going to support you?”; “What are the things inside your bunker that are most likely to steal your focus?”; and “Who are the people most likely to interrupt your time block?” Knowing the answers in advance helps to protect your time block.
Work Smarter, Not Harder
What is your current strategy for organizing your work? Have you already used time blocking, or plan on doing so?