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The secret to better time management? Smaller blocks

October 22, 2020

6 min read

This article has been translated from our English edition.

The secret to better time management? Smaller blocks
The secret to better time management? Smaller blocks

Courtesy of Timothy Carter

  • By reducing the time you spend on each task, you can even enjoy those wonderful breaks that you thought were impossible.

Most entrepreneurs wish they could manage their time better. There are only eight hours in a normal work day, but it seems like you have 20 hours of work to do each day.

There are many legitimate solutions to this dilemma. One of the most valuable strategies is learning to delegate effectively to reduce your overall workload. You can also automate certain tasks so that you no longer have to actively manage them.

Once you’ve used all of these tactics, you only have one real solution to optimize your productivity: time management. Only if you manage your time better can you get most of the tasks done in one day.

There are many tips for managing time effectively, but some of them are conflicting. I’ve found that one of the most important approaches to time management and a recurring resource for increasing productivity is based on a simple concept: Rely on smaller blocks of time.

How time blocks work

In case you are not familiar, “time blocks” are time slots in which you can schedule tasks or groups of tasks for your work day. Most people use an hour and a half blocks to block time during the day. For example, you can spend one hour on a morning meeting, half an hour on catching up on email, half an hour on a customer meeting, and one hour on a direct project.

This system is effective as it helps you estimate the time each task will take, group similar tasks together, and proactively prioritize your day.

The problem is, if you only use 30, 45, or 60 minute blocks, you won’t get all of the benefits of the strategy. Instead, you should work with much shorter intervals, e.g. B. 10 minutes or even five minutes (a strategy used by Elon Musk).

Why are smaller blocks of time so effective?

They counteract the Parkinson’s law

One of the biggest advantages of using smaller blocks of time is that you can counter the effects of Parkinson’s Law. In case you’re unfamiliar, Parkinson’s Law is an informal adage that says that work tends to stretch out to cover the time allotted to you. In other words, if you schedule a task to take an hour, it will likely take an hour, or nearly an hour. However, if you impose stricter time constraints, you naturally tend to get the job done faster.

This is especially useful for meetings that suffer from lax planning approaches. Instead of blocking 30 minutes, you should block 20 or 25. You probably won’t notice much of a difference, but you will immediately have more time to spend on your day.

Specificity and awareness

Smaller blocks of time are also much more specific than their larger counterparts, so you can more accurately estimate and measure your time expenditure. This in turn allows you to get closer to the tasks that are taking up your day and more easily identify sources of wasted time. The more aware you are of how you spend your time, the more effectively you can change your habits and work environment.

Control over breaks

Tighter time windows also open the door to an often neglected productivity boost: breaks. It has been shown that breaks have a measurable positive effect, both reducing stress and increasing productivity. They should be taken throughout the day. The problem is, when we are overwhelmed with work, breaks feel like an impossibility (or a symptom of laziness). However, if you can schedule a 55-minute meeting (instead of a full 60 minutes) or a 20-minute project (instead of a full 30 minutes), open up micro-slots that naturally fit in with breaks. You can also schedule regular breaks and experiment with duration and location. Over time, you will find a rhythm of calm that will aid your productivity without distracting you, and none of your other priorities will change.

Strategy problems

None of this means that small chunks of time are a perfect strategy or that they are guaranteed to work for everyone. There are some problems with the strategy. For starters, planning your day in five-minute intervals will take much longer than planning in parts of an hour. Additionally, there are more contingencies and dependencies to worry about. If a five-minute task lasts 10 minutes, the rest of the day is suddenly delayed. And of course, this strategy will work better for some types of workers than others.

However, most of these inconveniences can be made up for. For example, if you are concerned about too many dependencies, you can create small buffers in which to catch up with your work. If you are the type to struggle with traditional approaches to time management, give this strategy a try and see if it works best for you. The results may surprise you.