With Effective Time Blocking, You Can Kiss Workday Stress Goodbye

We've all felt the pressure of everyday life weigh us down. Our careers, familial obligations, and social lives can sometimes feel impossible to balance. If you also have a long list of personal goals you want to accomplish, it might be disappointing to reach the end of the day, only to find that you haven't checked any of those boxes. This is where time blocking comes into play.

Author Cal Newport, who penned "The Time-Block Planner: A Daily Method for Deep Work in a Distracted World," spoke to TODAY about the benefits of time blocking. As it turns out, Newport claims that not being able to cross something off of your to-do list isn't always a bad thing. "When you intentionally allocate your time and attention, you get way more back than if you don't," Newport said. "Whatever time you lose planning, you make back five times over the course of the week." Newport stressed the importance of flexibility, rather than sticking to a set schedule.

"The goal is not to stick to your original plan," Newport explained to the source. "The goal is always to have an intention for the time that remains in your day. It's not a problem if something takes longer than you thought. When you're done, step back and fix your plan for the rest of the day." Here is how to use time blocking effectively to eliminate workday stress and keep you on top of your to-do list.

What is time blocking, anyway?

To begin using the time blocking strategy to get more out of each day, it helps to familiarize yourself with the basics of this concept. Generally speaking, time blocking is defined as a type of scheduling that simply divides each day into blocks of time. As TODAY explains, this strategy can help you make the most of small periods of time that pop up during the day. For example, you might end up with a few minutes to spare between your lunch break and your next meeting. Time blocking can heighten your awareness of these hidden opportunities to cross items off of your to-do list.

By embracing time blocking (and conscious time management, in general), you can also eliminate any lingering fears that you might be forgetting something important. Taking a look at a calendar full of to-do tasks can immediately make you feel overwhelmed. However, having a time blocking schedule in place can alleviate this type of stress, knowing that you'll still have the potential to accomplish your goals.

As you adjust, you'll also gain a better understanding of how long it takes for you to tackle everyday tasks. This can ultimately help you make better use of your time in the future. For instance, knowing that emptying the dishwasher takes 15 minutes can help you fit it into your day in a way that works best for your schedule.

How to begin creating a time blocking schedule

To begin using the time blocking method, Monday Blog recommends beginning by identifying the tasks on your to-do list that need to be finished by a certain deadline. For instance, if you need to have a project completed for work by the end of the week, it should be at the top of your priority list. Once you have your to-do list completed, you can begin estimating how long each item will take to complete.

Perhaps the toughest part of creating your time blocking schedule will be identifying flex time — this accounts for the time you need to take care of unexpected tasks that need to be done immediately. While it might seem impossible to guess when you'll have a spare moment, you can make it easier by examining what you can expect to have on your plate daily. For instance, you may already know what your work schedule looks like on a daily basis. Perhaps you also know when you usually sit down for dinner with your family nightly. This type of information can help you create a time blocking strategy with ample flexibility.

Finally, don't forget to integrate your new schedule into your most-used calendar app, whether it's on your phone or computer. Doing so can ensure you stick to your plan and, more importantly, don't forget about it after you start.

Is time blocking a good fit for you?

If you're familiar with time blocking and its core concepts but you still aren't sure if it's right for you, you may want to reassess your existing time management strategy. While time blocking isn't always an ideal fit for everyone, its benefits are extensive, and they include the ability to reduce daily stress.

Asana notes that one sign that you might benefit from time blocking is that you often feel overworked. This could mean that rather than being intentional with your time throughout the day, you're trying to do too much, ultimately leading to burnout. Another sign that you may find your to-do list easier to tackle by time blocking is that you're always seeking ways to multitask. As the Cleveland Clinic explains, research has suggested that multitasking typically leads to less efficiency — regardless of how much you think you're getting accomplished. Additionally, it often increases the odds of making a mistake along the way.

If you're the type of person who gets distracted easily or generally finds it difficult to focus, time blocking can help. When you have a large chunk of time dedicated to accomplishing one task before moving on to the next, you may be more likely to stay focused. Time blocking effectively can also help you reduce distractions as you work, assuming you make the effort to keep these periods uninterrupted.

Effective alternatives to time blocking

While it's true that time blocking comes with numerous benefits, you might try it out only to discover it doesn't work for you on a personal level. This can be disappointing, but there are several alternatives that are similar to time blocking that offer the same type of benefits.

One option you might want to consider is task batching, per Timely. Task batching is based on the concept of grouping similar small tasks together and knocking them all out at once. This method may be helpful if you find yourself easily distracted and simply need a way to ensure that you're crossing a few items off of your to-do list daily.

Another option you can try is deep working. As Timely explains, the concept of deep work is based on concentrating on one challenging task for an extended period of time without any interruptions. Author Cal Newport is often credited with creating the term "deep work," and it has been adopted by many who struggle with distractions. Some believe that it can also provide long-term benefits, such as a heightened ability to concentrate for longer chunks of time. Accomplishing difficult tasks while deep working can also give you more satisfaction and increase feelings of self-worth.

How to melt away workday stress

Time blocking is just one of many ways you can manage your schedule more effectively and reduce workday stress. However, there are additional tactics you can try to help maintain your mental health. Forbes notes that it may help if you begin by viewing relaxation as an investment in both your body and brain. Instead of just looking at it as rest, view this time as recovery as well.

You might also benefit from making it harder to continue working once the day comes to an end. This means logging off your email, putting your computer out of sight, and avoiding phone apps that keep you connected to your work.

As Mayo Clinic points out, stress can cause symptoms including headaches, chest pain, muscle tension, and fatigue. It can also impact your mental health by creating anxiety, depression, irritability, and anger. Contact your doctor if you feel overwhelmed by stress on a regular basis.

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.