Time Blocking for Beginners

How many emails do you think you get a day? At the peak of my practice, I was getting 200+ emails a day.

Always-on behavior is harmful to long-term mental health and bad for productivity.  The constant fragmentation of our time and concentration has become the new normal, but it has eroded our ability to concentrate. 

The impact of interruptions on individual productivity can be catastrophic. In 2002, the average professional experienced an interruption every eight minutes. In an eight-hour day, that is about 60 interruptions. All those interruptions makes it IMPOSSIBLE to concentrate.

So, how can we improve concentration?  By deliberately reducing distractions, planning our day, and taking purposeful breaks.

One proven productivity technique is time blocking, which involves setting an appointment (with yourself) to do a single, high-cognitive demand task or a batch of similar tasks (like emails or phone calls) in a specific time block.

Start your day with a list of no more than 3 tasks that must get done and no more than 5 tasks you should get done.  Then, there are the inevitable business hygiene tasks that you have to take care of every.single.day.  Email, phone calls, administrative meetings, etc. 

After deciding on your must dos (big rocks), your should dos (pebbles) and business hygiene (sand), set a focused block of time to deal with each of them. Schedule the time blocks on your calendar around your meetings and other obligations. 

Be sure to match the task with your energy level, so that you are handling your biggest, most taxing projects when your mental clarity and attention span are at its peak.  And, schedule your routine tasks and administrative projects for time when your energy is low or you are more distraction-prone. 

 Studies show that our brain can focus for 90 to 120 minutes before it needs a break. So, GET TO WORK and then take purposeful breaks.  Take a lap around the office.  Chug a glass or two of water at the water cooler. Go sit in the sun and listen to Indigo Girls.  It doesn’t matter what you do as long as it allows you to decompress and reset. Then, GET BACK TO WORK. 

 I have shared my sample schedule <as a partner in an AmLaw 100 firm> MANY times and every time I do, it is highly controversial.  In fact, I even had another shareholder tell me that I was abdicating my professional duties by not reviewing every email I received in real time.  But, I will pinky swear that because I only touched emails once and because I emptied my inbox every day, no one noticed that I only checked my email a few times a day.   

This type of schedule is only sustainable if you LOVE what you do.  And, I loved practicing law.  I loved solving hard problems, collaborating with brilliant colleagues, and writing compelling stories <for the court>.  And, lucky for me, I still get to do ALL OF THAT as a career coach!! 

 Remember, anything or anyone that doesn’t LIGHT YOU UP is too small for you. 

Cheers, Sarah-Nell

Career Coach + Strategist

Wayfinders, LLC