Thoughts On Block Scheduling

AE_BlockScheduling2

Months ago, on one of our planning days, Katie and I started talking about the ways we could be more organized and productive with our time and energy during the working hours. We keep fairly regular work hours (9-5) even though we have the flexibility to work at different times. Even with those regular "work hours" I felt we could be more intentional with our time.

Prior to beginning the block schedule we were all over the place during our work day, mostly motivated by whatever was due or whatever I felt like working on at that time. When you work that way there's really not much time for intentional planning and I always felt like I was putting out fires. It might sound awesome to be able to pick and choose what to work on (and in so many ways it is) but it's also easy to lose sight of the bigger goals.

Here are some of the reasons I wanted to try implementing a block schedule: 

  • I wanted my evenings and weekends free. There have been times over the years when I've had really loose boundaries related to work. I think this might have a lot to do with the fact that the lines between work & life can be easily blurred around here (my life is a big part of my work and my work is a big part of my life). In order to get to the point where I could let go of working in the evenings and on the weekends I needed to make sure that I was finishing what I needed to finish during the hours I have already set aside for work. I also needed to simply decide that was what I was going to do and then follow-through. That in and of itself has been a process for me over time to let go of work-stuff when I should just be focused on living-stuff. Everyone around here benefits when I'm in alignment with that intention.
  • I wanted to be more organized, intentional and focused with my tasks. I was doing way too many things last minute vs. planning ahead. I was also doing way too many things all at once and jumping from project to project without feeling like I was immersed in anything. The other end of that coin, which I also experienced, was a hyper-focus on one thing or another to the detriment of other things on my list.
  • I wanted to be working on making stuff vs. wasting time living someone else's life on Pinterest or Facebook or where ever it was that I was clicking around. As many of you know and have experienced it's easy to get lost on the internet - finding cool stuff, daydreaming, ordering products, getting inspired (or frustrated), etc. And in reality some of those things are a part of my work life. My problem is that sometimes they begin to take over and I find myself doing way too much of that and not enough time creating my own content (whether that's developing new classes, products, etc).
  • I wanted to have the next week of blog posts all planned out (and at least half of them all ready to go) by the time we leave the office on Friday. This plays into the evenings and weekends free portion of my goals. It's an awesome feeling going into the weekend knowing that I won't be asking myself what I'll have on my website for Monday morning on Sunday evening. I strongly dislike that feeling.
  • I wanted to try something different. I've never created and/or maintained a structured work schedule like this and I was curious if it would make a difference for me in both the way I felt about my work day and my overall focus and productivity. There's already a lot of inherent discipline that goes into working from home (especially in a creative field) and I wanted to see how I would react to the added structure of a time-specific schedule.

With all those things in mind we moved forward with setting up a significantly more structured work day. Here's a look at that process:

AE_BlockScheduling

STEP ONE | FIGURE OUT THE TASKS

The first step was to simply make a list of my main tasks/responsibilities. I wrote out a list that included everything I could think of that I generally do from week to week (knowing I'd probably forget something).

From there Katie and I talked about which things I really wanted to spend my time on (in an ideal world where I didn't have to consider income) and which things would be her responsibility. Getting those two things (generating an income + what I love to do most) into alignment is always the goal.

That discussion was super valuable and it's one that we will continue to have as we make adjustments and as my business evolves.

At the time we created this first block schedule my tasks included email/admin/social media,  product design, class content creation, Project Life®, traditional layouts, video editing, post writing, unfinished projects, project planning, online inspiration, classroom maintenance, and a few other miscellaneous things.

STEP TWO | CREATE A SCHEDULE

After we had a main list of tasks I made a spreadsheet grid using Numbers (you could easily use Excel or other spreadsheet software) and outlined a Monday through Friday week from 9am to 5pm which are generally the hours we work.

I sat at the computer and we talked through some of the weekly deadlines we have and focused on placing those tasks in the schedule first. Doing this on the computer made the most sense as it was easy to move things around and color-code it all so I could see it right in front of me.

As we talked through creating the schedule we opted for bigger blocks of time (vs. doing one hour for this and one hour for that) to give ourselves some room to see how it went and to enable me to really get into something vs. just scratching the surface. We knew it was likely that other things would come up - either things I forgot or simply things that came up (new project opportunities, things that happen once a month, etc).

On the schedule we designated my job and Katie's job for any given time period. There were some places we left off her specific job as we anticipated that what she would be doing at those times was cleaning up loose ends and/or catching up on things from earlier in the week.

Here's what we came up with:

  • 9AM - 10AM | We begin each day with Admin. We both answer emails, check classroom message boards, post to Facebook/Twitter/Google+ and outline our expectations for the day. Starting out this way across the board has helped us stay on track and adjust as we go before things get way too far off track.
  • 10AM - 12:30PM | Monday : Digital Products // Tuesday : Digital Product Examples, Digital Product Post // Wednesday: Project Life (spreads not working on posts) // Thursday: Unfinished Projects // Friday: Post Planing
  • 12:30PM - 1PM | Lunch.
  • 1PM - 1:30PM | Online inspiration/Pinterest posting/browsing and/or prepare inspiration posts. We both thought it was important to actually carve out time for this because we believe there's value in spending time looking for inspiration and setting aside specific time for it vs. just doing it whenever we felt bored. This doesn't mean that we don't click over there at other times too (we both do) but again, it gives us a specific time each day that we know will come again the next day too.
  • 1:30PM - 5PM | There's a few different blocks in this area that cover the following tasks: Digital Product Sample (Monday, 1:30-2:30PM), New Content Creation/New Class Creation (Monday, 2:30-5PM) // TBA (Tuesday, 1:30-5PM) - this is a catch-all afternoon that can be responsive to whatever the most important task might be such as a blog hop, design team projects, catch-up, etc) // Project Life post (Wednesday, 1-3PM), OLW/Blog Hop/Interviews, etc (Wednesday 3-5PM) // Unfinished Projects (Thursday, 1:30-2:30PM), Post Writing/Video Editing (Thursday 2:30-5pm) // Weekly Layout & Video (Friday, 1:30-5PM)

One thing we added in after the fact was a half-hour for me to work on financial stuff one day each week. This carves out a bit of time for payroll, paying bills, budgeting, reconciling and taking care of any other things along those lines.

STEP THREE | IMPLEMENT

After setting it up on paper we printed out a couple color copies and we put it into practice.

We stuck with it pretty consistently for about three weeks. It was enough time to see that it definitely worked (achieved the goals I was hoping to have happen) when we stuck with it. We both felt organized and motivated and we liked that it was super clear what we should be working on at any given time. Things were getting done and my personal focus increased.

I loved that I was forced to stop at a certain point and move on to something else.

I loved that I could let the other stuff go to focus on whatever is on the schedule (vs. feeling the pressure of all the things on the list because I know there will be time set aside to attack it later in the week). That was huge for me.

I loved that it really makes me think about other opportunities as they pop up. Do they really fit with my current goals? Is taking time away from one of my regular tasks on the schedule worth it to be able to do this other thing?

It was like a breath of fresh air was breathed into this space. Seriously.

And then Katie went on vacation and I did good on my own for a couple of days and then fell off the wagon and focused on whatever I was most interested in at the moment. Ha. It's really easy for me to fall back into my old semi-organized fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants-distracted-ways. Which in reality is okay - the things that needed to get done still got done.

That said, we're back on it and we're making some adjustments once again to align it with my current goals. I think that's one of the things I liked most - it's a general structure. It helps keep me in line and gives me something to come back to when I get off task. It's also flexible and can be adjusted as needed.

STEP FOUR | EVALUATE

Now that time has passed since we started and from when we fell off the wagon it's obvious to both Katie and me that this is a great general structure for us to have.

Here's some additional observations: 

  • I've noticed that we stick with the schedule the best at the beginning of the week and/or in the morning and are most likely to fall off schedule in the second half of the week/second half of the day. This could have something to do with why I've not made a lot of progress on those unfinished projects. I should probably keep track of what I end up doing on those Thursday mornings instead of the unfinished projects - what's taking up that time?
  • I've noticed that there really is time to get all the things done I have on my list if we follow the schedule. Less distraction = more productivity. I know it's kind of a "duh" concept, but it's true. And it feels good.
  • I've noticed that I really like having someone keep me on task. It's awesome driving the ship but sometimes even the captain feels lost. I like having Katie here to help me stay on task and evaluate what really is the next most important thing.
  • I've noticed that when I'm following the schedule it helps in other areas of my life too. Because I feel more productive during the work day I feel more free to spend my evening energy on other things without that running list of work to-do's in my head. Kids benefit. Garden benefits. My health benefits. Those are all definitely wins.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Looking at this original schedule now there's definitely some adjustments that need to be made as we move into the summer months and as project priorities shift.

I'm excited to be back on track. Not in a guilty-I-screwed-it-up-I'm-a-failure way - I simply now know how much the structure really does impact not only our productivity but how I feel about my working hours.

Go Ali & Katie go.


Check out a post Katie did on her blog about what a typical day is like around the office here. http://bit.ly/1kY0Nc1

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49 thoughts

  1. P.J. says…
    05/14/2014

    Thank you for this post. The explaination of your planning and set-up were wonderful. The follow up of actually doing it and the readjusting your plan will be helpful for me to follow your examples. Great post. I'll be examining my life. Maybe I can actually get some things done.
    (May I borrow Katie for a month or too? LOL)

    Reply 0 Replies
  2. Michelle t. says…
    05/14/2014

    I can't imagine how hard it must be to work for yourself. Good luck with your block scheduling it sounds like it's done a lot good so far. Michelle t

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. Alida says…
    05/14/2014

    Great post , Ali. You and Katie make a cool team. I'm also currently thinking about being more productive/creative.

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. iHanna says…
    05/14/2014

    Thanks for writing this up and sharing it. I recognize many of my own working from home issues, it's really hard at times but also a lot of freedom (maybe too much freedom at times, like you say). Will try to figure out a better schedule for my self over the summer I think.

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. LisaAnn says…
    05/14/2014

    Love this. Perfect timing with this post for me as I'm in the process of starting up a business from home, and I just seem to wander aimlessly at times. I recently started thinking I need some kind of set schedule to gain better focus and guide my day. It was super helpful to see how someone else goes about it. Great idea to have a catch-up time as well. I certainly tend to overestimate the time it takes me to do things! ;)

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Maria | marygoesround.de says…
    05/14/2014

    Great post, thank you for sharing ♥ You seen to be a really good team!

    xo Maria

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Melissa says…
    05/14/2014

    I love this post. I wish I could figure out how to take this concept and make it work for block scheduling evenings/weekends. What I mean is, I work outside the house during the weekdays, but I need to be doing creative/blog tasks in the evenings/weekends. Trying to fit that in with house stuff and spending time with my son & husband too is hard. I would love to figure out a way to "block schedule" that non-full time job time.

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Marcia at Organising Queen says…
      05/17/2014

      I was in the same situation for YEARS and I "allocated" time from 8 - 10:30 pm every night to my business.

      A couple of nights for coaching clients, a night for writing the 3 blogs for the week, one night for the current project (that changes all the time), one night for admin/ planning/ finances and catching up anything that didn't quite get finished.

      What I LOVED about my blocks of time was knowing in advance what I needed to do, and also having a realistic view of my time (at one point I totalled up all the things I wanted to do and realised I'd need a 27-hour day.... yes!)

      All the best to you!

    2. Ali says…
      05/14/2014

      Hi Melissa - I was thinking about that as I was writing this up. I think it's possible if you are ready for this much structure. I think even just assigning different days - such as Mondays for this project and Tuesday for these two tasks might be helpful. Then on Monday when you have time (say after your son has gone to bed) you know what you are working on in advance and that you will have time for other things later in the week.

  8. Brianna Soloski says…
    05/14/2014

    This is super helpful. I have a set schedule at my day job, which allows me to spend my afternoons and evenings working on my freelance work. I've never been good at scheduling myself, but this block schedule format is definitely worth a shot. I'm going to work something up this week to begin this coming Monday.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Paula says…
    05/14/2014

    You have inspired me to get my Outlook calendar preplanned for the next week. When I do this, I am definitely more productive. Like you, although with a very different type job (IT Manager/14 direct reports), I find that if I create blocks to do observations, feedback sessions, documentation, monthly reviews, analyze results, development sessions, training, etc, everything runs smoother and more gets done. Thanks for this reminder. PS I am also a fanatic about being able to "change color" on the calendar to green, which = DONE.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Jennifer K says…
    05/14/2014

    Thanks for sharing this. It is a huge challenge (as well as a gift) to be able to work from home. I always have lots of different things to do, and it is so easy to get "lost" in the day and get none of them done! What you shared in this post was both reassuring and encouraging.

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Kelsey McEvoy says…
    05/14/2014

    I LOVE having those "ah ha!" moments, especially when it comes to productivity and efficiency. I'm still new to this whole "being creative" thing (or the "feeling creative" part of it, at least) but I have already experienced how important AND difficult it can be to set firm scheduling boundaries around creativity in order to make sure time doesn't escape and other things that I NEED to do, get done.

    I posted my time management technique a couple weeks ago. It certainly isn't for everyone, but it definitely works for me! Feel free to read about it here: http://www.lifeoutloud.kelseymcevoy.com/2014/05/the-35-15-rule-for-boosting-focus-and-productivity/

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Cindy Wick says…
    05/14/2014

    About 12 years ago my brother died and my husband and I took his children. We have 6 of our own, 5 like stair steps, so when my brothers 3 came to live with us. it was a huge adjustment. We homeschool and after all that my brothers kids had been through, they needed to just be at home for awhile too.

    I did this exact thing. I wrote a schedule for every ones school subjects and chores. I seriously ran the house like a boot camp. But with 8 kids 12 and under, I'm convinced it's the only way we survived. My brothers kids learned to read while they were here ~ the 12 year old read his first book. Long story and not for here but they hadn't had much care before they came to live with us. But they LOVED the schedule, and getting things done. So did my kids and me for that matter!

    I've used this tool over and over again in my life to get things accomplished. I'm so glad you've decided on this method of productivity. So many people think that schedules are limiting but I completely see them as freedom.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Cynthia H says…
    05/14/2014

    Reading through your reasons at the start of this post and want to say that One Direction's Story of my life is now playing in my head. Thank you for writing this down!! It is so helpful to identify with your process.

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Cynthia H says…
      05/14/2014

      And I so here you about getting wrapped up in others' lives. I've started saying to myself scrapbook, not facebook, in order to get out of that circle.

    2. Jen says…
      05/27/2014

      Love that! Scrapbook - not Facebook!

  14. Gina says…
    05/14/2014

    This was interesting to read about your process and how it's going so far. It is so easy to just lose track of time and never accomplish get what you need to get done. I find this happens so often now that I'm not working at a full time job and balancing all the family responsibilities with the job. I thought I'd have all this stuff done around the house but nope!
    This post was also so useful to me because it was an "ah-ha" moment...I never did One little word because I just couldn't find the right word. I have lists jotted all over the place but nothing was just right for this year....it's Intentional. (of course if I had read your list in more detail I would probably have seen it but I wanted to come up with my own word). It sums up exactly what I want to work on this year - intentional with planning my day, intentional with spending time with my family and intentional with my memory keeping. Thanks.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. Emily Ruth Gulka says…
    05/14/2014

    Hooray!
    I had been waiting to see how it was going!
    One December I did a loose version of block scheduling, just focusing on one holiday related thing each week. Monday is for shopping, Tuesday is for working on cards, Wednesday is for making stuff. It was so good!
    Now, I'm going to jump in & try it in real life.

    I was wondering (& maybe I missed it in the post) what do you do if you aren't done with something when the block is over?

    Thanks again, girls!
    A very fun glimpse into the blocks & super inspiring!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Ali says…
      05/14/2014

      Good question - it really depends on if there's a specific deadline in place. Sometimes I'll work on something over multiple weeks knowing it was going to take longer overall (requires planning even farther ahead). If it's due tomorrow I usually work on it until it's done :).

  16. Ann E. Ford says…
    05/14/2014

    Hey Ali, telecommuniting isn't for sissies, that's for sure. Way to reign in the day and make it yours. ;)

    Reply 2 Replies
    1. Ann E. Ford says…
      05/14/2014

      "telecommuting,"--my bad. ;)

    2. Ali says…
      05/14/2014

      Your comment made me laugh out loud! You better believe it!

  17. Faith says…
    05/14/2014

    Slightly off topic but I've been meaning to ask how do you manage editing your photos with your computer screen backlit? Doesn't all that wonderfully bright extra light make it hard to see while editing? I've been curious if you have a trick to block the glare on your screen or something else? Thanks

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Mallory says…
    05/14/2014

    Love you girls! Not only are you two such an inspiration to me, but I feel like I have friends across the country. I just wish I could do what you two do everyday, and it'd be even better working with you. :) I love to be organized, I love lists, I love schedules, so thank you so much for letting us in on how you girls organize your days.

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Michelle says…
    05/15/2014

    Yay Ali Yay Katie, working in your living space and living in your work space can be a hard gig, the lines blur constantly... and it takes enormous discipline to excel in both. Routine is now my key, it wasn't before and occasionally the haphazard sneaks back in (though to be honest I find that this is more to do with my attitude/emotions). That key I discovered after trying structure after reading your initial blogpost on creating blocks. Its ok to have a messy unorganised day once in a while but now I find those days are the hardest to deal with in terms of how I feel about what have I achieved, what could I have achieved, and no not in a beat yourself up kind of way but in a lets get back on task/routine kind of way... at the end of the day, end of the week it all gets done but I feel better about my day and week when I follow albeit loosely sometimes a pattern/routine/structure. It is far easier (and more productive if I am honest) to maintain structure than it is to have to regain. Working from home sure does have its benefits, yet I cant help feeling there are as yet untapped benefits to be discovered. Keep on Keeping on Ali & Katie, Keep the inspiration, honesty and motivation going xx

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. Jane says…
    05/15/2014

    Really important post!! I have printed this out for myself. Now back to doing some work.....

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Ilana Polakiewicz says…
    05/15/2014

    Ali, this is a great post. I've made a schedule for me a year ago and the impact into my life was huge. Organizing and planning really made the difference and now I have more time to spend with my kids and family.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. Becky says…
    05/15/2014

    Thank you so much for sharing! My husband (with my support) is working on starting his own business and I think this approach will help immensely with being purposeful and productive with so many things to do!

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Chloe Murray says…
    05/15/2014

    If only I could stick to a schedule like this! I've just finished my second year of university, and really could have done with such a strict schedule for my revision. I never would have kept with it though, knowing me!

    www.chloesthoughtss.blogspot.co.uk

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. Susan says…
    05/15/2014

    Caught a bit of you on "Scrapbook Soup" episode on PBS this morning (my husband had it on when I walked through the living room!). A fun surprise :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. Diana Waite says…
    05/15/2014

    THANK you for sharing this, and your honesty of what worked and what didn't--I've been having an idea rolling around in my head on organization and this helped me a SO much--thanks!

    Reply 0 Replies

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