I recently got back into the habit of calendar blocking when a good friend mentioned on Facebook that she was starting it again. Considering I recently made the switch to Bullet Journaling (I am way too much of a pen and paper gal to move everything online), it seemed like the perfect time to utilize it for a productivity boost.
Calendar blocking is one of those things I like because you can adjust it to fit your needs. I realize this can also feel paralyzing for some people, but my advice is two-fold:
Don't worry about getting it "perfect" from the start, and you can change it as you go once you find what works best.
There are lots of weekly printables online that breakdown each day into time blocks, but I used my BuJo, a pen, and a ruler to make my own. This works for me because I tend to get up around 8 and go to bed at midnight, so I can preset my "waking hours" for myself and maximize the page. I also like to start my weeks on Monday, because I try not to do too much work on the weekends.
Calendar blocking is a wonderful thing if you are a very visual person like me. I'm so visual when it comes to time that I still prefer analog clocks to digital ones. With analog clocks I feel like I can actually see how much time I have left before I have to transition to my next thing. If you are a digital person, that might sound a bit weird to you. That's ok, it takes all kinds. :)
In the vein of being visual, I like to color code my calendar. This helps me with transitions and mentally prepares me for what the week will hold. I like to use Frixion erasable markers and Crayola Twistables for this. Then I make a color key at the top. Here's how I designate:
Purple - Me. This is appointments, events, or other chunks of time that primarily involve just me.
Orange - My kiddo. His favorite color is orange, so this just makes sense for me. During the school year he will be on there more, but for this week, it's just a playdate for him. I'll be there too, but since it's mostly for him, I went with his color.
Blue - My husband. He rarely shows up on here. Because our son is 12 now and can be left home alone for short stretches, I don't need to worry so much about things he has going on, because if I need to attend a meeting or run an errand I can without him being home. He also doesn't have too much going on outside of work until school begins this fall. So for now, he will also not be on here much.
Green - This is work-related stuff. For me green equals money, so if I'm doing anything that's income producing or fits under the work umbrella it will be green.
Yellow - This is for personal growth/development work. I always have various things I'm doing that are just for me. These could be courses or trainings I'm working on, or even just books I'm reading. As part of my own self-care practices, it's super important for me to schedule these things in so they don't slip through the cracks.
Red - These are basic To-Do's. This is what I use to designate errands, meals, cleaning, random house stuff, etc. These are the things that just need to get done. Some of these can be doled out to my son too, but this helps me remember that they simply need to get done. Sometimes I'll note "computer work" here and that means messaging people, paying bills, and all the minutae of a busy mom who is juggling home, family, life, and work.
OK, but how do I figure out what goes where?
I'm glad you asked. Here's what I do.
Anything "mandatory" goes down first. For me this is scheduled time at the gym, roller derby practice, appointments, events, meetings, and anything else I've committed to that happens on a specific day at a specific time. These are non-negotiable, so they need to get in there first.
Then I make a list of everything else that needs to get done, or that I'd like to do. I just do this "brain dump" style and add to it as the week goes on and new things come up. I color each thing on the list with the corresponding category it falls under. Some items will be very quick, like making a call, sending an email, paying a bill. Others will take longer, like working on courses. For instance, I'm currently doing Denise Duffield-Thomas' Money Bootcamp, and I know that's going to take a few hours each week. I take these things into consideration when planning each day.
If I make a red block I'll look at my red tasks during that time and can usually complete several of them. If I schedule a yellow block, I generally will make that an hour to an hour and a half so that I can really enjoy my time learning whatever it is I'm working on and don't feel rushed. Some "red" tasks like eating, showering/getting ready, or cleaning portions of my home are chunks of time that I already know how long they take, so those I can specify.
Then I look at my days and what the big "blocks" are, before I schedule in tiny blocks. For instance, this week I know the majority of Wednesday I'll be out of the house. I'm going to schedule in a few quick things before we leave for the day, but nothing that takes long stretches of time. I've made a note for myself to pick up our CSA share on the way home, and then left a chunk of time open for me to get ready for a fundraiser gala I'm going to that night. By seeing that the day is already very full, I know not to pack it with too much more.
Tomorrow night I'll plan out Thursday, and midway through Thursday I'll plan Friday. Here's where you can be flexible if it feels right for you. Other than dinner with friends Friday night, and roller derby Saturday night, my schedule for the rest of the week is wide open. My weeks don't always end up like that though. I know Thursday/Friday I need to do some prep work for the bout Saturday night, so I will get that scheduled in, but I also may end up having other stuff pop up, so I'm not going to give it a dedicated time slot just yet.
I also schedule in "buffer blocks" of time. This is crucial. For me and my own personality if I feel too "structured" I will want to rebel. I'll scrap the whole damn thing and sit on Facebook all day sipping iced coffee and then hate myself at night when I got nothing accomplished. I can't feel like a stern boss is looking over my shoulder and that I have zero time flexibility. Also, you know as well as I do that days just don't always go as planned.
Perfect example: as I type this I'm already an hour behind in my schedule because I had a three-inch screw in my tire that needed to be removed. I had to schedule that in today, but it still pushed other things back. But this wasn't a crisis because the only other thing I have to do today is cook dinner. After this I'll do some course work and literally have nothing else for the evening, so I can relax and not stress.
Don't schedule yourself every single minute of every single day. Be realistic with yourself and your goals, and make sure you schedule in time for self care. Even if that means taking 15 minutes a day to read, or knit, or sit quietly with a cup of coffee while you zone out. Burnout is never sexy. If you need help with feelings of burnout, read more about how to get back on track in this blog post.
Most importantly, know that this is a fluid system. If some part of it isn't working, you are totally allowed to change it. You can even create a few of these. One just for work, or just for family stuff, or for each member of your home if you have kids. Just be sure you are making this system work for you, instead of making you feel like it's just another chore. The point is to be able to, at a glance, survey your days and your week to assess when you will be more or less busy, and so when new things come up you can make a smart decision on whether or not to say "yes" or "no" to that new thing, event, meeting, etc.
I'd love to hear your thoughts! If you already do this, make sure you share your personal system with me over in my Maximize Your Moolah Facebook group!