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Time Blocking: The Most Effective Productivity Tool I’ve Ever Used


Have you ever sat down at your desk with a million things that need to get done, but you just can’t figure out where to start? I know I have. But there is a very simple tool for just that problem.

You probably already keep a calendar, but unless there is an appointment or a meeting involving another party, you likely don’t schedule how you will spend the rest of the hours in your day. But what if you set an agenda for how you would spend every half-hour of your day? Sound like a waste of time?

Think about this way.

If you knew you didn’t have a moment to waste, would it limit distractions? Would you fritter away fewer hours checking Facebook? Could it save you from mindlessly saying “yes” to time-wasting meetings you don’t really need to be a part of? If you could redeem even just 2 extra hours a day, imagine how much more you could accomplish! That’s the value of time blocking.

How To Block It Out So You Can Knock It Out

So much of ministry life is self-directed. And I realized a few years ago that I needed a way to keep myself on track during the day. But I searched in vain for a digital tool that would help me block out my time. Everything I tried was extremely cumbersome. I spent so long trying to utilize the tools that instead of saving time I was losing it.

So, I ditched the digital and returned to pen and paper for time blocking. But what to use?

Day-Timer™ and FranklinCovey™ make some good analog tools for this, but I found myself desiring something a bit more. . . Christian, shall we say?

So, here’s a simple system I have been working on developing with some friends. At the end of this guide, there is a free printable PDF so you can try it yourself.

Step by Step

1. Spend time with the Lord

Your daily schedule is a function of your priorities, and the only way to reorient priorities to God’s each day is to first meet with Him in Bible reading and prayer.

bible-passage-time-blocking

2. Establish Your Top Goals For The Day

There’s a lot you can do today, but what should you do today?

I find that picking the three most important tasks for the day helps me tremendously in gaining focus. We tend to overestimate what we can get done in a single day, and then end up feeling defeated when we don’t tick everything off our to-do lists. Just pick a few biggies to focus on and put them down first, so you know you’re making time for them. We will schedule everything else around these.

to-do-list-time-blocking

Now, you’re ready to start blocking out the day.

3. Schedule The Non-Negotiables

Here are some glad tidings: Most of the work of time-blocking is already done for you.

Sleep, meals, meetings, and appointments are going to fill up the biggest portions of your day. So, block out those large chunks first, and let’s see what we’re working with!

non-negotiables-time-blocking

Okay, now we’re making progress. The rest of those open time blocks are yours for the planning!

4. Block Out The Rest of Your Day

Now, block out the remaining time you have some control over. What are you going to accomplish in that 3-hour window after your lunch appointment, but before you go home?

Remember your top 3 goals for the day? Let’s plop those on there first (I’ve indicated mine with a red asterisk).

day-totally-blocked-out

A couple notes about this example:

  • First, this is my plan for an ideal day. Everything will probably not go as planned.
  • Second, notice how few things I actually have time for once the non-negotiables are on there.
  • Third, at 7 AM I read 10 pages from 3 books. That doesn’t seem like much, but after a week that’s 210 pages. After a month that’s 900 pages of reading! Time blocking dominates on chip-away projects like reading or writing. You’d be surprised what you can accomplish in a few months with just one dedicated hour per day.
  • Fourth, notice I only put two of my three goals on there. I left out “Map out calendar of events until Christmas” because there just wasn’t enough time. That’s okay, it’s not super urgent. I’ll just make sure to find a better time-slot for it tomorrow. Besides, it’s waaaay too early to be thinking about Christmas. I’m still deciding on my costume for Reformation day (Should I go as monk Luther or bearded, disheveled Luther hiding out in Wartburg castle? I feel like the second one will require too much explanation, maybe?).

Hang on. One more thing! This part is important: Block out the ENTIRE day, including your free-time.

Depending on your personality, the time slots without jobs assigned to them will either be wasted (guilty!), or you will work right through the day without taking any breaks. That’s a sure way to drive yourself into a wall after just a few weeks. Schedule. Your. Free time.

Personally, I tend to waste unplanned time reading news articles about things I don’t care about, like tide pools on the Pacific coast. But if I schedule in a 15-minute walk after lunch, I get a rejuvenating break and I’m not stressing about beached crustaceans.

5. Pray for your day.

It is presumptuous to make plans irrespective of the Lord’s sovereignty over our lives (James 4:13–16). So, commit your day to the Lord and ask that He would enable you to glorify Him, edify Christ’s church, and to be flexible when ministry emergencies despoil you of your perfectly planned day.

Conclusion

Organizing your schedule and be disciplined with every moment which God has given you is an act of stewardship. Don’t get OCD about it, but be wise. Don’t just cross your fingers and hope you’ll get everything done. Good stewardship is planned stewardship, be it with money or time.

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Slave of Jesus Christ, husband, father, and Director of Digital Platforms at Grace to You. I also blog for The Master's Seminary.

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4 comments
  • Thank you so much for creating this blog! Please be encouraged. It is truly blessing me and helping my to over come procrastination. Is there a planner ( hand-held) that you suggest using to increase productivity?

    • I’m so glad to hear that, Angeline!

      I’m always trying new paper planners. Here are two which I’ve liked.

      I really like The Self Journal (https://amzn.to/2WCf09J) for blocking out my days. The downside of this one is the week ahead calendar area is too small to be useful in my opinion, but the daily view is a nice 2 page spread.

      I’m currently using The Full Focus Planner (https://amzn.to/2RZQnVY) it’s got some good features, so it might worth checking out. I haven’t fully utilized all of the features, but it might be things that others find helpful.

  • Great post. I first read this 6 months ago or so and it really helped me knuckle down and finish seminary. I was wondering, what does your devotions from 4 to 5 look like? Do you use a Bible reading plan? How much of that time is spent in reading and how much of that time do you spent in prayer?

    • Hey JT, so glad to hear it was a blessing to you!

      As far as my devotions, I’m always trying different things in different seasons. I’ve found the variety of alternating between fast and slow reading to be helpful for me.

      Sometimes I’ll pick a chunk of Scripture and read it over and over again each morning for a week or weeks. Especially something I really want to grasp. I learned that from John MacArthur recommending reading a book 30 times in a row. I’ve found that to be very beneficial and it sort of forces the book into my head. A lot of mornings you’ll read through it and feel like you got nothing out of it, then some mornings it’s like every word is being illumined by a 100w bulb, and you’re seeing stuff you’ve never seen before and thanking and praising the Lord. I’m a big fan of reading entire books in a single sitting. You just get so much out of it when you see the author’s whole argument strung together at once. Sometimes I’ll just sit and read an epistle or two in one go (that’s how they were meant to be read, and it honestly doesn’t take that long for most of them). Or I’ll plan a couple of hours to read a larger book.

      More recently I had a very regimented plan reading very a few verses in Greek and Hebrew and then in English to try and sharpen my language skills. But I was struggling with how little I was able to get through each morning and found it to be less spiritually beneficial than I’d hoped. I’m still trying to figure out how to keep the biblical languages in my daily diet so they don’t grow dull.

      Lately, I’ve been reading about a chapter each morning and spending more time reflecting and praying. I’m currently in Acts and it’s been really beneficial because reflecting on a small section tends to lead me to ask a lot of questions. Then, I end up flipping all around the Bible to look for answers. And that’s when I really find joy in the study—when I’m learning new things and praying for clarity and praising the Lord for what he’s showing me.

      I think principally, it’s important to have some kind of a plan because a lot of mornings you’re going to wake up not feeling like reading the Word. And not having a plan to make you do it anyway is a good way to get derailed. Then one morning you find yourself weeks later not remembering the last time you opened the Bible outside of church. Discipline keeps you seeking the Lord even when the feelings aren’t following. But, on the other hand, I think it’s important to be aware that if your regimented study time does become overly burdensome to the point that you’re not finding it helpful anymore, then we should feel the freedom to change it up. That’s what led me to this one chapter a day thing I’m doing now. It’s not much, but a little Scripture read consistently is better than a lot of Scripture not read at all.

      As far as prayer, it varies from morning to morning how long I spend. Again, consistency is what I’m trying to cultivate more than anything. I also use the PrayerMate app to keep a list of people and things I’m praying for. It serves up a random selection of items from my list each day which helps give me fodder if I’m feeling particularly foggy that day.

      What’s been working for you?

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