When you first hear the word time blocking, you might say: “I’m using the calendar already to book my meetings and calls, but it doesn't help me a bit with becoming more productive. It just reminds me of things I should remember about”. Well, listen, here is the truth, it’s happening because you’re just not using your calendars right. It might sound too pretentious but let us explain.
The thing is that we don’t actually plan and schedule work in the calendars, we rather schedule interruptions which are events that distract you from doing your work like meetings, calls with customers, doctor appointments, etc.
Time blocking apps are able to make a big change. Instead of filling your calendar with never-ending events, start to plan out important work first, estimate the number of hours you need to complete it, and block these hours on your calendar. So, when someone is scheduling an appointment with you, they know when you’re occupied with other things and can choose another time slot. This is all about priorities - by planning out your time right, you can say no to things that are less important.
Today there are lots of apps of this kind able to bring this idea to life. We’ve explored about 30 most popular apps and are happy to share our insights with you so that you can choose the one that will work well for you.
What is time blocking?
Before we focus on ready-to-use solutions, let’s get a solid background of what time blocking is and what features are super-important to have there.
Time blocking is a productivity technique based on planning out your days in advance by dedicating specific time blocks to tasks, events, and responsibilities. Rather than creating open-ended to-do lists, focus on making a concrete schedule for each day that lays out what you’re going to work on and within which time frame.
Briefly, you have to list out things you need to do, prioritize them and estimate how long they will take. Then, get a sketch of your working hours in the calendar view and distribute tasks from most important to least important. At the end of each day, review tasks that are not finished as well as any new tasks that have come in and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly. This approach will help you to avoid making a choice about what to focus on during the working day and let you have enough time to do the task from start to finish without distraction.
One of the biggest concerns in regards to time blocking is that it doesn’t work for jobs like customer support, account manager, etc. where you should be reactive to new tasks that can show up at any moment. So, is it realistic to utilize this approach for those who manage customer requests? Well, we’d agree and say yes, as even a small amount of control over your schedule will be a helping hand.
Why is time blocking helpful?
It prompts deep work
Deep work means the ability to concentrate on a cognitively demanding task with no distraction. When you have a certain time booked to work on a specific task, you focus all your attention on one thing rather than spreading it across several tasks and cut off all distracting factors. Deep work will make you better at what you do and provide a sense of true fulfillment in the end.
It helps you reduce shallow work
Shallow work is the term that describes urgent but not very important tasks like paperwork, emails, chat messages, etc. Time blocking allows you to set clear limits on how much time you can spend on this kind of work per day. You can group shallow tasks in one or several dedicated time blocks to manage them all together so that you can reduce the context switching from higher-impact work.
It makes you realistic about how you spend your time
It’s not an easy job to predict how much time a task will take. In general, we tend to underestimate our efforts and then get into a situation when we don’t have enough time to accomplish a task. Blocking physical space on your calendar makes you far more aware of how much time you need to do a certain type of work. Then, when you do similar work next time, you can refer to your previous experience and make more accurate estimations.
It counteracts perfectionism
The main problem of any perfectionist is that there is always a place for improvement. If you often prolong tasks because of trying to get everything just perfect, imposing limits can help you say “good enough” and move on.
It helps you achieve your goals
Having a concrete plan of action will help you walk through towards your goals much faster. By scheduling time blocks you can take a step forward every single day and make your plan of action come to life to reach your final goal quicker.
Most common mistakes
Even though time blocking is very straightforward at the first sight, it might be quite hard to get used to this practice as there are some traps on your way. Here’re the most common mistakes people make when they’re just setting up and some tips to avoid them:
You’ll get a better feeling of how long tasks take over time but until you nailed your instincts avoid the situation of overplanning your schedule. Cater for extra hours to complete tasks in case you fall behind.
Lack of flexibility
There is nothing you can do about new things coming up and ruining your perfect plan. But please do not forget that your plan plays the role of your guide rather than a binding contract that makes you a slave of your calendar. So, take a moment to think if the new task is something that can wait its turn or should inevitably interrupt your plan.
Overscheduling your non-working hours
It’s a very common case when people try to apply the same principles to planning their leisure time which might not be the best decision. Studies show that scheduling leisure activities makes a negative impact on enjoyment. Instead, it’s much better just to block time to disconnect from work without a fixed plan for how you will spend this time.
How to start time blocking?
Are you ready to give it a try but not sure what to start with? We recommend following these seven steps, so you can take charge of your calendar and get valuable results.
1. Identify what you need to work on
No matter what time management technique you use, the first step you should take is to identify what you need to get done on a given day or week. Make a list of your to-dos and prioritize them all based on how important they are. Prioritization will grant you a clear understanding of which tasks should be completed today and which ones you can finish later.
2. Define your most productive time
Time blocking is helpful on its own, but you can significantly improve productivity by scheduling your daily activities according to periods when you have the most or the least energy. Are you more productive in the morning? Then, consider the first half of the day for tasks requiring more focus. Feel sleepy in the afternoon? Deal with smaller tasks like emails. Have a second wind in the late afternoon? Work on important tasks during this period and try to minimize distractions so that they can’t interrupt your workflow.
3. Block off personal time
Time blocking is not just about scheduling your work, it’s also about scheduling your free time. As mentioned above, no need to plan it by minutes, just create time blocks for personal activities to easily stick to them and at the same time restrict your working hours.
4. Group meetings
The problem about meetings is that they’re scattered throughout the day which makes it unbelievably hard to switch context and return to work again. Instead of being interrupted, aim for a block of meetings, so you have them scheduled close to each other.
5. Schedule tasks with time blocks
Once you know when you’re most and least productive, it’s time to schedule work on the calendar. Think of the priority you set before and allocate tasks to your time slots accordingly. It’s also absolutely fine if you want to come back to tasks more than once a day, e.g. replying to emails. Just plan it out in advance.
6. Plan breaks
Schedule breaks beforehand, so you have a more truthful picture of your day. Find time not just for lunch but also for a quick stretch or walk to give your brain a rest - quality leisure time is highly important.
7. Allow interruptions
Time blocking will eventually fail if there is no room for unexpected tasks during the day that has to be done asap. Of course, you don’t want them to totally destroy your plan but still, it’s important to engage. If this is a frequent situation, we recommend dedicating a special block with flexible time, so that you can deal with all unexpected tasks. Or, in case it interrupts another previously occupied block, you can move the interrupted work to it.
What makes a great time blocking app?
Of course, you could keep up with the time blocking just using the calendar you’ve been using before or even get it all with a sheet of paper. But with a special time blocking software you can just make the process a lot easier and much more automatic. Before we introduce the best apps to you, it’s good to know what exactly you have to pay attention to when choosing the tool for you. The best time blocking planner should:
Have a calendar alongside a task list
Before scheduling tasks on the calendar to block time slots, it’s great to have a possibility to collect all upcoming tasks first on a task list to set up priorities.
Make it quick and easy to add new tasks
Ideally, you should be able to drag and drop tasks from your task list to the calendar and have a user-friendly interface for adding tasks manually.
Integrate with your existing calendar
You almost certainly use Google Calendar, Outlook, or Apple to book appointments. So, it’s good to know that you can have all scheduled events in a single place.
Integrate with other tools you use
Whether you’re using project management, CRM, or support systems, it’d be wonderful if you could pull tasks from one system to another automatically so as not to miss anything.
The best time blocking apps
Now, when you know what exactly you have to do when implementing this technique, let’s have a look at simple and effective tools that will help you supercharge your productivity.
If you’re a Trello user, this is the best solution for you. Planyway integrates with your Trello boards and allows you to visualize your Trello cards on the calendar or timeline even from multiple boards. Apart from blocking your time slots with Trello cards, you can integrate the app with Google Calendar, Outlook, and other external calendars so that you have a full picture of your schedule.
Besides basic functionality, you can use the color code to distinguish different types of activities, set up recurring events, view checklist items, filter your cards and customize the card view. And the cherry on top is time tracking which means that when you start doing a task from your calendar, you can also turn the timer on and check how much time you really spend. This is a helpful thing if you want to get a report of your efforts and adjust your further planning to plan out more precisely.
Plan is a simple independent app mixing both a to-do list and a calendar. All to-dos can be grouped into different projects and prioritized, then easily dragged onto the calendar. As well as its competitors, it provides you with multiple calendar views from a daily agenda to weekly and monthly calendars.
One feature that distinguishes this app is the dashboard. If you’re interested to know how many meetings you had this month, how much time is spent on activities of a similar type, what locations you visited, etc. - Plan is the right tool for you.
The app easily syncs with your Google or Outlook calendar, getting out your meetings and other events, and allows you to block time for new tasks and projects keeping in mind other commitments.
Sunsama has a very nice and easy-to-use interface. No doubt, you’ll get how to use it straight after you set it up. The app suggests creating to-do lists sorted by days and then quickly dragging tasks to your calendar.
Sunsama not only syncs with external calendars but supports integration with such project planning instruments as Trello, Gmail, Asana, Jira to manage tasks from your existing tools as well. Slack integration is worth mentioning as a separate point. It’s super useful as it lets you first share your daily plan with teammates and secondly turn messages into tasks on your calendar.
As well as its competitors, TickTick allows you to compile tasks into lists and then block time on your calendar —daily, weekly, or monthly. In comparison with the other, this app is perfect for those who need to add new tasks on the go. TickTick lets you add tasks faster and easier - through voice input, by turning emails into tasks, or using Sire, widgets, and Quick Ball.
There is also a really cool filter allowing you to see tasks in smart lists such as "Today" and "Tomorrow", or alternatively it's possible to create your own custom smart lists. TickTick went further with the reminders as well. You could create multiple reminders for one task, set up reminders for check items to get reminded separately, and enable "Annoying Alert" to avoid missing.
To get an idea of how productive you are, make use of so-called "Historical Statistics" that shows the progress of each task, what you've achieved, and even calculates the Achievement Score based on the completed tasks. Another feature that helps TickTick to stand out among the others - a Pomodoro timer to control your performance.
TickTick integrates with several apps like Slack, Gmail, or IFTTT, or via Zapier with any of your favorite apps.
HourStack is another example of how time blocking apps get even more power in combination with the time tracking mode. Apart from visual planning through lists and calendars, you’ll find the built-in timer to track your efforts which helps to identify ways to be more nimble through the reports feature.
HourStack also allows you to organize tasks with color-coding which makes it easier to understand what is happening at a glance. Additionally, it seamlessly integrates with your favorite apps from Google Calendar and Slack, to GitHub and Hubspot.
Todoist is one of the best to do list apps that can be used to plan your time blocks too. The tool is super user-friendly which helps you navigate easily. Here you can personalize tasks with due dates, labels, use filters, recurring events, subtasks, priorities, etc., and have them scheduled on the calendar. Tasks can be divided into several projects and even delegated to other people.
Todoist also allows you to set up daily and weekly goals and what’s more - get productivity reports. The app can be integrated with dozens of other applications like Google Calendar, Dropbox, Zapier, etc. And last but not least is the view customization. We guess you agree that it’s a very nice option to pick a theme you like.
TimeBloc was created specifically for time blocking. Unfortunately, it’s only available as a mobile app but still has absolutely everything you need to streamline your calendar blocking experience. TimeBloc lets you block your day into multiple events, create a daily routine with recurrences, and integrates with your existing calendars.
With this app, you can add icons and colored tags to distinguish events easily, get notifications not to miss anything planned, and visualize your progress over time.
Google Calendar is the classical instrument that everyone has tried at least once in their life. It’s a universal tool and even though it has basic functionality it gives you lots of flexibility to make the most out of your day. Not everyone knows that Google Calendar has not only the calendar views but provides a to-do list as well which you can use to collect tasks before scheduling. Another perk - when you get an email about an event like a flight, hotel, or restaurant reservation, it can be added to the calendar automatically.
Don’t forget that Google Calendar is part of Google Workspace which is great to improve teamwork. Together with your team, you can schedule meetings quicker by checking teammates’ availability, create calendars to book meeting rooms or other shared resources, and share calendars so people schedule meetings just if you are free.
Another big advantage is that due to its huge popularity, we doubt there is a chance you can’t integrate it with other tools you’re used to.
Any.do is a very simple and intuitive app to manage your schedule. Your tasks can be organized in lists and projects. Also, you may color tag your activities, set priorities, and assign categories. Tasks you create simultaneously appear in the calendar view to block time. Notification is one more helping hand that can ping you on time so as not to miss important things.
Time blocking is a great approach to improve your productivity. It makes you focus on things that make the most impact, see how long a task takes, and distribute your time the most effective way. Although time blocking requires much self-discipline, now you know that there is a variety of time blocking calendar apps of a different kind that can come in handy.