Updated: Mar 21, 2019
Do you want to be making the most of your time, rather than just doing things as they pop into your head? Do you feel overwhelmed with the amount of stuff you need to do and aren’t sure how to get it all done? Does your life have a lot of moving pieces that you need to continually track? Do you need a scheduling system that’s actually practical and lets you see how you’ll be using your time? Look no further than calendar blocking. You've got the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, it's time to start putting them to good use.
Calendar blocking is simple. Your aim is to fill your calendar with blocks that tell you how you’ll be spending that time. Personally, I currently use my Google Calendar to calendar block because it’s convenient to check and easy to move the blocks around if plans change. I’ve also calendar blocked on paper planners, though you’ll need one with lots of room to write for each day and it can be difficult to update if your plans change.
Calendar blocking can be done one day at a time, a week at a time, a month at a time, continually, or whatever works for you. In school, when my days were much more variable and I often didn’t know what each day would look like until the night before, I’d block out the following day before bed each evening. My life is more predictable now, so I have recurring events already blocked out on my calendar and add in new tasks as they come up.
I think it’ll be easiest to understand calendar blocking if I just walk through how I plan my week, so that’s what we’ll do. First, grab a calendar.
Start by filling in the things that are non-negotiable. This will be things like work and classes. Anything with a predetermined time that happens regularly and cannot be skipped goes onto the calendar first. I'll be doing this example by planning out one week, but whether you're doing a day or a month, the steps are the same.
If you need to commute to work and back each day, SCHEDULE THAT, TOO! The aim here is to fill all of the time that you're awake with blocks that represent the activity you'll be doing at that time. If you don't put commuting time onto the calendar, you won't have an accurate representation of how much time you have left over to work with.
Next, start scheduling in the other things that you need to take care of. I prefer to start with the routine things that I know I'll be doing every day at the same time. It's easiest to schedule in larger events like dinners and workouts first, then put the smaller tasks around them.
After filling in any things that aren't as flexible, you'll see what space you have left to fill in with other plans. I like to put chores that I need to do on my calendar, because things that can be done at any time often get done at no time, and chores definitely fall into that category. I also saw that I had time on Saturday to visit my parents, so I added that to the calendar.
After all of the most important things are on the calendar, it's easy to see what time you have left to schedule in the things you want to do. Personally, I like to schedule in time to relax, because I know that when it's scheduled, I'll actually take the time to take a break, and I won't feel guilty or like I should be using that time for something else. Schedule in time to do more of those things that you want to do but never seem to be able to make time for!
A fully blocked out calendar could look something like the one above. All of the things that must be done are scheduled so that we can fit in the things we want to do around them. A few bits of white space are left, so that new plans can be added to the calendar as they come up.
For instance, if something important came up after work on Thursday, I can move that writing session to Saturday, and have time for whatever just came up without sacrificing my writing time. Similarly, if it turns out that it will be rainy on Saturday afternoon, I can just move the hike to a different day. Google Calendar makes this easy since events can just be dragged and dropped to a new day.
Tips and Tricks for Calendar Blocking:
1. Schedule more time than you think you'll need. In the calendar above, I gave myself an hour for dinner. Since my dinners are often meal prepped, I can typically prepare, eat, and clean up from dinner in about 45 minutes but having an hour gives me extra time in case something goes wrong or takes longer than normal. It's much better to have extra time left after you've completed your task than it is to be rushing to finish. I typically give myself about 25% more time than I think I'll need.
2. Do what works for you. Maybe it freaks you out to see a fully blocked calendar without white space for breaks. Schedule in white space. Maybe all the colors are overwhelming. Make the whole calendar grey. Maybe you hate the idea of scheduling in dinner each day. Skip it. What works for one person may not work for everyone else, so don't be afraid to make modifications so your calendar works for you.
3. Personally, I have multiple Google Calendars set up. This allows me to toggle calendars on and off so that I can see things in specific calendars. For instance, I have a calendar for deadlines, so if only want to see my deadlines for the week, I can turn that calendar on and all of the others off. To create a calendar, just click the "Add Calendar" button to the left of your calendar.
Having multiple calendars also allows for easy color coding. Each of my calendars has a specific color, so that I can tell at a glance how my day will be spent. I also assign brighter colors to things that are very important. My deadlines calendar, for example, is red.