Why The Most Ambitious People Time Block

Have you ever wondered why a few high-performers insist on scheduling (i.e. time blocking) their entire day? It’s not because they are indulging in an idle pastime. Instead, they are resorting to this little-known technique because they have no other choice.

CEO’s. Olympic athletes. Entrepreneurs. Teachers. Part-Time Students. Parents of twins, triplets or more. Employees with a side business.

These are some of the busiest people you may know. But being busy isn’t just a state of mind, or a feeling. Research shows they have a practice of creating a huge number of tasks. In other words, the backlog of demands they have set for themselves far exceeds 24 hours per day and 168 hours per week.

Furthermore, they face the same challenge we all do of living in Jamaica, with its hectic daily surprises that make it so hard to focus. Time blocking is the way they stay on top of their time commitments.
What you may not know is that they actually started using the technique relatively late in life, after progressing through other practices. Here are the steps you could follow if you are looking towards a future of increasing task volume.

  • Start Off Using a New Kind of Memory
    Like most adolescents, you probably had a goal of having a great memory. After all, primary and secondary education is almost all about memorization, recalling facts and figures, using what’s called “retrospective memory”.
    However, there is another: “prospective memory”. This is the kind of memory used to perform actions in the future, such as your plans for the rest of the day. This type has a short shelf life, unlike retrospective memory. For example, your schedule for yesterday afternoon is of little value today.
    Furthermore, prospective memory is used to help you reach your goals and intentions. However, the fact that you’re taught to use personal memory to track incomplete commitments is a problem. Why? Once you try to remember too many tasks, it fails.
    Finally, the older you get, the worse this kind of memory performs; as you may have observed with your parents. It’s not a long-term solution to the problem of task recall, even though it’s the most popular.
  • Solving the Problem With Lists
    If you came of age before 2005 you probably sought to solve the problem by using paper lists. Consequently, you developed the successful practice of carrying around a pad or notebook.
    Of course, not everyone has learned the habit. “Don’t worry yuhself, mi wi remember” is a popular refrain that often leads to problems. (My casual observation is that more Jamaican men than women are likely to utter it, and less likely to have pen/paper handy.)
    Unfortunately, there is a limit to the number of tasks a paper list can handle before the practice of continually writing a new one becomes a chore. Plus, it can be lost, stolen, wet or burned. Thankfully, new technology on our phones can help.
  • Migrating to Smartphones
    If you came of age after 2010 you may think the idea of using paper instead of a digital task app to be backward. Instead, you jumped straight to using your phone to manage your tasks. Now, your cloud-based app offers perpetual safety, plus the ability to stay on top of much more todos. 
    But you are still subject to the law which states that whenever you try to manage your tasks with tools which lack the requisite capacity, you will experience difficulties. This law applies whether you are using prospective memory, paper or  a digital task app.
    So if you happen to be using an app and find yourself unable to keep up, there’s one more level to consider.
  • Adopting a Super Calendar
    Academics in the 1990’s discovered that when you specify the time to complete a planned task, it dramatically increases the odds of completion. In other words, you are more effective when you time block a task in your calendar than if you merely add it to a list.
    While it’s possible to use a paper planner, there are two powerful digital solutions: picking up a calendar on Google or Outlook, or switching to an AI-powered auto-scheduler. The former requires you to move tasks around one-by-one by hand, which can become painful. The latter uses an intelligent robot you can train to produce a new, optimal schedule on demand.
    And if you don’t want to manage your own calendar, a third option is to hire someone (like an administrative assistant) to do the job of time blocking for you.
    All three are techniques used by most ambitious, accomplished people.

Unfortunately, given psychological and technological limits, these are your only choices. Until something better is invented, time blocking tasks directly in your calendar is the best choice for dealing with a high volume of time demands with sharp deadlines.