The Truth About Time Blocking (Or: How I Learned to Love Compartmentalization)

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October 25, 2018 6:59 pm Published by

Time Blocking Tips

Time Blocking Tips

I’ve always prided myself on my ability to react quickly to communications:

If you send me an email, I’ve been known to respond within the hour.

If you shoot me a Slack, I’ll often chat back within minutes.

I’m always on top of texts, and extremely quick with a Twitter reply.

As it turns out, this penchant for quick-draw responses is also my downfall when it comes to productivity.

I work at Crazy Egg — an all-remote company where digital communications come in many forms: Slack channels, emails, Zoom calls, JIRA tickets, Confluence pages, and comments in Google docs.

Too many Slack channels

Too many Slack channels

I’m in charge of a product marketing manager, designer and developer. I’m also the point of contact for our content marketing agency, and our co-marketing partners. You can see how staying on top of everything and responding quickly could get overwhelming and distracting, fast.

It’s also a recipe for long-term failure.

As the leader of a marketing team, I best serve my company when I have breathing room to do research, collaborate with other teams, talk to our customers, think about strategy, and read.

As the leader of a team at a company that’s centered around conversion rate optimization, I best serve everyone when I can ship things quickly, analyze the results, and consistently make small improvements based on my observations.

“I don’t have time to do any of those things when I’m constantly switching gears,” I said to my boss, about four months in. “I’m going to get burned out.”

He suggested that I compartmentalize my time in blocks. I told him that was a nice idea in theory, but I was willing to give it a try.

Taking Time Blocking For a Spin

time compartmentalizing

time compartmentalizing

Being an overachiever, I decided I would give each day a theme. The first thing I did was break down my tasks into categories:

  • Performance Analysis (looking at marketing channel metrics and website user behavior reports)
  • Editorial (editing blog posts, writing case studies, project review and feedback for our content marketing agency)
  • Backlog (building JIRA tickets for my designer and developer)
  • Optimization (making improvements to new email drips or conversational marketing playbooks)
  • Misc (communications, research, digging into ideas shared by team members, etc)

Then I assigned each task a weekday based on what I thought would make logical, progressive sense:

  • Monday: Misc (so I could catch up on emails, tackle any additional editorial work from the week before, pick my projects for the upcoming week and mull over strategy)
  • Tuesday: Performance Analysis (so I could check on the results of last week’s Optimization projects and take notes on what to tweak)
  • Wednesday: Optimization (so I could look back at my notes and come up with action items)
  • Thursday: Backlog (so I could assign those Optimization action items to my team)
  • Friday: Editorial (so I could round out the week doing what I love best)

Time Blocking: Expectations vs. Reality

In my head, the resulting Google Calendar would look something like this:

Easy time blocking

Easy time blocking

In reality, it actually looks like this:

Real life time blocking

Real life time blocking

Acknowledging reality is very important if you want to be successful at time blocking.

It’s all well and good to say “Today is Analysis Day!”, but chances are you will still have requests for co-marketing meetings, someone will have a customer support question, and someone else will want your opinion about ad copy.

Recently, my boss asked me for metrics — on a Wednesday. I reminded him gently that he should know better.

Joking about time blocking

Joking about time blocking

Practical Time Blocking Tips

A few words of advice for staying cool, calm, and (relatively) in control of your calendar:

  • Approach time blocking with the knowledge that you won’t be able to keep any of your workdays entirely free of distraction
  • Actively triage what’s urgent from what can be assigned to the appropriate day
  • If it’s helpful, break your themed days into smaller blocks (for example, in the second screenshot above, I added a bunch of sub-tasks to Friday, my Editorial day)
  • Keep your day-themed projects, links and notes together so you have all the info you need when you start each morning (I save everything within the Google Cal time block itself)

It’s been about a month since I started using this time management technique. My boss checked in with me about it (via Slack thread, ironically interrupting my analysis work) and I gave him my honest feedback:

“It takes a ton of discipline and reprogramming my gut reaction to answer every email and Slack message in real time. It takes a lot of concentration and triage to slot tasks where they belong in my weekly schedule.”

But the truth is also this: I’m loving it.

As head of marketing I have far too much strategic, big picture work to do, and there’s no way anyone in a leadership role can get into deep focus mode or be productive if they’re switching gears every ten minutes and getting distracted by small tasks.

There’s also no way I could deliver on my promise to ship things like website redesigns, ad refreshes or customer onboarding email campaigns fast and iterate quickly. These are key growth drivers for the company.

As Shonda Rhimes recently said during her keynote at HubSpot’s INBOUND conference, “Everything I’ve ever done that is truly worth it or brought me any manner of success is hard work.”

I also love this quote by my friend Andy Cook, CEO of Tettra:

Quote about discipline from Andy Cook

Quote about discipline from Andy Cook

If you have the strength of will to stick to a time blocking routine, it’s well worth the initial slog.

Got any questions? Feel free to shoot me a tweet @attackofthetext. 

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