Who doesn’t want to feel more energized and focused throughout the week?
When working for yourself, there always seems to be another dozen unchecked tasks at the end of each day. Sometimes you may wonder what you even did all day, and before you know it you are falling behind on your goals and feeling exhausted. How can you get out of that vicious cycle?
My secret to managing your time productively is first understanding your natural energy rhythms (“chronotypes”), then time chunking – aka blocking – your schedule to match what your natural energy fluctuations.
This method of time chunking takes into account how the brain works so you can realistically make your calendar work for you – and not the other way around!
I have created a FREE GOOGLE SHEETS TEMPLATE so you can easily follow the steps and create an ideal weekly calendar! Before you begin, enter your number below – or text IDEALWEEKLYFLOW to (205) 964-2122 – to get the link and join my list for weekly productivity tips and mind growth hacks!
WHY TIME CHUNKING BOOSTS ENERGY
In simple terms, time chunking/blocking is the process of dividing up your day into themed chunks of time called blocks. Most people leave it at that, but there are a few things to keep in mind if you want to implement time blocking successfully:
- During these blocks, you execute only the tasks that fit into the block’s theme.
- Once the block is over, you must move on (even if you did not finish what you set out to do).
Aligning your time blocks to your already-in-place energy patterns ensures that you are in the best mindset to do whichever tasks at whichever time you previously laid out. As a result, you complete to-do’s faster and with less mental strain, which snowballs your efficiency and improves all outcomes over time.
The best part about time chunking is that you can create quite literally any theme you want for your blocks, or utilize commonly used themes like:
- Deep Work
- Out of Office
Considering that time is fixed, we need to accept that we cannot control it. A feasible way to do that is to focus on controlling how much energy you give during activities instead. With this in mind, it’s essential to see that your goal of time chunking is to manage your energy just as well as your time.
CHALLENGES & SOLUTIONS
All of the challenges that I have experienced with time chunking are not due to the technique itself, but my mindset / beliefs about what I “need” to make time for. The toughest and most common struggles are:
- Saying no
Saving your highly energized blocks for the most important tasks means that you have to:
- Know when you are at your highest energy throughout the week;
- Know what those tasks are;
- Believe those tasks are more important than anything else;
- Want to put your priorities (those tasks) over others’.
My step-by-step process has you track your energy patterns and then decide on your blocks’ themes in effort to counteract this challenge, but that does not prevent in-the-moment hiccups.
Only self-worth can do that.
Once you have created your chunked schedule, the next challenge is actually sticking to it.
When choosing your blocks’ themes, you are deciding what it is you want to make time for – which avoids extra decision-making day of and, consequently, saves mental energy to do bigger and better things. So do not change your mind day-of because of temporary circumstances; instead, view your schedule as non-negotiable.
If you cannot hold yourself personally accountable for your own priorities and time, then how could someone else trust you to follow through?
As you go through the flow, you may find that you are having trouble letting go at the end of the block because, for instance, you did not get everything done that you wanted to, need to finish this one last thing, and/or are in too deep to stop now.
A perfectionist myself, I endure this struggle truly every day. Some days are better than others, but the most effective strategies I use are:
- Setting different sounding alarms as triggers
- Using cube timers to track block durations
- Setting up daily reminders that say things like, “Let it go & move on; Am I being productive or busy?; Breathe.”
- Outlining my tasks and blocks the night before
Test out some ideas, find what works for you, and let me know your secret so I can try it, too! Implementing time chunking will take some trial and error, so be patient!
There may be nothing more annoying than being in the middle of a productive block only to get disrupted and lose that flow. I have discovered that the best way to handle interruptions is to schedule them in. Ironic, right?
At the start, middle, and end of every workday, I use my Buffer block to tend to emails, texts, 2-minute to-do’s, and anything simple that I should get off my mind. This ensures that I have time for handling or planning when to handle whatever is incoming, and allows me to maintain focus during all other blocks.
I additionally set up my phone’s Do Not Disturb settings to automatically silence notifications during certain hours, but have excluded work contacts whom I do want to hear from.
Managing interruptions is a skill in and of itself, so check out this blog for effective tips and tricks that ease work-from-home life.
When new opportunities arise, it is essential to listen to your internal clock as well as assess your priorities, availability, and costs of saying yes.
More often than not, we say yes to incoming tasks we do not have the scope for because we:
- Do not have the guts to say no in the moment;
- Mistakenly view the distraction as an opportunity; and/or
- Feel guilty for letting someone else down.
Saying yes to others means that you are saying no to yourself and do not think of your priorities as more important to achieve than theirs. It’s clear that all challenges of time chunking are interconnected, so focus on valuing yourself and chunked schedule more than anything else and things will fall into place.
BENEFITS OF TIME CHUNKING
When you consistently follow a routine that you personally designed, the benefits are truly endless. The most notable affects you will feel are:
- Increased energy
- Greater control
- Less Procrastination
- Faster results
Have you heard of the “night owl” or “early bird” before? Well, every individual already has preferences for mornings, afternoons, or nights, and has a general idea as to when their energy peaks and falls.
These preferences are a result of how our bodies naturally fluctuate in energy over time – fluctuations that behavioral scientists call “chronotypes.”
The foundation of time chunking is being intentional about when you exert energy so your most complex tasks align with your most energized times of the week. Doing so will ease task execution and, therefore, take up less energy to finish.
Through focusing on just one theme per block, you reduce context switching and multitasking which, of course, also saves energy.
Here’s the key: you decide on your blocks’ themes, purposes, and time slots – no one else. Otherwise why even work for yourself?
Time chunking helps you plan what matters most to you – whether that be completing a project or getting a massage – and then when to attend to everything else.
Once you get a taste of this control over your own calendar, you will never go back!
Procrastination comes in many forms (particularly when working from home), so I am going to speak to the one I struggle with the most: figuring out what to do next.
To account for every type of task you do – as a solopreneur, it’s a wide range – it is incredibly helpful to track your week (I show you how!) so everything is included in your themes.
Allocating specific times in your week to get certain items done avoids the need to stop and think about what to do next. When you glide from one block to the next and realize how many items you are checking off, your:
- Sense of accomplishment proves you can do it
- Confidence and ability to say no increases
- Anxiety and overwhelm reduces
- Intrinsic motivation continues to build
After following your chunked schedule for even just a week, you will notice how much faster you complete what you set out to do.
When your schedule is ready, habitualizing this routine will ensure that you always fall into a productive state / get into the zone exactly when you need to.
Saving a few minutes here and there plus having more air to breathe compounds way quicker than you are probably giving it credit, so see for yourself!
After lots of research, I have combined various time management methods and created a comprehensive process for time chunking your week to better manage your energy while working for yourself. The steps are:
- Track your week
- Find your natural flow
- Create your template
- Schedule your template
- Practice and optimize
Step 1:Track Your Week
To successfully control how you spend your time and energy, you must first understand how you spend both now by tracking your actions for a week. The only way this works, though, is if you are honest about what you do and for how long.
Tracking honestly does not mean judging yourself for bad habits, but only means collecting data about your starting point. If you do not know where you are now, how you you plan for adjustments moving forward?
I suggest tracking a few minutes here and there to keep it quick and easy; this process should not take more than 10 minutes total each day. Here’s an example for how you could do it:
- Tomorrow afternoon (such as during your lunchtime), label a piece of paper with the date and bullet your notes.
- Repeat at the end of the workday, and again at the end of the entire day.
- Continue for at least 5 workdays (aim for 7 days if you can!)
You bullets should include:
- Duration of each activity
- Energy level at the start and end of each activity
- Anything else you wish!
Do not move on to the next step until you finished tracking your week!
Step 2: Find Your Natural Flow
First, review your notes about your week; then highlight habits you want to improve and any patterns / themes you may notice.
If you haven’t yet, enter your number below (or text IDEALWEEKLYFLOW to (205) 964-2122) to open your FREE Google Sheets template and receive weekly mindset growth and productivity inspo. Then print the Google Sheets template or make a copy to edit.
This Google Sheet is your personal template to design your model week – what I like to call the Ideal Weekly Flow. Having a template helps you structure your days as effectively as possible since you already know what the best use of your energy and time will be.
Use your notes about your week and the steps below to fill in your Ideal Weekly Flow template:
- Shade the hours when you are asleep grey. Add black borders marking when you wake up and go to bed.
- Shade when you are the absolute highest in focus and energy yellow.
- Shade when you are moderately focused and energized orange.
- Shade when you are least focused and energized red.
- Review the emerged pattern to visualize your natural energy rhythms!
Step 3: Create Your Template
Now that you can literally see how your energy flows throughout the week, it will be much easier to take advantage of your flow each day!
There are endless themes you can assign to your chunks, so only do what works for your lifestyle. I’ve found the 4 most productive chunks for my solopreneur life are:
- Deep Work: working on the most complex tasks that are of the highest priority
- Examples: strategic development, writing, marketing
- Duration: 30 minutes – 3 hours
- Business: working on not-too-complex tasks that are important
- Examples: meetings, design, social media
- Duration: 30 minutes – 3 hours
- Buffer / Administrative: working on admin-like tasks that do not consume much energy or time plus attending to interruptions
- Examples: rituals, invoicing, proof-reading
- Duration: 15-30 minutes
- Out of Office: not working / taking personal time
- Examples: weekends, breaks, vacations
- Duration: 15 minutes – up to you
It’s important to note that even though we all follow our own energy patterns, it is fact that our brains have a limit for how long we can apply it at its highest level – known as the ultradian rhythm. In other words, after 90 minutes of intense work, our brains literally need to pause and recharge to be effective.
It is absolutely essential, then, that you add breaks to your template! I used to be awful about taking breaks; once I was in the flow, I never wanted to leave. But by mid-afternoon my brain had quit and my tummy was growling – not very productive!
Review your notes again and finish creating your template with the steps below. Of course, my themes are here just for inspiration so remember to use whatever works the best for you (which includes making themes up, if desired!).
- Add “Out of Office” into the weekends and parts shaded red.
- Add “Deep Work” into the parts shaded yellow.
- Add “Business” into the parts shaded orange.
- Add “Buffer” in between chunks to easily transition and handle interruptions
PRO TIP: Everybody has rituals in place – even if they do not realize it! It is a good idea to add your rituals into your template so you always have room in your day to follow them. If you want to dive deeper into rituals, check out this blog!
Step 4: Schedule Your Template
Congrats on designing your Ideal Weekly Flow!! Now that you have a model for the most productive week, it’s time to make it happen.
The most realistic way to implement your template is to schedule it into your calendar – yes, your real calendar! Making appointments with yourself treats your priorities as non-negotiable and prevents others’ priorities from taking their place. As long as you show up to these appointments, you are making progress.
Doing so depends on the type of calendar you use. For instance, if you have Google Calendar you can:
- Create a new calendar just for your template
- Set your “working hours” to align with your template
- Add “Out of Office” blocks to let people know you are not available
I strongly recommend that you use a physical agenda in addition to your digital calendar. No matter your choice, though, installing a Weekly Preview is the most efficient way to make sure your model and real calendars work together.
A Weekly Preview is a quick look into the week ahead. It takes only 5-10 minutes and should be done before the weekend to avoid those Sunday Scaries. When you mentally prepare for what is coming up, you will not worry about it on your time off.
Step 5: Practice & Optimize
I highly suggest you continue tracking the first two weeks of implementing your template as describe in step 1. That way, if you feel like any of your chunks need adjusting, you have the background notes that will reveal exactly what needs editing.
Be patient – remember that you will only feel the benefits of time chunking once you are consistent. Keep in mind, “80% of success is showing up” (Woody Allen).
TIME CHUNKING TIPS FOR SOLOPRENEURS
When working for yourself from home, there are some best practices that definitely make this process easier:
- View your calendar as non-negotiable
- Be realistic about your availability
- Schedule your breaks
- Listen to your internal clock
- Be patient and consistent
At the end of the day, there is a reason you are reading this blog – so do not let others and/or your own mindset get in your way.
If you only have 15 minutes here or 30 minutes there, take it! Time is fixed, so do not bother trying to control it; instead, focus on taking advantage of your internal clock and using your energy rhythm in your favor. Ensure you take breaks – which you can even theme! – to allow your brain to reset, and when in doubt think of the big picture.
There are ample time management strategies for you to choose from – which is why I did the research and figured out a way to align your energy with your calendar via time chunking.
Time chunking takes getting used to. At first, changing the status quo that is your current routine will not be comfortable. However, gaining control of your schedule and boosting your productivity like never before is always worth it.
The key to successfully implementing your template is patience and consistency at all times. Showing up is often the toughest part, but would you rather, “sacrifice your potential for the illusion of professionalism,” or let things that can wait until tomorrow wait? (Mark McGuinness, p. 27, Manage Your Day-to-Day, 2013).
As I always say, productivity is personal! If you’re up for it, send me your Ideal Weekly Flow template and/or any challenges you run into with time chunking!