Hi, my name is Aleena. I am the Operations Manager here at The Money Panel, lover of all things systems and processes, chaperone to two small people (Amelia, 6 and William, 4), and undeniable coffee addict! Within my role both as parent and Ops Manager, effective time blocking is the absolute cornerstone of ‘success’. I use time blocking here as a catch-all phrase which encompasses time boxing, day theming, and task batching, all of which I will include in this complete guide to effective time blocking.
Effective Time Blocking Consists Of:
Time Blocking for Parents
Raise your hand if 2020/21 has seen you working more evenings and weekends? Or sat at your desk/dining room table/sofa/kids bedroom floor staring at the screen wondering how you’ve achieved so little today! You’re certainly not alone. A recent survey revealed that 60% of people work longer hours than they want and 24% say it’s hard to relax and not think about work.
I have worked from home for several years, and I began utilising time blocking to organise my working day and week soon after realising that I was losing several hours a day and didn’t know why. Because working from home offers such distractions as:
- Getting odd jobs done around the house
- Making endless cups of coffee
- The sofa!
- Too many impromptu solo dance parties (just me?!)
And these are all before the kids got sent home to join in the fun!
In such an uncertain and changeable year, the one thing I know with absolute certainty is that effective time blocking can save your sanity. But let me be clear from the beginning that working a full time job (whether self employed or employed) from home and remote teaching children of any age simultaneously is an entirely different beast.
Side note: if you’re interested to hear why I won’t call it homeschooling I’m happy to answer in the comments!
Perhaps one of the most important tips I’m going to share is around celebrating your wins, however big or small.
If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that;
- Our mental health deserves and needs to be protected
- Family is everything
- Working from home requires a level of discipline
- Being a teacher is hard!
With all of the above in mind, I want to begin with the importance of a good routine if you have children at home.
We’ve all heard that children thrive with a routine, right? When all the daily routines we are used to are unceremoniously removed it’s so very easy to react a little bit like a rabbit in the headlights.
I always thought it was simply in my nature to not like routine. I am a bit of a free spirit: I like to explore things I find interesting, and prefer to be the authority than respond to it. For years I actively rebelled against my own attempts at structure feeling as though I was tying myself down.
If this sounds like you, don’t despair! It’s not that you’re ‘just not a routine person’, it’s simply that you haven’t found the right routine for you. I can’t tell you what time you should wake up, how long you should spend in each block, or any of the other things which gurus reveal as secret formulas. Our home lives are unique, you and your family will have different needs to mine, and our jobs require varying things from us.
In a nutshell, make sure that your routine includes:
- Time to complete important work. This might sound self explanatory, but there is nothing more motivating than feeling super productive. And the best way to feel super productive is to complete a task in its entirety. An important element of time blocking is batching, which I will explain later. If you haven’t read ‘Eat the Frog’ I highly recommend it.
- Time to relax. “What? When? Have you met my kids?!” Okay, I get it! With two very small (and *ahem* spirited) children at home, and with no second adult in our household to answer any of the 85,000 questions I get asked in a single day, I understand exactly how difficult relaxation can be to work into your day. That doesn’t it make it any less vital. It doesn’t have to be hours, in fact it doesn’t even have to be one hour. 5-15 minutes of time spent with just your breath can do wonders!
- Time to indulge in a passion. I have found that combining this with the above works perfectly for me. I love to read, so I make sure to spend at least 15 minutes every day reading. I find it relaxing and it’s something which is just for me.
- Time to explore an interest. This one is often also combined with the above two steps (see how this works!) Again, this could be 10 minutes researching something of interest, watching a YouTube how-to video, reading, or indulging your favourite hobby. I combine my relax/passion/interest time because it works for me. You can do the same with your own hobbies, but there is plenty of science to back me up when I say please try not to rely on screens for your relaxation. If you watch a YouTube video to learn something new, great! Make sure you carve out another time to get your relaxation in.
- Some flexibility. Small children are unpredictable. There will likely be some non-negotiables in your diary (meetings with set times, etc), but where you can try to make sure that your plan can be at least slightly fluid. I have a set time at the end of the day which is solely for ‘snagging’. These are things that were in my diary for the day, but for some reason out of my control didn’t happen.
- Time to sleep. Again, I’m stating the obvious here I know. But I know first hand how easy it is to slip into an unhealthy relationship with your bed, especially when you have young children. Personally I know from years of experimenting that I thrive best on 7.5 hours sleep per night. My youngest wakes around 6am every day, so I wake at 5am.
If that instantly sounds like hell, I get it! I have 30+ years behind me of self confessed night owlery. If no one else in your house is awake until 7, 8, or even 9am then there is absolutely no need to be awake at 5am in my opinion!
What works for me is carving a little quiet time into my morning, knowing that the rest of the will be anything but! Waking before everyone else also gives me time to Eat that Frog, meaning by the time my kids wake up I already feel like a productive queen bee!
Planning for Time Blocking
A good plan is key. I love a physical planner and pen. But as Operations Manager for an online company I also recognise that things can change and evolve rapidly so I also use digital tools to plan.
Time spent setting up your week is possibly some of the most valuable time you will spend each week. Carve out some time each week to plan ahead – I do this on Sunday morning, but you can choose a time that works best for you.
Specifically, I use Trello and the Law of Attraction planner. I love Trello because of the ability to move tasks up and down my list at will, clearly label them, and share task status with others in the team.
Day theming is exactly as it sounds. Give each day a theme, and assign tasks based on those themes. My Trello board is set up with a list for each day. Within each list are cards with my specific tasks.
Each day of the week is dedicated to a specific area within the business – this means when I need to add something to the to-do list I know instantly what day to add it to. Need to complete a social media task? That’s a Monday job. It also means that when I need to give a time scale on a task I can do that accurately.
At the end of each day I set tasks on the next day’s list as ‘to-do’. These are the tasks that I’m going to complete the following day. Anything not marked as ‘to-do’ will remain on the day’s list until the following week!
Your week will likely look vastly different to mine, but my week includes:
- Monday – Planning, Scheduling, and Strategy.
We have our team huddle on Mondays, so this works well for me. I also love the feeling of scheduling a week or more ahead on Monday, because it starts my week with an organised and accomplished vibe. I use Mondays to get to inbox zero, pick up on things that have come in over the weekend, and diarise anything new for completion.
- Tuesday – Websites and tech work.
A huge part of what I do is making sure our websites and tech work seamlessly for our customers and clients. Any updates which are needed, tech and website tweaks, and even full re-designs happen on a Tuesday!
- Wednesday – Audience specific work.
At The Money Panel we serve a wide variety of people, but these can be broadly distinguished into financial professionals and non financial professionals. The work we do for both audiences is simply incredible, and to achieve the positive impact which underpins everything we do, I dedicate a day each week to any tasks which serve one of those broad audience bases.
- Thursday – Audience specific work.
- Friday – Podcast and Writing.
We put a huge amount of work into our podcast and blog at The Money Panel, which has just reached 100k downloads, and for which we are forever grateful to our podcast mentor Anna Parker-Naples. There are lots of moving parts which go into organising these and making sure we are always delivering the best possible content we can.
Task batching works incredibly well alongside day theming. Again, just as it sounds, task batching involves completing similar sets of tasks concurrently. If I have graphics to create, a workbook to design for a course or programme, or anything else creative these tasks fall under the umbrella of ‘Canva’ work.
These might be design tasks for several different projects, so on the surface might seem unrelated. Batching tasks together in this way allows you to get into flow and almost always results in achieving more in a smaller time.
As an example, on Friday of this week I have 3 podcasts to complete. They each will be scheduled and repurposed into blog articles. I will also create quote graphics from each episode, be sure to share the go-live date with any guests we have interviewed, and lots of other tasks related to great podcasting!
Batching these tasks is as simple as:
- Upload all 3 audio tracks to our podcast software
- Create 3 blog articles
- Create shareable quote graphics
NOT batching these tasks would look like:
- Upload 1 audio track
- Create 1 blog article
- Create shareable quote graphics
- Repeat x 3!
I can absolutely guarantee that the second method would take at least twice as long as the first!
Your business will have several different needs, so I advise spending some time writing down all the tasks you tend to complete on a recurring basis. You will then be able to identify themes and work from there.
After I have checked my tasks for the next day, grouped them into batches, and marked them as ‘to-do’ in Trello, I write these tasks into my physical Law of Attraction planner. The LOA planner has some amazing features, but by far the best in my opinion are the weekly spreads. Each day is broken down into 30 minute slots from 5am to 10pm. This makes time blocking a dream – I can see at a glance:
9:30am – 10:am ‘Emails’
10am – 10:30am ‘Snack time’
10:30am – 11:30am ‘Social media scheduling’
And so on. You could absolutely achieve this same effect within Trello or an online tool, but for me I find that writing things down enables a higher level of thinking, and therefore, more focused action. Writing down my day cements it in my brain, and allows me to see instantly if I am overstretching myself.
The big difference this year to previous years working from home is that instead of blocking for ‘school drop off’ and ‘school pick up’, we are now having to block in times for remote learning, snack time, and play time!
Blocking your day into half hour slots helps you to see immediately if you are expecting too much of yourself. Often attributed to Bill Gates, the quote goes “Most people overestimate what they can do in a day and underestimate what they can do in a lifetime.”
If you’ve ever got to the end of the day feeling like you haven’t stopped but have barely scratched your to-do list, you’re likely overestimating! Be realistic with your time, the demands on your time, and your personal needs. Tune into yourself and observe. I tend to lose focus after around 2pm, so I make sure to block some time for a wake up activity (5 minute dance parties are a regular occurrence here!) and I don’t plan in any tasks which require intense concentration after 2pm.
A Complete Guide to Effective Time Blocking for Parents in 2021 – Celebrate
Celebrate your wins each day – trust me! Ending the day feeling incredible that you got just ONE thing done is far more motivating than trying to sleep while worrying about all the things you haven’t done. Celebrating your wins is also one of the most important ways to avoid burnout.
Accept that you are human, that the demands on your time have increased, and that all achievements are just that. Achievements.
I pat myself on the back and congratulate myself (literally) every day that I wake up at 4:45 because (trust me!) that is an achievement in itself. So celebrating that helps me to start my day feeling like I’ve totally got this, and that vibe follows you through the day.
At the end of every week I reward myself for all my hard work with a Netflix binge. Every other weekend (when my children are with their dad) I dedicate an entire day to my passion: reading! Finally at the beginning of every month I decide on one bigger thing I will reward myself with at the end of the month. This could be a massage, a new candle, or something else.
(side tip: I don’t watch TV during the week for a few reasons. 1. Getting up at 4:45am means being in bed by 8:45 and asleep by 9:15. This means that once I’ve put my kids to bed, read stories, fetched another glass of water, and tidied up there really isn’t time. 2. It’s too tempting to watch until gone midnight! 3. I find TV contributes to brain fog for me, so I save it for the weekends when the demands on my brain are lower!)
Effective Time Blocking, Task Batching, & Day Theming
Do you use any of the methods I’ve included in this guide? Share with us in the comments any techniques or methods that you use which I haven’t mentioned here.