Working with a coach 2: Time blocking

When I first started working with my coach, what I really needed was someone to kick my arse. Accountability has been something I’ve really struggled with since I left my old job. I’d always worked for an organisation and always had a boss. And even though I always had bosses who very much trusted me to manage my own time, just knowing there was someone who would notice and care was enough to make sure all my shit got done, even the boring bits. Of course now I have my clients, and I daresay they’d notice if my work wasn’t done. Because I know they’re waiting, their stuff does indeed get done, without fail. But all the rest of the things involved in owning a business… well, they can easily fall further and further down the priority list, which obviously isn’t ideal. If you don’t do all that admin and marketing and other non-client-facing stuff, your business will eventually suffer, or at least stagnate. I also had a suspicion that I even though I was getting the editing done, I could probably get even more done, and therefore earn more, if I could just stop wasting so much time, mainly on social media.

Gina introduced me to a concept that has genuinely revolutionised my life. It’s called time blocking, and it’s pretty simple. You organise your day into chunks of time, and assign a task to each chunk. You also schedule in breaks where you will do something else, away from your desk. Crucially, you do this in advance, at the start of the week or each evening for the next day, so you never have to waste time dithering about what it is you’re supposed to be doing. As I am a consummate ditherer, this sounded perfect.

For accountability, I would send my time blocking to my coach, and she’d check in to make sure I was staying on track.

Here’s what a typical day of time blocking might look like for me:

  • 09:00–09:45    Edit 2000 words of current manuscript
  • 09:45-10:00     Strip beds and put wash on
  • 10:00-10:45     Edit 2k
  • 10:45-11:00     Put the girls’ clean clothes away
  • 11:00–11:45    Edit 2k
  • 11:45–12:30    Empty dishwasher and have lunch
  • 12:30–13:15    Draft new blog post
  • 13:15–13:30    Put the sheets on to dry
  • 13:30–14:15    Edit 2k
  • 14:15-14:30     Sort hair out (because I probably haven’t done anything with it yet)
  • 14:30–15:15    Social media
  • 15:15               School run

As you can see, I schedule EVERYTHING. I get little bits of housework done around my work. I have dedicated social media time. I make sure to include marketing and admin tasks as well as my editing work. I remind myself to brush my hair. This way of working brought me a startling revelation: if you put aside time to do things, things get done. Who knew?

Time blocking has many advantages:

  • It forces me to plan my day effectively to make sure I can fit everything in.
  • It takes away the time and mental effort wasted on deciding what to do next – if you’ve done it the night before, the decision is already made.
  • It’s forced me to think about how I work and how to get the better of myself – if I know I’m likely to put a task off in favour of editing, I schedule it in my first block of the day so I can’t use the excuse of running out of time or energy.
  • It’s helped me (somewhat) to use my social media time in a targeted, focused way (I’ll be honest – there’s still a fair amount of slippage in this area.)
  • I can work with my natural dips in concentration to get the most out of my editing time – after about 45 minutes of editing, my brain always starts to wander, so I might as well take advantage of that.

Like any system, it’s not perfect. Time blocking does have its disadvantages too:

  • Disruption can throw you into a tailspin, whether that’s a minor one like a knock at the door or a huge one like having to pick up a vomiting child from school. It’s easy to get stressed out if you fall behind, and the temptation to say “Oh, fuck it all” and drift Twitter-wards when your blocking has gone to shit can be strong.
  • It can take time to figure out the right chunks for you. And then when you think you’ve figured it out, you get a piece of work that’s completely different and you need to reassess it all again.

It’s important to find a balance and a rhythm that works for you. And it’s important to recognise that it’s not always going to work – some days you just need to be more flexible. Another important thing Gina made me realise is that some days will just go badly, and that’s OK. It’s not necessarily my fault, or the fault of the time blocking system; it’s just life, and you can try again tomorrow.

Time blocking changed my days almost immediately. Even now I’m no longer working with Gina so no one sees my blocking but me, having it written down in front of me helps keep me accountable to myself. This change happened right at the start of my coaching journey, so it became clear that maybe accountability and efficiency was really only a tiny part of what I needed help with. Perhaps there were bigger fish to fry. But that’s a story for another day.

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