In our 2020 Executive Productivity survey, 21% of executives said they use time blocking to maximize their productivity. It’s a popular time management system since it provides a clear action plan, so you never waste time trying to figure out what to work on next.
However, the challenge with time blocking is that it's one of the most tedious time management systems to implement. Instead of relying on a prioritization framework to make productive decisions throughout the day, you have to plan your schedule in advance, which is difficult if you don't have a lot of free time.
A virtual assistant can help you master time blocking by doing the tedious work for you. Once you design your dream schedule, they'll help make it a reality by booking all of your meetings at optimal times.
Here's how to get started.
Map Your Daily Energy Levels
One of the biggest benefits of time blocking is that it allows you to schedule your day around your natural energy levels. By working on strategic projects when you're most focused and reserving less intensive meetings and tasks when you're more distracted, you're able to produce better results, faster.
To get started, you need to map out how your energy levels fluctuate throughout the day. If you've never thought about this before, spend a few days and pay attention to the hours that you accomplish the most and the ones that you're more tired and distracted.
Once you know your energy flow, create a rough hourly break down. Let's say you feel the most focused and energized in the mornings and late afternoon and experience energy dips midday.
You'd outline a schedule that looks something like this:
- 8 AM -10 AM: Deep work and strategic or brainstorming meetings
- 10 AM - 12 PM: Medium-focus work and other meetings
- 12 PM - 1 PM: Lunch and relationship-building meetings
- 1 PM - 3 PM: Medium-focus work and other meetings
- 3 PM - 6 PM: Deep work and strategic or brainstorming meetings
Your virtual assistant will use these guidelines to keep your optimal deep work time free from non-strategic meetings. Keep in mind that it may be difficult for them to determine which meetings are urgent, so you'll have to let them know.
There are two easy ways to do this:
- Tell your VA directly when you're making the request. This works if you're asking them to schedule a meeting outside of an email thread with a contact.
- If you're scheduling within an email thread, use a symbol or other inconspicuous hint to let your assistant know what kind of meeting it is. For example, when our CRO wants to schedule an important meeting, he'll say, "My assistant @Ana will coordinate for us." If it isn't urgent, he'll leave out the @ sign, and she knows to schedule during one his lower priority blocks of time.
Offloading scheduling will allow you to spend your peak hours on the projects that drive your success.
Decide If You Prefer a Batched or a Varied Schedule
Once you've mapped out your energy levels throughout the day, you can optimize your productivity during those blocks by determining if you're most productive when you batch tasks or follow a varied schedule.
Task batching is when you work on similar tasks back-to-back, so your day is divided between a few categories of activities. Studies show that task batching improves productivity by allowing you to focus intensely on one subject at a time instead of frequently switching between activities that require different perspectives and knowledge.
However, task batching isn't for everyone. If you struggle to stay focused on the same type of work for hours at a time, opt for partial batching with smaller blocks of same activities throughout the day or a varied schedule where you tackle projects in order of priority, regardless of how similar they are.
A virtual assistant can help you adopt any of these options by scheduling meetings per your preferences, grouping activities in your task management software, and adding project agendas to your time blocks.
Create a List of Recurring Blocks that Need to Be on Your Schedule
Once you've given your virtual assistant the scheduling preferences that maximize your productivity, provide them with a list of recurring activities that need to be on your schedule. This includes both fixed events such as team meetings and flexible items such as routine tasks.
Though this step seems simple, think deeper about your workload to ensure you capture all of the recurring tasks you currently do and the ones you'd like to add to your schedule. If you fully embrace time blocking, every hour of your day will be allocated to specific activities, so you’ll likely miss tasks that don’t make it onto your calendar.
Here are some of the activities people often forget to include:
- LinkedIn/professional networking
- Learning/professional development
- Catch-up time - occasional fires are inevitable so you should leave room in your schedule to respond and stay on track
- Planning - weekly, monthly and quarterly
And a variety of other recurring activities you need to do to keep the rest of your work moving forward.
If these tasks aren't already on your calendar, give the list to your virtual assistant and any other context and preferences regarding when you'd like to work on each activity.
During the first couple of months of leveraging a virtual assistant for time blocking, sync with them once a week to ensure you’re aligned on priorities. If your responsibilities are dynamic, you may want to make the sync permanent so they can optimize your schedule around your top projects each week.
Armed with this information, your virtual assistant will time block your schedule so you go through each day knowing what you should be working on and when.
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About the author: Emily leads Prialto's content production and distribution team with a special passion for helping people realize success. Her work and collaborations have appeared in Entrepreneur, Inc. and the Observer among others.