Time-Blocking 101: Stress-Free Ways For Creatives To Get More Done.

As a freelance copywriter, editor, and email marketer, I do a lot of my work from home. I generally set my own hours, which works very well for me. Besides my work, I am a mother of three young boys, and I help out as much as I can at the children’s home we live at. With so many different activities and responsibilities, I cannot, absolutely cannot, work without a daily routine. There are just too many balls in the air, and they will all come crashing down if I don’t have a clear idea of what to do next.

I need structure and daily routines to bring order to my day and to my mind. I don’t know about you, but when I feel overwhelmed and I don’t have a concrete plan, I will end up one of two ways:

  1. I am paralyzed, and I end up doing nothing at all.

  2. I do something completely different and unnecessary. Usually, it’s baking. Procrastibaking. I bake stacks and stacks of pancakes, just so I can feel like I’m in control. Sidenote: I can’t eat pancakes, which makes the whole exercise even more pointless.

Does this sound familiar? If so, let me tell you what steps I have taken to avoid drowning my family in pancakes, to stay on top of my days, and to organize my life for success.

Would you benefit from a daily routine?

I believe everyone can benefit from routine and order. Whether you are a free-spirited artist, a focused entrepreneur, or maybe just a student trying to make it through the day, I strongly believe that the foundation of success is structure and routine.

In my work as chief editor for Grace Go Bloom magazine, I always love learning more about what artists’ days look like. And you know what I noticed over and over again?

Successful artists, no matter how out-of-the-box they are, no matter how little they fit into regular society or the normal way of doing business, all have a certain level of structure and discipline in their workdays.

They enter their studios with a plan of action and a clear idea of what they want to achieve. It’s easy to think of creative people as happy-go-lucky and assume that they fly by the seat of their pants. That inspiration just comes to them, and when it strikes, they are unstoppable. But this is not the case for most people, creative or not. Having a plan and a routine does not cramp your style. Quite the opposite, it makes creativity and productivity possible.

What does a daily routine look like?

As a visual learner, I thought it would be useful to show you first, and then explain my system.

I start by putting in the tasks I need to do at specific times. I have to drive my oldest kid to the bus stop every day at 6 a.m. I also have to be in the office at the children’s home from 07.00 to 11.00. After that, my youngest one comes home from preschool, and I have the freedom to fill in the early afternoon in a way that works for me. Then, at 14.30, I have to collect the oldest from the bus stop, after which I have some flexibility again.

Use our handy printable to make a routine that works for your life!

I like the sound of this! What do I do?

Of course, this will look different for every person. No two people’s lives are the same. We have different responsibilities and unique goals. But the steps to setting up a winning routine are the same for most, if not all, of us. So get out a notebook and pen and start jotting down the following:

  1. Set goals. Determine what you have to and want to accomplish each day. Create both short-term and long-term goals. Identify the most important tasks that need to be completed. Next, rank them based on urgency and importance.

  2. Allocate time blocks. Now that you have a list of things you need to do, and want to do, it is time to look at your day. What things have to be done at set times, and where can you find some flexibility?

    Assign specific time blocks for different activities or tasks. Time-blocking saves you from having to go into detailed planning where you assign an activity for each minute of the day. The idea behind time-blocking is to move beyond your basic to-do list and instead partition your hours into blocks, and then assign those blocks to specific activities. This makes the time you have available much more effective because it allows you to really focus on the task in front of you.

  3. Batch similar tasks. By grouping similar tasks together, you will most likely notice a big increase in your efficiency. If I try to do my writing for clients in bits and pieces throughout the day, I find it extremely hard to get myself in the right mindset. But if I give myself a time slot to get the job done and focus all my mental energy on the task in front of me, I do my best work.

  4. Include self-care activities. It’s tempting to fully fill up each block of the day with tasks that you want to accomplish and cross off your to-do list. Don’t fall into that trap! Making time for activities that are good for you, like exercise, hobbies, or spending time with friends and family, is so important. It might feel counterintuitive, but if you schedule these things in, it will have a great impact on your daily productivity. I promise!

    If you look at my routine, I always schedule a break for myself in the late morning. I might read a bit, maybe watch an episode of Gilmore Girls, or just sit down with a cup of Rooibos tea and a
    good magazine. It gives me the energy I need to bring my A game the rest of the day. For you it could be going for a walk, stretching, or taking some time to journal.

  5. Reflect and evaluate. You might not nail this on the first try, and that’s okay. Maybe you forgot to add some important recurring tasks to your planner at the beginning. Or maybe you don’t need as much time to answer emails as you thought. Remember, this is a tool to help you, not a dark cloud that hangs over your life, stressing you out if you don’t manage to stick to it.

    Assess the effectiveness of your daily routine regularly. Identify areas that need improvement, adjust your schedule if necessary, and celebrate achievements. This is not an exact science, and you’re allowed to make changes. You got this!

 

Mornings and Nights

Before you start filling in your time blocking template (go you!), it’s good to put some solid foundations down. Yes, I’m talking about the way you start your days and the way you end them. To get your day started on the right foot, get into the habit of planning activities that energize and set a positive tone. Anything that doesn’t include your telephone or social media. You don’t need to see some influencer’s perfectly curated life first thing in the morning. It’s just too much. I was thinking more along the lines of meditation, prayer, exercise, journaling, or reading. Something peaceful, something you enjoy, something good for you.

And then I also highly recommend establishing a consistent sleep schedule. Going to bed at the same time every night will help regulate your biological clock, improve the quality of your sleep, and make you physically, mentally, and emotionally healthier. A great day starts with a good night’s sleep. You know all this. This is your sign to start implementing it!

Routine = boring?

Planning your day does not mean living a dull, boring, habitual life. Quite the opposite, honestly! Having a routine in my life doesn’t mean I have no freedom, no adventure, and no room for spontaneity anymore. It might sound contradictory, but having a daily routine in place actually makes space for creativity. By giving all of the things I have to do a specific block of time where I take care of them, they don’t hang over me all day. Because I know that my early afternoons are set aside for my writing, I don’t need to stress all day long about trying to squeeze it in between activities. No, I don’t buy into the idea that routines and schedules mean predictability and boredom. My routine sets me free, so I can prioritize the things that I love doing—and do them well. And I know it can do the same for you.

Do you like the idea of time-blocking? Want some resources?

  • This Time Blocking Planner is beautifully designed and has a great layout that you can customize to fit your day.

  • The Time Block Planner by Cal Newport is simple and elegant. It comes with instructions on how to use the time-blocking method and includes 4 months of planning pages.

  • Like audiobooks? Time Blocking by Abe Wood is a quick listen with tons of practical tips on how to make this system work for you.

  • Do you prefer setting up your own system? Then all you need is a gorgeous notebook like this one, or this one. These notebooks are customizable, by the way. How perfect is that?!

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