Time-Blocking is the best way that I have found to increase the amount of work that I get done during the day. It’s really simple but can actually have very surprising results, especially if most days you feel like you don’t get anything done.
To effectively use Time-Blocking you’ll need something with a timer, I use my mobile phone, and a piece of paper with a grid drawn on it. I’ve made a printable Time-Blocking sheet which you can download here: Time-Blocking Printable
Time-Blocking is a way of breaking down the white spaces in-between the appointments and scribbled notes in your diary or planner. Don’t have a diary or planner? Don’t worry, you can download my Week Planner here: Week Planner Printable
I seriously urge you to try to fill one in at the start of each week so you don’t forget to go to an appointment or that you’re child is going away for three days with school at the end of the week – yes, I am guilty of that! It can work in the office too so stay with me if you think this doesn’t apply to you!
How one appointment can take over your day.
You see, one of the things ADHD does to me, is to make every appointment seem like a big deal. If my diary reads:
8.45am Drop off kids at school
11.30am Doctor’s appointment
3.15pm Pick up kids from school
4pm Evening madness
Then my brain sees that Doctor’s appointment and panics! Well, that’s my day gone, I’m not going to get anything done with that appointment in the way. If I don’t use Time-Blocking my day will probably go something like:
8.45am Drop off kids at school
9.00am Get in, put the kettle on, remember I haven’t done any washing. Go upstairs to the bathroom, think about putting makeup on and brushing my teeth, go into the bedroom to find my fitbit, cursing that I haven’t worn it whilst dropping off the kids, curse again as I realise I haven’t made the bed, make the bed, look at my mobile phone, check the progress on the game I was playing the night before….
10.45am Ugh, I still have that appointment, there isn’t time to work on the blog now and, oh yeah, the washing. Go and grab a wash basket, take it downstairs, shove the washing in the machine, turn it on, if I’m lucky I’ve put the washing liquid and conditioner in, flick the kettle. I haven’t watched Neighbours in a few days, I’ve got time to watch an episode before I go out. First ad break, oh yeah, cup of tea. Tea-bag in the cup, water in and walk away. Go to the toilet, go through the post, ooh a parcel. Open the parcel, take it upstairs to have a proper look at, remember I was watching Neighbours. Go back down, rewind the bit that I’ve missed, quick look at the time, shouldn’t be too bad, watch the end.
11.25am Realise I’ve made a cup of brown tar like liquid, pour it down the sink, rinse the cup for later, realise I’m going to be late. I’ll have to drive.
11.30am 11.34am Forgot to bring parking money so drive about a bit looking for a space, race to the Doctor’s, type in my details and sit down hoping that no-one will notice. I get away with it and wait 20 minutes to see the Doctor.
12.10ish Get back home, realise the washing machine is beeping, throw the washing into the dryer, turn it on, feel like a champion! Flick the kettle on again. I wonder if that thing I was waiting for in my game has finished yet? It hasn’t but I’ll have a play anyway.
1.15pm Feel guilty for wasting time on my phone, still haven’t had a cup of tea. Look guiltily at the pile of junk on the surfaces, I should do something about that. Make a cup of tea by forcing myself to wait the agonising time it takes to boil a kettle, put a tea bag in a cup, pour the water on, stare at it for 10 seconds before getting a spoon out and squishing the bag so it looks darker, take out the bag and throw it into the weird saucer thing we use. Pour some milk in, congratulate myself for making tea.
1.20pm Up to the computer. Right I need to do that assignment, just need my notes? Rummage around a bit, find the right notebook, try out a few pens because I seem to insist on putting pens that don’t work back in my drawer, open up my email to find the link to the course website. Ooh, I’ve got mail… Have I seen these clips of cats scaring off dogs? No I have not….
2.15pm I’ve been looking at inane drivel for almost an hour and haven’t even vaguely looked at my assignment. Look at the time, pft, not really time to do it now. Go and pick some stuff up in the kids rooms. Why are they so messy and disorganised? This Lego ship is broken, I should find the instructions and fix it, where would they be…
2.45pm Give up on the Lego ship, he’ll only break it again anyway. May as well go early to school and sit in the car with my phone so I’m there in plenty of time. Oh, I never did drink that cup of tea.
3.15pm Pick up kids from school
4pm Evening madness. That bit was always going to happen.
So what is Time-Blocking going to change?
The day will still have the same appointment stuck in the middle of it, but the gaps in-between dropping off the kids, going to the Doctor’s, and picking up the kids will actually be filled with useful things. It’s not as daunting or as much work, as it sounds.
In my example I got home from drop off at around 9.00am, clearly it was a good morning to start with. The first thing I do grab my planner to check the appointment time and then grab the Time-Blocking sheet.
I’m going to work out how many half hour chunks I will roughly have before I need to leave to get the surgery on time. I use chunks of 30 minutes because I feel that it’s long enough to get stuck into something that I might be a bit apprehensive about starting, other people recommend other sizes, 15, 20 minutes etc, but I need to account for motivation plus not being able to stop things part way through. I’ll also do the same with the time after the doctor’s and before picking up the kids, but not yet, in case the waiting time is longer than I account for (then my pretty sheet would be ruined!)
Some people like to fill in each half hour with something at the start of the day; this I feel is risky, particularly for people with ADHD, as it can then look overwhelming. I recommend doing each half hour as it comes unless there’s a super urgent deadline that needs to be met.
On my Weekly Planner sheet there is a little To Do List section, this can be really helpful when looking at the blank half hour boxes, so if it’s empty, start by filling that out, or you may already have a separate one. You can add to it as you go along, you’re bound to remember something later.
In the first box you’re going to look at the time and write it down then write the end time of the half an hour. Then you’re going to start your timer for 30 minutes, this bit is important!
Write in the box something easy from your To Do List or simply put in some of the boring routine tasks that you need to do. Maybe start with ‘Put the washing on’. Then go and do that task and grab your Time-Blocking sheet again. If it was a simple task like putting the washing on you’re probably going to realise that you haven’t used the whole half hour yet. This can feel really good and set you up for the day. You can add a couple more little jobs, empty the dishwasher or post a letter, and get them done in that first half hour. Awesome.
When the timer goes off that first time you can look at your sheet and realise that you can be productive. You don’t have to start the next half hour straight away but while you’re getting used to it, I find it helpful. Some people take a little five minute break in between them, and you can do that so long as you use the timer, otherwise you’ll get distracted.
So the next half hour you write the time it starts and finishes, start your timer and write something else you need to do, or you give yourself a half hour reward. If you normally feel so overwhelmed that nothing gets done in the day, then you can use every other half hour to have ‘Me time’ if you want to, because what you get done in the other blocks will make up for it.
What happens if the timer goes off and you’re right in the middle of something?
Just draw an arrow from the first box into the next and use the next chunk, remember to fill in the times at the top. This is why I don’t really think that filling out the sheet at the start of the day works with ADHD, when we get stuck into something important we don’t want to stop midflow. The timer gives you the opportunity to congratulate yourself on working on that task for half and hour, you can carry on or you can stop and schedule another half an hour later/tomorrow etc
What you shouldn’t do is carry an arrow from one chunk into the next if you were having ‘Me Time’. That’s a dangerous path to distraction. If you love Buzzfeed, give yourself half an hour to look at it, but when the timer goes off, you move on. You can always schedule another half hour later. It’s a great way of stopping the guilt over doing things you enjoy.
It’s that simple?
That’s all there is to it. Turn the blank space in your diary into chunks of useful time. If you write the start and end time of your half hour in your chunk you can make sure you’re not starting a task that is going to overrun into the time you’re supposed to be on your way to a meeting or picking up the kids.
You will be amazed at how much you can actually get done in half an hour, and how much it reduces the stress around the feeling of there being too much to get done. It doesn’t really matter where you start on your To Do List if you’re getting things done. Just make sure that you know when your deadlines are for anything important and you can spread little half hour chunks whenever you want to do them.
I’d love to know how you get on with Time-Blocking, I hope it makes your day a little less overwhelming and a little more productive, one step towards taking control of your ADHD. Please leave comments below or contact me here.