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Some of you earned your inaugural working from home (WFH) badge over these past 6 weeks – congratulations.  Others of you have been rocking WFH for years.  But, new to all of us – well, besides the single dwellers – is a house full of fellow WFH-ers, including possibly some home schoolers.  It’s an understatement to say this has required some adjustment.  I’ve heard from many clients and friends that the hardest challenge during this unprecedented time has been figuring out how to get it all done with everyone at home.  They’re talking about time management.  Time blocking is a highly effective tool for helping you schedule time for what’s important.  Now is the perfect time to use time mapping to help you and your family create schedules that will work for everyone.

Prior to COVID-19 we may have had it all figured out – WFH or not.  Morning routines.  Work time.  Afternoon engagements and activities. Dinner.  Leisure.  Bedtime.  But today, many of us are finding the days and hours run together.  With few familiar or structured time boundaries, our daily lives have become more like run-on sentences, with no normal punctuations to provide meaning and give pause. Then, on top of it all, we’re working in households with intersecting timelines, agendas, and, oftentimes, there are many individuals competing for resources, i.e. the computer, a quiet workspace, mom’s attention.

Multi-Tasking Isn’t Productive

WFH is a breeding ground for multi-tasking. WFH with a family takes it to a whole new level. Sure, output may not be greatly impacted when you’re folding laundry and watching tv, but, generally speaking, multi-tasking is a real productivity drain. In fact, studies have shown it can result in a 40% decline in productivity. The costs appear to come from two areas – making the cognitive shift from doing one task to another and then getting up to speed on the second task. Not only do you lose valuable time, these cognitive shifts also up the opportunity for errors and omissions. So, how can we better structure our days to eliminate multi-tasking and enable everyone the opportunity to produce their best results?

Time Blocking Is Boundary Setting

At its core, time blocking is boundary setting. Blocking off specific time to complete specific tasks and activities enables you to be purposeful with your time. You become accountable to your assigned blocks of time.

It starts with taking a wholistic look at what you need to accomplish. I recommend using a weekly approach with your time blocking. Begin by reviewing all that you need to accomplish for the week. I always suggest a full-family, personal and professional, time blocking calendar. As with your to-do list and all other effective time management techniques, a big-picture calendar will eliminate the conflicts that arise if you try to maintain separate family and work calendars.

Use Structure to Maintain a Work/Life Balance

I want to include one note of caution here. Even when working from home, it is important to maintain a work/life boundary. You can help facilitate this with your time blocking. Carve out dinner time and family time. If you have a boss or coworkers in a different time zone, and receive emails, texts and calls at all hours, time blocking especially makes sense. Work with your boss and coworkers to understand their expectations, but effectively communicate your goal of work life balance. Once you’ve blocked off your personal time, it is up to you to respect the boundary you have established. If you must give work attention in off-hours, schedule a time in the evening that makes sense to review any urgent communications and address concerns during this defined period of time.

Time Blocking Resources

There are several automated time blocking tools available to get you started. Many sync directly with your calendar, so you can pull in scheduled meetings. Some also include a corresponding task list. Some of my favorites include TickTick, Plan, and HourStack, which is designed to analyze work behavior and resource allocation, with the goal of improving efficiency. All of these are user-friendly and provide guidance in getting started.

The Time Map

Automated tools aren’t required to begin time blocking. I recently set up an Excel spreadsheet time map for a client who was juggling working full-time, homeschooling her kids, and trying desperately to maintain quality family time. I’ve included a simplified example of her time map and a blank module you can try out for yourself. The idea behind a map of your time is to create a visual of all of your activities that can serve as a reference. Many of my clients find it helpful to display their map at their desk, bathroom mirror or refrigerator. Find what works for you and your family.

Time Blocking Example Time Map

Normally, I would recommend creating the time map for yourself, but I believe in a WFH environment such as we have with the COVID-19 crisis, creating a family map and then having individual maps for family members makes sense. For example, you’d have your map with detail and then the kids would have their own map for completing their schoolwork, doing their chores and enjoying their free time, complete with limits on screen time. The family map would show top level what is taking place, i.e. mom working / children reading, or children screen time / mom and dad preparing dinner.

How to Time Map

Understanding we all have different roles, responsibilities and environments, I’ll share a generic step-by-step process for completing a time map.

  1. Review your task list. Housekeeping. Professional. Personal. Family. Right now this probably includes a review of your children’s school assignments, too.
  2. Plug in all the things you know need to happen at a specific time. For example, you might include meals, working out, school teaching sessions, your working time, housekeeping responsibilities, play time and family game time.
  3. Next look to see where you, or other family members, have free time. Maybe you realize the kids have a lot of unaccounted for time. You can schedule a chore (one of your housekeeping tasks) to add structure, or block in time to have them join you on a family project. You’ll also see where you have free time to slot in things you would like to do. Maybe you want to protect some time to read a book. I’ve been working on organizing old photos so I put this activity into my time mapping each week.

With the time map you have developed a rewarding structure. You have created control over how your week will go. You have a visual to guide you throughout the days of the week. And, most importantly, you have ensured you have designated time to accomplish all of your obligations and personal objectives.

Flexibility Has a Place in Time Blocking

Some people are turned off by the perceived rigidity of time blocking. But, the reality is that flexibility has a role in time management. Yes, there will be times when something pressing comes up and you must change your plans. But, in these moments, with the structure of the time blocking, you’ll be better able to determine what needs to shift and what can be moved to another time. In these ways, you can see how time blocking is empowering, not constraining.

Try Time Blocking This Week

WFH productively during this unique period of time is possible. Time blocking tools provide structure, accountability and facilitate necessary flexibility. Try out the time mapping tool I’ve included and see what it does for you this week. You can complete your goals and responsibilities, while ensuring others in the household complete theirs. Time blocking will help you capitalize on the really rewarding opportunities available while sheltering in place – more opportunities for quality family time and possibly a bit more personal free time.

Sara Genrich is a Productivity Consultant, an Evernote Certified Consultant and the creator of the Organizing@Work for Success Workshop.  She’s committed to providing real-life solutions so her clients have time to focus on the things that really matter.

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