How to Use Time-Blocking Effectively
When you make your to do list for the following day, you want to spend time blocking time for things on your to do list. So let's look at this example. So one way to approach this is simply time blocking in chunks. And you know you have little breaks in between. Okay, so we got the rough sketch. I think it's going to take me about an hour. I've got the book illustration. 45 minutes. The magazine interview. Et cetera. Any questions so far? Now this is another approach. Who was the person asking earlier about calendaring and... That was you, okay. So this is another way to approach it. So this might also go in your Google Calendar. So you got... I know I start working at nine o'clock in the morning. I've got an hour that I want to spend, so I'm actually going to give it a specific chunk of time. Okay? This is super helpful if you want to accomplish a lot of things in one day. Then I've got a 15 minute... So I know I've written down that I'm going to take 15 minute breaks all day long. An...
d that's not a general rule. Like you can take breaks of any length. Whatever works for you. Then I've got the civil rights book. I'm going to work on that for 45 minutes. The interview, I'm only going to work on for 30 minutes because I just want to start it. I don't necessarily expect to finish it. I've even made time the next day for it. Then I'm going to take a lunch break. Super important to schedule in your lunch break, right? And then I'm going to get to letter I from 1-2. I'm going to do my admin from 2:14-2:45, and again that's arbitrary. You want to do admin when it makes sense for you. Some people like to do it first thing in the morning 'cause that's when their inbox is the fullest. And then I even, I added this later, but I got this like blank spot there. Do you guys see that on Monday? Because I'm done and it's 2:45, and I don't stop working until five o'clock right? So I've got 3-4 to catch up on stuff. See what happens when you time block? Like you actually can make time for yourself if you are focused enough during that time. Or let's say you started rough sketch for letter H, but you were like kind of stuck on that illustration, but then you had already assigned yourself that you were going to go straight into the civil rights book after your first break, and then later in the day you can go back to that rough sketch and try to finish it because you've got... You can actually block catch up time. That sounds funny. (Lisa laughs) Catch up time! You can block catch up time into your to do list every day if you want. Okay? So there's two ways to do it. I think I showed you earlier. I'm terrible. So this is like I'm going to spend 60 minutes, I'm going to spend 45 minutes, I'm going to spend... You know, like that one is flexible. You can do it in any order. If you're super organized, or you get super organized and disciplined at this, you don't actually have to assign specific times in the day. You can just say I'm going to work on this for an hour, and we're going to talk about setting a timer in a minute 'cause that's super helpful. And if you have a phone, you have a timer. Or you in the beginning it might be helpful to like be really specific about it. Okay, but remember time blocking isn't necessarily about finishing something in that block of time. That's exactly what we were talking about before. So when I was getting ready to teach this class, there's no way I could finish writing all of the content. I also recorded another class here, so there's no way I could finish like creating the content for this class and the other class in one sitting. Like it's... That's weeks of work. If I tried that, I'd get tired, and I wouldn't be at my best, right? So with all my big projects, if I worked at it for say one and a half hours every day of the course of several weeks, I'd give myself specific tasks during that 1.5 hours every day to work on CreativeLive. But then I got the rest of the day to work on other projects. I could also sit down and work on CreativeLive all day for like several days in a row until I finish, but then I'm not attending to other things, and so that's why sort of mixing things up in a day and giving them chunks of time gives you a, I personally think, a greater sense of accomplishment. It's about making steady progress especially on those bigger tasks. So time blocking allows you to focus on bigger projects over time, but in a way that doesn't eat up your whole day. So if I worked on the curriculum for my CreativeLive class every morning from 9-10:30, in an hour and a half chunk of time that was focused, by 10:30 I had the rest of the day to work on other projects. And within weeks I had completed a lot of work on the class. I mean obviously that is really good for long term projects. Right? Or projects that have a lot of lead time. Occasionally as an illustrator or designer you'll get a request from a client that you want to take and it's like due tomorrow. And of course in that case you have to block off the whole day for that thing, but when you have long term projects that aren't due for a while, but have like multiple components, time blocking is a great way to make progress on many projects at one time. I love the feeling of knowing I've made steady progress on multiple projects in one day. Pro tip: you can allot more than one time block to a task in a day. So for example, I write a lot of books, and when I'm writing a book, I often have a two hour writing block or illustration block in the morning. Then I block off an hour before lunch to do the illustrations, and then I'll go back to another two hour chunk in the afternoon. So I'm working on the book all day because sometimes like that's the big thing I have on my to do list or on my workflow period. But I'm still taking breaks, I'm still blocking time, and I'm also toggling between different things like research, writing, illustration, so it's using different parts of my brain, so my brain isn't becoming totally fatigued doing one thing. Okay, does that make sense? You get to decide what you're working on during your time blocks, and if makes more sense for you to do the same thing all day, that's also fine. Pro tip: when scheduling your blocks, pay attention to when you work best and your natural preferences. How many of you are morning people? Okay, how many of you are middle of the afternoon people? Okay, evening, night time people? Anybody? I feel like in the regular working world you don't often have the flexibility to work when you work best, but as a freelancer you really do. And I personally think it's great to take advantage of that to the extent that you can. I mean if you're working with clients, you obviously have to work during the day and make sure you're communicating with people during working hours, but this is just such an important thing. You want to pay attention to other things, like not just your preferences and when you work best, but like when you need to stop to eat, when your family needs you the most, when you typically get fatigued. Maybe when the best time for you to go to the gym, and work out, and take a break, so always time your most challenging tasks when you are the most productive. All right, if you have a bunch of short administrative tasks, like email and filing, we talked about this earlier, you can block off a shorter chunk of time each day to deal with that stuff in one block. Like get it all in there together and try to get as much of it done. And if you want to have like a separate little box, or section, or page in your notebook for all the administrative stuff you're trying to remember to do that doesn't really make sense to go in your workflow, just make sure you capture it somewhere. Okay, so let's talk about setting a timer. I mentioned it earlier, and you were laughing. Do you like to set a timer? Does it help you?
I do. I do set a timer, but then I stopped using a timer on my phone because I found that to be distracting.
Okay, 'cause then your phone is sitting right there, right?
So I leave it in the kitchen, and then I put it on silence so I don't hear all the, you know, the bings and what not.
And then I have kind of like a gym timer I got an Amazon for like $10.
And then I'll set it for two hours, and I'm like, "Oh, I'm not done!" And then I silent the timer, and I completely forget about what's going on and...
Yeah. (audience laughing)
So timers are great because sometimes you get so lost in something during time blocking that you actually forget... Which is awesome, right? Like anytime you're working on something and you don't have the sense of urgency to like get up and move on to something else, like that's great. That means you're being productive, but, yeah, anyway I hear you. Like the timer on the phone is kind of... (Lisa laughs) I mentioned that earlier, but, yeah, it's a little dangerous, so I have also had like a kitchen timer before so that... We're going to talk about in a second is leaving your phone in the other room especially if you're somebody who's super distracted by social media or checking email. So the timers are great, and, again, ultimately this is up to you. If you want to be more productive, you have to sort of like get used to and be really disciplined about using a system like this. And, again, that part might feel oppressive, but at the same time if you're ending every day having like worked through chunks of time and accomplished a lot, you're going to start seeing the results, and feeling the results, and then you're going to start craving. I guarantee. (Lisa laughs) The satisfaction, almost the high, that comes from finishing a lot of things in one day will actually get you better into the habit of using the systems to time blocking time because you're going to start feeling, like literally not seeing the results, you're going to start feeling the results, okay? So just talked about this already, but you want to always make sure to take breaks to eat, get a glass of water, eat a healthy snack, call your mom, check social media. If you need to check social media, do it during your breaks. Although I would avoid the temptation to check your email during breaks because, again, that can throw you off in a completely different direction and distract you from your schedule. Okay? All right, managing motivation and distraction. Before we move onto that, are there anymore questions about time blocking and to do list? Yeah?
This might just be a weird job thing that I have, but one of the things I do involves running scripts that don't take my interaction, and that might take all day to do, and it might take five minutes to set up and run, and then like when it's done I'll parse the results, but it wouldn't make sense to not multitask during that because then I'd just be sitting there doing nothing.
And so I do need to like... I'm not multitasking, I'm doing stuff, but it's kind of weird to schedule in sometimes because I'll forget to go run the next one or something like that. So one there's like a task that overlap that don't necessarily require your interaction, but you have to keep remembering to do them, how would you recommend managing that?
Well that's an interesting question. Does everyone understand what she's asking? So you have to be sitting somewhere paying attention to something, right?
Yeah, I have like... I do some stuff with databases.
And then have like scripts and I even do stuff in Photoshop with scripts, but they don't... They require my interaction to start, and they require my interaction to--
And you need to sit there?
Yeah, but I can do other things while it's running.
But I have to remember to go back to it, and so when I'm doing my to do list like trying to manage that and be productive while those are going on, and so it's kind of hard?
Does your, does your... The thing that you have to go back to that you start, but then you have to go, but you can do other things and then go back to, do you... Is there like do you have to pay attention to when something's... Or is it like specific amount of time? Is it always going to be 30 minutes.
It varies a lot.
And I find it, I find sometimes it--
Do you know in advance how long it's going to be though?
[Female Audience Member] No.
[Female Audience Member] Not always, sometimes I have--
[Female Audience Member] Sometimes I'll have an idea. Like I'll know if it's like a lot of records going on that I need to check back in about x amount of time, but sometimes I'm finding like I'm getting really thrown off because I'm trying to remember, and I'm trying to do something else, and so then...
Yeah, because multitasking is hard. Like it's actually part of your job to multitask, and that's a super challenging place to be. I mean I would just continue, as you go back to work next week, and try to do this. Like think about what we talked about today, you know, might help you. And explore ways to sort of like manage those chunks of time where you are multitasking or maybe--
Like in a creative industry it might be something like even like Lightroom cataloging, sometimes importing things, or things like that, sometimes very large databases take time to do things when you're doing things with photos or searching things.
I just work with a lot databases and different categories, but I do find myself having that issue a lot.
Right, you're waiting for something, so you can do something else, but then you got to make sure you don't forget to go back and look at that thing. Yeah, that's challenging, and I think coming up with a system for that would be an interesting challenge for you.
I was wondering, and you might be about to get into this, but I have my whiteboard which has way too many categories now that I saw your workflow. I'm going to change mine up, but I also have my Post-it wall because when I am... And I do a little bit of time blocking, I need to change it up also, but I cannot focus on one thing. I'm always thinking of, "Oh, I need to do this task." Or, "I have this idea that just popped into my head." Or, "I just thought of a great title for something." And I've got my wall of Post-its where I stop and I write it down, and I slap it on the wall, and then I try to get back into the thing--
So you have a system for recording those brainstorms?
Yes, and it's a giant wall of Post-its that my three year old thinks is really fun to play with, and I'm wandering if you were going to get into more effective strategies to stay on task if you really struggle with focus, but not lose all of that information?
Yeah, no, and that's sort of what I was talking about earlier. Like I was talking about in the context of like you get a text or an email from somebody that's assigning you, you know, like, "Don't forget to pick up the dry cleaning at four." Or, you know, "Call me tomorrow so we can talk about my feedback on this project." Whatever, but that also applies to like literally you might be walking down the street or in the middle of working on a project and get the best idea for something else, and oftentimes that's what pulls away, right? We go down this rabbit hole. And I mean I do it, and that's part of like the beauty of being a creative person is going with those moments, so I just want to say too sometimes that's okay. Like be conscious of it, but if you're having like the most brilliant idea in the world, stop what you're doing and write it down somewhere. Like that's okay. You don't necessarily need to spend a lot of time on it in the moment, but you do want to record that stuff. And of course it usually happens when our, you know, something we're reading or working on triggers something or... You know, because I don't know about you guys, but I often listen to audiobooks or podcasts while I'm drawing. Not necessarily, definitely not while I'm writing, but and then I'll get an idea based on something I hear, and you want to make sure you capture those. So one of the ways I do that is I have two things. I have just constantly keeping lists of notes in here, but I also use the notes section on my phone a lot. So that of course requires that your phone is sitting next to you, and if you've got it in another room because you're trying to focus, then you've got to have another place to write it down. And I actually think Post-it wall is great as long as you're eventually, maybe once a week, taking all the things that go on your Post-it wall, and like transferring them to a more permanent space maybe. I have like, for a while, I haven't done it lately. I had like an ongoing list of... A lot of the artwork I make is inspired by like ideas, or quotes, or phrases that are inspiring to me or that I think are interesting, and so people will always say like, "Where did you come up with that saying?" Or like, you know, "Like how does that creative process happen for you?" And often it's just like things pop into my head, or I'll be listening to something, or I'll read something that sparks something for me. And I literally had for a long time I had a list of like ideas for illustrations. Sometimes they were just concepts and sometimes they were words and phrases that I would keep a running list of, so anytime I had time for personal work, or I had blocked out time for personal work, I would just open up my notebook and say, "Oh yeah, I got that idea the other day to make an illustration about x,y, or z." Or make a drawing on this topic, and, you know, so it's like a way for me to record my good ideas and know that they're there, and then go back to the thing that I'm focused on doing. So I think just having a place to write them down and making sure that they're not getting lost is important. Yeah?
So you're writing those specifically? I have trouble like you'll write it down and then like, "Okay where did I write that down?" (audience laughs)
But I have one book.
Like you have to look through that whole book to find, go back to the--
Well, yeah, but sometimes... So there's different ways to deal with that. You'll notice like this page has some yellow highlighter on it. Like sometimes... I know in bullet journaling too there's like some color coding practices that you can use, so that if you are... If you've recorded something last month, and you want to go back and find it, it's easier to find. But I mean I do record everything in one place, and, yeah, sometimes it takes me like five minutes to find where I wrote it down, but I know it's in there, and I eventually find it. Often I don't carry this with me everywhere, but I do carry this with me everywhere, and the notes section on my phone is like chalk full of words, phrases, lists of ideas that eventually sometimes I end up writing down in here or they just get stored here too. There's no perfect system. I mean if you're like ultra organized, you might have a central place and it's perfectly color coded and all of that, but yeah.
All right, this question, I mean there are no silly questions, but would you... (Lisa laughs) Do you use a pencil or a pen?
Okay, I am so glad you brought this up.
Because I was going to talk about this and I totally spaced, so I use a pen because I like have a favorite writing tool. Its called a micron pen, and I've even got like I use .03. Like I'm very particular about the width of the pen, and I'm also okay. Like I'm not super... Like I have nice printing and stuff, but I don't... I'm like messy. I cross things out, I like move things around, and when you use a pen it's all permanent, so you have to do that. I'm okay with that, but if you want things to look cleaner, and you want to be able to erase things and move things around, using a pencil is also a totally great idea. There's a few pages in here that are in pencil. Sometimes I will storyboard ideas and concepts, or I will sketch before I send sketches to a client I'll do like thumbnail sketches. There's actually one for a podcast logo that I like started doing in the back here. If you flip through this, you would see lots of that, and so, you know, yeah. Like and a lot of times I do that in pencil so that I can... 'Cause sketching I think is sometimes easier in pencil 'cause you're like ideating, and, yeah, so I think it depends on, again, whatever works for you. Like it depends on your preferences, but pencils are great.
Yeah, I think it's an interesting psychological question. Like in terms of if you can erase it, you know, does that change your attitude?
Right, and then also I actually really like having a record of what I've changed and what I've crossed out. And that's... It's just sort of for me it's like the messiness of my book in a way, although a lot of people would argue my book is not messy at all. (Lisa laughs) 'Cause most of the time people are like, "Whoa, look!" Is to me a record of like the messiness of my life, and I don't look at that as a negative thing. It's just like things are always morphing, and changing, and evolving, and I'm getting things done, and I'm moving them around, and then this thing changed to this thing, and so I think that's kind of an interesting process to record and so I don't mind using a pen to do it.