Time Blocking – Give Each Hour of Your Day a Job to Do

I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting at the Denny’s in Ottawa, getting ready to enjoy my Grand-Slam breakfast and coffee. I had been in town visiting my mom (she was in the later part of her life, and so I often found myself travelling from Toronto to Ottawa to see her.) And being the voracious reader that I am, I always had a book with me.

On that particular morning, I was carrying around a book called “The E-Myth” by Michael Gerber. I had
brought it with me on the trip, thinking at some point I’d crack it open. As I waited for my breakfast,
thinking ahead to the four-and-a-half hour drive back to Toronto that lay before me, I decided there was
no time like the present.

By the time the server came by with my food, I was already completely absorbed in this book. I couldn’t put it down. I actually ended up saying to the server: “Do you mind if I stay here and have coffee and finish my book?” She said sure, and 90 minutes later I finished it. (And yes I left her a generous tip)

My experience with “The E-Myth” is not a unique one. It has been lauded by entrepreneurs the world over. Its main principle can be summarized like this: there’s a big difference between working in the business and working on the business.

Working in the business is all about taking care of the day-to-day. And, obviously, this is essential. Working on the business, on the other hand, is just as (if not more) important. Working on the business is all about making time to work on your future vision for the company. It’s about creating your vision and working toward its realization.

Too often, when I start to work with business owners, they are working in the business and not on the business. I always say the same thing: creating daily space for future focus is critical to your business today and you’re growing your business for tomorrow.

Many people are familiar with the concept of working in vs. working on the business. But there’s a huge gap between knowing something and actually doing it. We need to treat our brilliant brains like they are plants; we need to feed them and tend to them in order for them to grow. If we don’t do this, if we don’t invest that crucial time into expanding our mindsets, we will forever stay working in the business and not on the business.

Making Room to Create

Before we get into working on our future visions, we need to create the time and space. For me, the very first thing I needed to do was create a ‘Stop Doing at All Costs’ list. Some of the things on that list included:

1) Jumping into emails first thing in the morning.
2) Working without a plan.
3) Letting everybody and everything else grab myattention at all times – that includes texts, emails, social media, etc.
4) Saying yes to the people and projects that don’t feed my future vision.
5) Indulging in the old habits that don’t serve me.

Slowly but surely, adhering to my ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list gave me the space I so desperately
needed.

I created space to focus on what really mattered.

This is where a lot of people seem to get stuck. They like the idea of prioritizing focus time, but they can’t wrap their hands around where to find it in their already-crammed calendars. And they’re right. Their current calendar is crammed. But that’s where a ‘Stop Doing At All Costs’ list comes in handy. If we want to get closer to our future vision, we need to stop saying yes to things that don’t serve that vision in any way, shape or form.

I know this may sound impossible, but the truth is that we make commitments all the time. We put meetings in our calendars and, because they’re there, we show up for them. I think back to pre-pandemic times, when I used to do kickboxing classes 4-5 times a week. The class I went to was at 5:30 p.m., and the funny thing is, it was always the same 15-20 people there. Over time, as I got to know my classmates, I discovered they were a pretty high-performing bunch outside the gym. I was struck by the fact that these incredibly busy people made time for this activity, and one thing they all had in common was that they put ‘kickboxing’ in their calendars. That little bit of structure and commitment feed them.

The simple fact of the matter is that when you make a commitment, even to somebody you only know as your kickboxing buddy, you show up.

It’s all about owning your calendar.

So, what does this ‘radical’ idea actually look like in practice? To answer that question, I like to lean on the advice of one of my favourite authors, Cal Newport. In his amazing book, ‘Deep Work’, he talks about a concept called ‘time blocking.’ Time blocking is the practice of assigning a job to each hour of your day. This can be challenging at first, but the results might just blow your mind. Here’s an example of how I use time blocking in my day:

‘no phone zone.’

85 percent of them will make me say, ‘what was I thinking?’ but 15 percent won’t. Plus, the sheer act of writing them down every day is like working a muscle at the gym.

At some point during the day, I will block out some time to answer emails. This may seem like a small thing, but it’s a crucial part of the time management puzzle. Before I started doing this, I would be distracted all day long. When I started restricting myself to one hour a day for checking and responding to emails, I was amazed by how focused I was able to be for the rest of the day.

Follow-through is really important here. I can’t stress that enough. If you’re reading this and thinking, ‘I’ll see if I have the time’, chances are you won’t find it. If you’re not conscious and deliberate about the way you manage your time, I can almost guarantee that your old habits will keep calling the shots.

Now, I’m by no means an expert at time blocking. It’s something I’ve been working on for a few years, and it’s still a work in progress. That being said, even in its imperfection, it’s been a total game changer for me. As I said in last month’s playbook, 80 to 90 percent of my current work and opportunities were created from time blocked periods. If I had waited until I felt fully confident starting this practice, I would probably still be struggling with the same things I was struggling with before.