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Use 90-minute block technique to get more out of your day

Let’s face it. There aren’t enough hours in a day to do everything we want. ‘Failing to plan is the sure recipe to fail’, but what if after all the planning and good intentions you still can’t accomplish what you set out to do in a day.

I have been struggling each week to write three posts, the first draft of a new non-fiction book, editing the second draft of the novel, doing a drawing course, reading at least one book a week and doing daily research and interviews for the book and blog. I am not going to waste your time by listing the housework, which I am sure you all do as well.

Ever since I have quit my job and started working for myself I thought I will have plenty of time to do scheduled activities but also the impromptu activities such as meeting a friend for a coffee, start a singing group, sorting out millions of family photos and of course read newspaper in the morning with a cup of tea.

Boy, was I wrong!

I am working more than ten hours a day, there is no clear end to my working day, sometimes it goes literally till mid-night. I have tried all kinds of planning tools but none so far has given me the kind of control I am looking for.

The issue is not that overcommitting but less productivity. Working from home has its challenges. There are more distractions and lots of interruptions. I realized I don’t get a solid seven or eight hours as I used in an office environment.

After months of trials, I have come to realize I have only three blocks of time available throughout the day. In the morning before breakfast, in the afternoon after lunch and at night after dinner. My challenge is to use these blocks in the most effective way.

This is when by pure accident, I came across the 90-minute block schedule.

90-minute block schedule became popular in middle and high schools in the 1990s as an alternative to the traditional schedule, where four core blocks of 90 minutes replace the traditional six to eight classes of 45 to 50 minutes each day. The success of this idea in schools is attributed to the less wasted time between classes, the opportunity to dive more deeply into content and using multiple learning methods in addition to traditional teaching by ‘lecture.’

But a 90-minute block schedule is also used as a productivity tool by professionals and entrepreneurs.

Jonathan Vieker writes in his post Time Blocking: A Brilliant Time Management Tool:

In researching and writing about time management for the last couple of years, I’ve explored multiple approaches, but I’ve gradually come to advocate one approach above all others. It’s called time blocking, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it can change your working life. In the two years I’ve been using time blocking, I estimate that my productivity has roughly doubled. That’s the kind of efficiency gain you don’t find every day!

Recently time blocking was made famous by the author Cal Newport in his book Deep Work, in which he suggests to pre-schedule completely distraction-free blocks of time to do deep work. He shares his time-blocking technique in his blog Deep Habits: The Importance of Planning Every Minute of Your Work Day. He says “it generates a massive amount of productivity, and even if you’re blocking most of your day for reactive work, the fact that you are controlling your schedule will allow you to dedicate some small blocks (perhaps at the schedule periphery) to deeper pursuits.”

Here is a quick animated summary of Cal Newport’s book Deep Work.

I have now adopted Newport’s technique and blocked the 90-minute block for writing, editing, researching, and reading.

It is the best way to beat Parkinson’s Law, which says that “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” By limiting my sessions to 90 minutes I am making sure that I finish the task in that time span.

Steve Pavlina argues that a typical American office worker only does about 90 minutes of real work per workday. The rest of each workday is largely spent on distractions like reading the news, web surfing, socializing with coworkers, snacking, taking coffee breaks, shuffling papers around, processing irrelevant emails, needless delay tactics, playing games, and daydreaming.

He suggests that a knowledge worker can do a whole day’s work in a 90-minute period of peak productivity. He makes the following suggestions to maximize time-block productivity.

1. Pick one theme – Instead of doing a bunch of random actions, pick one clear theme for the block.

2. Define the finish line – See your focus block as a fast dash to the finish line. But where is the finish line? What does it look like? Having a clear goal that’s only 90 minutes away will help you focus. Don’t worry if you don’t cross the finish line each time; it’s there to help you focus, so aim for it, but accept that sometimes you’ll miss.

3. List the action steps – List the specific actions you’ll take during this block. For some blocks, this is really helpful. For others, it may not be necessary if the steps are already clear.

4. Ensure zero interruptions – Do whatever it takes to ensure that you will not be interrupted under any circumstances during your focus block.

5. Work fast – Think fast. Move fast. Work fast. Imagine that you’re in a race, and you have to maintain a strong pace for the full 90 minutes. After that, you can rest. With practice, this gets easier.

6. Allow no distractions – During your focus block, you must do your pre-defined work and nothing else. Keep your cell phone off. Turn off any notifications. Don’t check the internet. Do not check email during this time. Do not take a coffee break or snack break. Use the bathroom during this time only if you must.

Do a Full Day’s Work in 90 Minutes by Steve Pavlina

In Steve Pavlina’s view, the way to do the less important tasks is to group them together and do them as one block. It prevents frequently switching gears and gives you structure and helps you stick to a schedule.

Kevin Kruse, author of 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, recommends time blocks instead of to-do lists “because of the discipline and order it applies to your tasks.”

Organizing your schedule instead of making a to-do list takes productivity one step further. Because you’re dedicating specific windows of time to your work, everything finds its place. Tasks aren’t floating around in your mind. There’s a time set aside to get it all done.

Kevin Kruse

“Time blocking will force you to confront reality, avoid over-committing, and help you leverage the power of deadlines,” says Kruse ” and it might even help you sleep better at night.”

Was today’s post helpful? Have you used the time-block technique to structure your day? Share your experience through the comments section.


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