Scheduling with a flexible time blocking system

Time for some time management chat! It’s been a while since I wrote anything here about planning and productivity. I’ve just started using a new scheduling system so I thought it might be fun to share it with you.

Scheduling with a flexible time blocking system

The background

For the last couple of months, I’ve been figuring out how and when uni work fits into my week. I study part-time through the Open University, so I don’t physically go to a university building, but suddenly introducing fifteen to twenty hours a week of mentally intensive work is no small endeavour. If you know me at all, you’ll be aware that I struggle with knowing when to stop. Left to my own devices, without the supervision of…well, myself, but the more sensible side of myself, I will guzzle coffee and work until I can’t see properly anymore. Literally. I am the queen of self-induced eye strain. So that’s been a bit of a challenge.

The other challenge I’ve been dealing with since introducing a whole ‘nother chunk of thing-doing to my week has been fitting in creative work like writing (or editing), photography, blogging, and online bits and pieces related to creativity. It’s not that I don’t have time for these things. It’s more that I very easily and quickly slip into the faulty mindset that creative activities – things which I do primarily for enjoyment and recreation – aren’t important, aren’t worth setting time aside for, and aren’t really worth anything. Which is obviously ridiculous and completely untrue. There is so much value in engaging with and sharing creativity. I’ve reached the point where I understand that I actually need to set aside time in my week for this awesome stuff that makes my soul sing. Not that studying doesn’t make my soul sing (I’m a massive geek, so it totally does) but I need to make art, and connect with other people making art, on a regular basis or I get twitchy and weird. More twitchy and weird.

Obviously these aren’t the only things I need or want to do in a week. There’s also (in no particular order) general home and life admin, volunteering, stuff that keeps my body and mind in as healthy a state as possible, keeping in touch with friends and family, and hanging out with my husband. I didn’t leave my husband until last because he’s the least important thing. I left him until last because the time we can spend together is mostly decided for us by his work schedule and my studying and everything-else-ing schedule.

The process

So, on to my actual scheduling process, or at least the one I’m using right now. I’ve watched endless YouTube videos and read goodness knows how many articles and blog posts about calendar blocking and time management, searching for inspiration, trying to figure out a way that could work for me. I know extremely strict scheduling doesn’t fall into that category because sometimes things take a bit more or a bit less time and it’s important that I have flexibility. I also know that I do actually need a schedule otherwise I basically run on tunnel vision, obsession and coffee, which isn’t a realistic long-term strategy.

There are some things I do more productively/enjoyably/effectively at certain times of day. Studying in the morning is amazing. When I plan to do that, I wake up excited for it and can’t wait to get stuck in to reading or working on assignments. Afternoons are my creative buzz time because the srs bsns is out of the way but I’m not falling asleep on my keyboard just yet. I’d like to be one of those people who puts the laptop away at tea time and spends their evenings unplugged, but let’s face it, I’m not and I probably never will be. I don’t like to immerse myself in brain-heavy things in the evenings though, so that’s the perfect time for catching up on reading (books, articles, blogs, whatever) and social media. I am aiming to abandon screens, apart from my phone with a blue light filter activated and the brightness turned down (it’s how I read ebooks in bed) by 10pm though. I always say this. I never stick at it. I’m determined to do it this time!

The system

Right, down to the nuts and bolts.  This will look different for everyone. If you’re studying full time, or you have a job with a set schedule, or you have kids or other family responsibilities, or whatever your individual circumstances are, you’ll need to make it your own.

I divided my day into four blocks.
These are:

  • Block 1: 8.30am – 10am
  • Block 2: 10am – 2pm
  • Block 3: 2pm – 6pm
  • Block 4: 6pm – 10pm

Then I made a big list of everything I need or want to do in a week, how often those things happen, any tasks or events that definitely have to happen on a specific day or at a particular time, and any times or days that I’m definitely not scheduling anything (hello, Sunday morning lie in!). I don’t want to post my personal weekly schedule here because yours won’t look anything like mine anyway and I feel like maybe some things don’t need to be shared with the world.

I know roughly how long things take, and how long I can realistically do something for before my brain stops working, because…well, I do the things and I pay attention. Rather than pack each block with non-stop activity, I simply slotted things in based on roughly when I want to do them. The tasks in each block don’t have to be done in any particular order and I haven’t specified an exact time or duration for anything. This gives me the flexibility I need and also prevents me from having those I’ll just study for 12 hours today days. It means that I’m actually making time for writing, photography and other creative activities every week. It also means that when my husband and I plan to spend time together, I’m not sitting behind a screen apologising and asking him to wait another five minutes which turns into ten minutes which turns into an hour.

Let the schedule begin!

I’ve only just started this new method so I have no idea how it’ll work out. I’m hoping for good things because I’ve been practical about it, planning for what I already do and what I can realistically do. The only massive disruptions I foresee are  health emergencies, in which case my focus has to shift to the absolute basics of self-care, like making sure food, water and mobility aids are accessible if I’m at home on my own. There are also the lovely disruptions, like friends or family coming to visit or stay, but those things have to be planned in advance anyway.

As with any planning or productivity system, I’ll revisit it in a few weeks to look at what’s working and what isn’t. If there are any updates worth sharing here, I’ll share them.

Onward, to an organised week!

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