Do it All… With a Yearlong Time-Blocked Calendar

A yearlong time-blocked calendar is possibly the most useful tool you can use to ensure that you have time to pay attention to ALL the different aspects of your life (physical, occupational, financial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, spiritual, environmental and medical) and so live the fully integrated life which leads to optimal health and wellbeing.

It may take you a few days to create your first yearlong time-blocked calendar because the process involves thinking about it, working on it, leaving it and coming back to adjust it. After which, as with all calendars, it will be a simple evolving process to keep it up to date and relevant as your lifestyle and/or circumstances change.

There are a few things to keep in mind when you create a yearlong time-blocked calendar:

  • Use a Digital Calendar App
  • Prepare Your Thinking and Intentions
  • Consider Your Personality
  • Block off Large Chunks of Time
  • Build up Your Blocks in a Specific Order
  • Ongoing Planning

You can view my example calendar.

Use a Digital Calendar App

It will be more efficient to use a digital calendar than a paper calendar to create your yearlong time-blocked calendar so that you have easy access to features like:

  • Repeat - daily/weekly/monthly/yearly repeats
  • Different colours – to see at a glance the different aspects of your life.
  • Ability to share calendars (E.G. with your partner, secretary, colleagues)
  • Ability to overlay calendars (you might want to create different calendars for different reasons and switch them on and off as you need them. This allows you to see more than one calendar at a time. For example, you might want to see your partner’s calendar, your child’s school events calendar and (extremely important for South African’s) the SA load-shedding calendar for your area, when you want to plan a special event.
  • Option to see one day, three days, a week, a month or a year at a time.
  • Option to show yourself as “Busy” without anyone else seeing the reason for why that time is blocked off.

Prepare Your Thinking and Intentions

Before you start creating your yearlong time-blocked calendar, prepare your thoughts and intentions by reading the following articles:

  • The Rocks, Pebbles and Sand Story – to help you think about what is most important in your life. You are going to make sure that these important things are actually given a place in your calendar.
  • The Wellbeing Wheel - to assess whether each aspect of your life is receiving enough time and attention to ensure optimal wellbeing. If there are areas that are being neglected you can schedule more time for them in your calendar.
  • Out With “Work-Life Balance” and In With “An Integrated Life” – to understand the overall concept of what you are trying to achieve by having a yearlong time-blocked calendar. The aim is to pay enough attention to all eight aspects of your life to ensure optimal health and wellbeing.

One day
Or day one?
You decide.

Consider Your Personality

If you are familiar with the different personality types of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI), you will know that some people live in a well-planned, orderly way - wanting to regulate and control life, make decisions, come to closure, and move on (J-Types), while others live in a flexible, spontaneous way - seeking to experience and understand life rather than control it (P-Types).

The yearlong time-blocked calendar, can accommodate both personality types.

 J-Types will use their calendar to plan everything to the last detail way ahead of time. For example, their entire weekend might be planned weeks before, and every day of their annual holiday could be planned months in advance.

P-Types will want some more spontaneity. They might use their calendar to schedule weekends and their annual holiday as “fun time”, but then allow for the spontaneity they love by just waiting to see what comes up on the day and doing that.

Whatever your personality you can use the yearlong time-blocked calendar in a way that works for you.

Block off Large Chunks of Time

The yearlong time-blocked calendar works with blocks or chunks of time to focus on one thing. The idea is to avoid multi-tasking, which the latest research shows actually leads to substantially less productivity than focused attention.

Don’t mess about with putting down a few minutes each to do a whole lot of different things. Keep your blocks to 30 minutes minimum and combine related tasks if necessary. For example, it might take only two minutes to clean your teeth in the morning and 10 minutes to shower, so chunk them both with other ‘get ready’ tasks like shaving, styling you hair, putting on make-up, getting dressed and so on.

Remember meetings and events blocks must include time to get there, time to set yourself up (whether in the room or online), time for after meeting chats or questions if they are likely to happen and time to pack up and travel back. If certain meetings generally run over time, allow for that too.

I like to block off the meeting/event time itself as one block, so I can clearly see what time it is due to start and end. Then I have a block before the meeting which includes getting there, setting up etc. and another block after the meeting for chatting, packing up and getting back home. I always allow time for a meeting/event to run over time so I can focus on the event stress-free while I am at that event. If I don’t know what time the event is going to end I don’t plan anything important to happen after it so that I can stay as long as I want and enjoy the event. If there is any extra time left free after the event, then it becomes an opportunity for ‘free choice’ - I decide what I want to do with it in the moment.

Remember to use different colours to show different things. I use one colour to show appointments, meetings and commitments that are confirmed and another colour to show “placeholders” (e.g. client appointments that still need to be booked). I also use different colours to show time allocated for business activity as opposed to personal activities.

You may not be able to fit in absolutely everything you want to do in the 365 days of the year, but what you are aiming for is that all aspects of your life are integrated so as to ensure optimal health and wellbeing.

Juggle, adjust and readjust your calendar until all your rocks are in place over the course of the year.

Build up Your Blocks in a Specific Order

Create your yearlong time-blocked calendar by following the steps in order. Remember you want to get your ‘rocks’, the most important things, in place first.

Step 1: Block off enough hours of sleep for you for every night of the year.

This is really important. If you do not get enough sleep then your entire health and wellness will be compromised, no matter what else you try to do to be happy and healthy.

Do not skimp on sleep and try to follow the principles of good sleep hygiene as best you can.

If you want to know more about the negative effects of lack of sleep, and why you must not compromise on your sleep please read my article Insomnia.

If you don’t know already know how much sleep you need, work on the average amount of sleep for adults which research shows is of seven and a quarter hours, but make a point of getting in tune with your body and becoming aware of how much sleep you need.

Most people need to get up at a certain time to be ready for work, school, university etc. In this case start with your get up time and work backwards to set your ‘go to sleep’ time. Having a regular ‘go to sleep’ and ‘wake up’ time, 7 days a week, is part of good sleep hygiene.

Step 2: Block off time for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day.

Having enough time sit down and calmly eat healthy meals is very important. Keeping your sugar levels even and your body well hydrated is essential for your health and wellbeing, as well as productivity.

Actually taking a lunch break away from your desk will probably do more for your productivity than all the time management techniques, caffeine drinks and project management apps put together. And it will reduce your stress levels enormously. If you don’t believe me try it!

I challenge all my clients who are stressed, burning out and reporting that they have “absolutely no time for a lunch break”, to take a lunch break of 40 to 60 minutes every day for two weeks. They can do anything they like as long as they leave their desk, calmly have something to eat and drink and don’t do anything that is work related. Without fail these clients come back saying they cannot believe how much more calm and productive they are.

If you are lucky enough to have someone else prepare your meals and clean up afterwards, then all you need to do is block off time to eat the meals. If you do the preparation etc. yourself then you will of course need to block off time for preparation and cleaning up too. Preparing meals, even a simple packed lunch, takes time. Be realistic in your scheduling.

Step 3: Block off time for work and/or study

If you work, block off your work hours for the year. At this stage just block off the hours from the start of the work day to the end of the work day (only include the hours as per your employment contract). Filling in how you are actually going to use those hours will come in step 8.

If you are a student, then block off lecture times and self-study hours for the year. Be realistic as to how many hours will be required for each course over the year. Again, filling in what you are actually going to do in those hours will come in step 8.

Remember to block off realistic amounts of time to travel to and from your work/place of study, as well as time to set up and to pack up etc. each day.

Step 4: Block off the important annual or bi-annual events for the year.

Here you include things like:

  • Annual and 6 monthly medical and dental checks-ups – you are going to need to get organised to actually set up the appointments with the health practitioner too. If you make these appointments as part of you annual planning each year you will most likely get the appointments at the times that work best for you, which can both save time and benefit your productivity.
  • Public holidays - if you are self-employed or a student you can decide if you want to take the day off. Or you might want to take an extra day or two’s leave to extend the break and get the most benefit from the public holiday.
  • Annual leave/student holidays
  • Exam schedules
  • Annual conferences
  • Special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries etc. You can decide if you want to take the day off to celebrate your own or someone else’s special occasion.
  • Annual gatherings – Sports or cultural tours, family reunions, spiritual retreats etc.

Step 5: Block off important monthly events for the whole year.

Here you include things like:

  • Monthly grocery shopping trips
  • Monthly prayer group/ book club /crafters meetings
  • Monthly voluntary work shifts
  • Monthly trips to the hairdresser, beautician etc.

Step 6: Block off your weekly events for the whole year.

Here you include things like:

  • Weekly grocery shopping
  • Weekly lessons – music/art lessons, sports classes
  • Weekly domestic chores like laundry, ironing, cooking meals for the week.
  • Attending your child’s weekly school activities.
  • Participating in your own sports and cultural activities – running, hiking, golfing, cycling etc.
  • Spiritual practices – attending weekly services at your place of worship, prayer groups etc.

Step 7: Block off your daily events for the whole year.

Here you include things like:

  • Daily domestic chores – making your bed, tidying up, laundry and ironing, feeding your pets
  • Daily physical activities – running, gym, exercise classes, walking the dog
  • Time to attend to personal emails and admin (paying personal/domestic bills, making personal appointments, filing important personal documents). All things that are not work related – work happens in work hours and is scheduled in step 8.

Step 8: Block off hourly work/lecture and self-study tasks and activities for the whole year.

In step 3 you blocked off your work hours or lecture times and self-study hours for the year.

Now is the time to fill in exactly what you are going to do with those hours each day of the week for each week of the month. At this stage you are only filling in work/study related tasks and activities.  Work time is for work. Personal stuff happens outside of work hours.

Keeping work/study hours clear in your calendar is necessary to ensure that you don’t spend too much time working/studying at the expense of other aspects of your life, or too much time ‘playing’ at the expense of your studies.

Students will fill in their lecture timetables at this stage. Remember to include travel times and set up/pack up times. For self-study times allocate when you will be working on what subjects, so you will have sufficient time to get all assignments and exam preparation done without last minute chaos and panic.

Working people will fill in time to do all the tasks they need to do - whatever it is their job entails. Here you include things like:

  • Meeting times (remember to block off time for travel and set up/pack up/ overlap time).
  • Time to make calls/ handle queries/ general admin
  • Time for dealing with emails
  • Report writing
  • Managing financial matters – paying bills, sending invoices, debt collection.
  • Seeing clients.

Make sure that over the course of the month you have allocated enough time for all the tasks you are required to do your job or run your business.

What is important here is to change your mind-set from one of being driven by your “’To Do List” to one of doing what you can over the course of the day, week and month. You will never get to the end of your ‘To Do List’ – if you do it means there is no more work coming in!

What you are aiming for is to manage your work/study hours in the best way possible to ensure optimal efficiency. Each task and activity is allocated time to do it over the course of a month. When you sit down at your desk you do not need to scramble around wondering what to do next, overwhelmed by your extensive “To Do List” and paralysed by your inability to decide because you are so stressed. You merely get on with what is scheduled in your calendar.

If it is Tuesday morning and “Accounts” is scheduled in your calendar for Tuesday morning, then you do the tasks on your To Do List relating to accounts. If “Phone Clients” is scheduled in your calendar, then you phone the clients listed on your “To Do List”. If “English Prep” is scheduled on your study timetable, then you work on your English assignments.

Ongoing Planning

In order to use your yearlong time-blocked calendar most efficiently, follow the approach that:

  • The year is not done until next year is planned.
  • The month is not done until next month is planned.
  • The week is not done until next week is planned.
  • The day is not done until tomorrow is planned.

Of course you will probably need a few days to review the year that you have had and plan the next one. I encourage you to use the Wellbeing Wheel to do an annual audit of your life and assess what adjustments need to be made to ensure your optimal health and wellbeing.

Planning for the month ahead will probably need a few hours and planning for the week less than that. By the time you get to plan ‘tomorrow’, you will only need a few minutes to make adjustments for things that have come up at the last minute.

Block off time in your yearlong time-blocked calendar to do this planning. Taking the time for planning is like sharpening your axe – it will be well worth it in the long run.

Using Your Yearlong Time-Blocked Calendar

Once you have created your yearlong time-blocked calendar you can relax knowing that you have a fully integrated life and there is time for everything.

The key is to follow what is in your yearlong time-blocked calendar. You’ve already put considerable time and effort into deciding what you are going to do when. Don’t waste time re-making the decisions all over again. 

I always say two things to my clients:

  • “Once you have made the decision, don’t keep negotiating with yourself.” and
  • “Don’t let yourself down”.

For example, if you have decided that you are going to get up at 6am, just do that. Don’t waste time negotiating with yourself about whether or not you want to get up. You wouldn’t let someone else down, so don’t let yourself down.

Of course you don’t have to be totally rigid with your calendar. Once it is in place you can be flexible. For example, if you have to work overtime on a weekend (which is scheduled for fun family time) then do so, but remember to claim your work overtime back by taking time off work to spend with your family.

Being flexible means taking time from one aspect of your life now, but returning that time later during the year, so the same amount of time you had initially planned for each activity is maintained.

You will find that you need to keep adjusting your yearlong time-blocked calendar to fit what is happening in your life. For example, you might change jobs and so have different work hours and travel times. You might find you are not enjoying going to the gym and so change to another form of physical activity which happens on different days. You might buy a dog and need to include dog training and dog walking into your schedule. It might be that you are just finding it too hard to get up so early in the mornings these days. Whatever it is, just keep adjusting your calendar, but always maintain the overall aim of scheduling time for ALL the different aspects of your life.

Obviously, if you add something new or extra into your yearlong time-blocked calendar, then something else will have to go. You only have 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year. Keep in mind your “rocks and pebbles” and ensure they always have time in your calendar. Never compromise the “rocks”.

“You don’t need more time in your day.  You need to decide.”

Seth Godin