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The key to efficient time administration? Smaller blocks of time

October
11, 2020

5 min read

The opinions expressed by the entrepreneur's contributors are their own.

Most entrepreneurs wish they could manage their time better. There are only eight hours in a normal work day, but it seems like you have 20 hours worth of tasks to do every day.

There are many legitimate solutions to this dilemma. One of the most valuable strategies is learning to delegate effectively to reduce your overall workload. You can also automate certain tasks so that you no longer have to actively manage them.

Once you've used all of these tactics, there is only one real solution left to optimize your productivity: time management. Only if you manage your time better can you get most of the tasks done in one day.

There is a lot of advice on effective time management out there, but some are contradicting and others are downright intuitive. I've found that one of the most important approaches to time management – and a recurring source of increased productivity – is based on a simple concept: relying on smaller chunks of time.

How time blocks work

In case you are not familiar, "blocks of time" are time intervals in which you can plan tasks or groups of tasks for your work day. Most people use blocks of an hour or half an hour to block time during the day. For example, you could spend an hour on a morning meeting, half an hour on checking email, half an hour on a customer meeting, and one hour on a heads down project.

This system is effective because it helps you estimate the time each task will take, group similar tasks together, and proactively prioritize your day.

The problem is, if you only use blocks of 30, 45, or 60 minutes, you won't get all of the benefits of the strategy. Instead, you should work with much shorter intervals – like 10 minutes or even five minutes (a strategy Elon Musk is known to use).

Why are smaller blocks of time so effective?

Related: 8 Daily Habits of Effective Business Managers

Against the Parkinson's Act

One of the biggest advantages of using smaller blocks of time is that you can counter the effects of Parkinson's Law. In case you're unfamiliar, Parkinson's Law is an informal adage that says work tends to stretch out to fill the allotted time. In other words, if you schedule a task to take an hour, it will likely take an hour – or almost an hour. Of course, when you impose stricter time constraints, you tend to get the job done faster.

This is especially useful for meetings that suffer from lax planning approaches. Instead of fading out 30 minutes, you should exclude 20 or 25. You probably won't notice a huge difference, but you will immediately have more time to spend on your day.

Specificity and awareness

Smaller blocks of time are also much more specific than their larger counterparts, so you can more accurately estimate and measure your time expenditure. That way you can enlarge the tasks that devour your day and identify sources of wasted time more easily. The more aware you are of how you spend your time, the more effectively you can change your habits and work environment.

Control over breaks

Tighter time intervals also open the door to an often neglected productivity booster: breaks. Breaks have been shown to have a measurable positive effect that both reduces stress and increases productivity. They should be taken throughout the day. The problem is, when we feel overwhelmed by work, breaks feel like an impossibility (or a symptom of laziness). However, if you can schedule a meeting for 55 minutes (instead of a full 60) or a project for 20 minutes (instead of a full 30), open up micro-intervals where breaks can of course fit in. You can also schedule breaks with more regularity and experiment with length and placement. Eventually, you will find a rhythm of rest that will aid your productivity without distraction, and none of your other priorities will suffer from the change.

Related: 11 Secrets To Staying Productive and Staying in Control

Problems with strategy

None of this means that small chunks of time are a perfect strategy or that they are guaranteed to work for everyone. There are some problems with the strategy. For starters, planning your day in five-minute intervals will take a lot longer than planning in one-hour sections. Additionally, there are more contingencies and dependencies to worry about. If a five-minute task takes 10 minutes, the rest of your day is suddenly pushed back. And of course this strategy will work better for some types of workers than others.

Still, most of these disadvantages can be offset. For example, if you are worried about too many dependencies, you can add small buffers to catch up on. If you're the type to struggle with traditional approaches to time management, try this strategy and see if it works better for you. You might be surprised with the results.

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