Use Focus Time Blocks to Increase Your Productivity
Focus time blocks will change the way that you work and increase your productivity in more ways that you can imagine.
I don’t make this claim lightly or without evidence to back it up, either!
Since reading about focus time blocks from Charlie Gilkey at Productive Flourishing, and implementing them as part of how I plan my work day, not only have I been able to get more done, but my ability to concentrate on a single task has vastly improved.
What Is A Focus Block?
A focus block is a dedicated chunk of time that you set aside to work on a task item or project that requires your time, energy and attention in order to produce the best possible product.
These are often tasks like writing, analyzing data or researching a new concept that require your brain to optimally focus and engage in active problem solving.
It’s during a focus block that you turn off all distractions, including your email and phone, and sit down with a task and clear plan to accomplish it.
Focus blocks are best scheduled for when your energy level is high and you’re feeling your best. For a lot of us this is usually first thing in the morning, before we’ve had a chance to get bogged down with busy work.
Morning is also optimal because of our circadian rhythm processes and the fact that we’re going to be more alert after a (hopefully) good night of sleep.
This isn’t universally true for everyone, and the best way to find your optimal time for focus work is to begin tracking your energy levels throughout the day.
Pay attention to when your energy is at its peak and jot this down in a notebook or beside your to-do list. Also record when you feel tired and have a hard time concentrating.
With this data you can then decide when it’s best to schedule a focus block to move your most meaningful, creative work forward.
A focus block is typically 1.5 to 2 hours in length and you can insert a 15 minute break somewhere in there in you feel so inclined.
Life Before Focus Blocks
Like a lot of people I was always trying to multitask under the assumption that this meant I could get more done within a day.
These habits would see me jump from one task to another, trying to make headway on a blog post while messaging a client on my phone.
Or I’d be in the middle of a report and find myself gravitating towards my phone, looking for a distraction, and then getting mad at myself for my apparent inability to focus.
While doing more research about multitasking and how to improve my efficiency (because I assumed I’d somehow lost the multi-tasking mojo that I thought I’d once had), I was surprised to learn that trying to multi-task actually reduces productivity by up to 40%.
40% is a huge number!
This is despite popular opinion that our brains can rapidly switch between tasks with no effects on our output.
It turns out that they can’t do this. We’re not machines and the time it takes for our brains to shift from one task to another and then back again means that we’re actually losing time.
Our attention to detail is off.
It takes us twice as long to complete an easy task like sending an email because we’re not giving that email the attention it really needs.
My multi-tasking habits were reflected in how my days were scheduled, too. I’d get to my desk with an idea of what I’d want to get done in a day, and quickly find that I’d be off down a rabbit hole after opening my email.
As a result, I wasn’t making any real progress on big pieces of work that mattered.
Deadlines would come and go and I’d be left wondering what happened.
Life After Focus Blocks
Since I started tracking my how my energy flows during any given day, and when my attention is at its best, I’ve now started scheduling focus blocks first thing in the morning.
I’ve learned that I’m at my best between 8am and 11am, but I can extend that window to 12pm if I throw in a 30 minute break where I walk away from my computer and engage in something mindful, like deep breathing or going for a walk.
I try to give myself two focus blocks each morning, and since I work from home and have control over my schedule this is entirely possible.
Meetings, calls with clients and other administrative busy work are typically saved for the afternoon when I’m feeling tired and have trouble concentrating on small details.
Balancing my day in this way has been nothing short of revolutionary (I’m not kidding!) in terms of how much I’m able to get done and move projects forward.
During a morning of focused time blocks I can comfortably write three really good posts for my blog or for my work on Medium. I can also dive deep into strategic planning, creating longer pieces of content, writing a grant narrative or editing a lengthy project.
Having this many detailed, lengthy to-dos on my list would have given me a heart attack prior to introducing focus time blocks into my day.
Now I can comfortably plan and schedule my time so that I’m optimizing my peak energy and attention to move important pieces of big projects forward, while carving out time later in the day to attend to other busy work.
Focus time blocks are one of the easiest ways to plan your day, make significant progress on big projects and build positive forward momentum, that you can then ride the rest of the day. Give it a try for a week and see the results for yourself.