Block Schedules Save Your Sanity

A friend of mine recently Twittered anyone else overwhelmed with their life? please tell me it isn’t just me.” (If you don’t  know what Twitter is, stay tuned to this blog. For now, just know that’s is a way to  communicate with a lot of people who care what you’re up  to). Anyway,  her lament is one that is shared by many small business owners. There are so many hats we have to wear, even if we’re good at outsourcing, the successful small business owner can still be left with more work to do than seems humanly possible in an 8-hour work day (16 hours if you’re single with no kids. :-)  This is an issue that I constantly deal with. It seems like no matter how many tricks I employ to manage my email, I always end up with hundreds of emails in my inbox, many unopened and untouched. (Even with two other people who help me process sales and customer service inquiries and contracts). A few days ago, I had enough. Coming to my desk every morning, feeling scattered, my brain pounding, with a million projects staring me in the face, it was time to take back my life!

I’M A BLOCK HEAD!

You heard me (er, rather, read me) right. A block head. As in block schedules. The concept is simple. Set aside blocks of time during the week when you are committed to doing particular activities that you must do routinely. And be unabashedly faithful to sticking to that schedule. Okay, every now and then, you’ll have to make an exception. I get that. But, the idea is that you must be purposeful with your life. If you don’t take control of your life, it will take control of you.

If you run your own business, heck, even if you work for someone else, it’s easy for email, meetings, phone calls, etc., to get the best of you. It’s up to YOU to change the score. By implementing block schedules, YOU determine, based on what’s best for your situation, when you’ll check e-mail, schedule phone calls, edit videos, post-process, blog, etc.  Whatever it is you do. Then you stick to it. Unapologetically.

Below is a snapshot of my recently created block schedule (click on image for larger view). I may tweak  it as time goes, but based on what I’m currently obligated to do, this is what I’ve come up with:


I’ll give you a brief description of each:

  • Client maintenance: responding to client emails; meetings with clients; prepping client packages; etc.
  • Admin: pay bills; file; update my block schedule; etc.
  • Editing: self explanatory.
  • Sales and marketing: writing up proposals; calling and following up with leads; sales calls and meetings; working on marketing or advertising materials; etc.
  • Podcasting: F-Stop Beyond interviews; writing FSB blogs; prepping for the podcast; etc.
  • Blogging: writing or working on any of our blogs:  WeddingFlix.com, this one, FSB audio show, or FSB video show.
  • Process e-mail: this is NOT necessarily answering email. It’s processing it. That means I comb through my email and tag them as action items. Some may be tagged “Client Action,” in which case I’ll answer them during my next “Client Maintenance” block. Etc. It’s basically working to get my inbox down to zero (or pretty darn close). I don’t want to live in my inbox anymore. This has helped me break the chains.

You’ll notice that I have nothing before 10 am. That’s because I leave that as “free for all.” By the time I finish walking my little boy to pre-school (a much needed balancer in my hectic life), it’ will be anywhere between 8:30 and 9:30. I’ll use that time to either start the first block early, or finish up some work  from the last block. I stop work at 5 to go pick my son up. Then, when necessary, I’ll work in the evenings, but I try very hard to limit those occurrences.

STICK TO YOUR ALLOTTED TIME

There’s a project management term called “Parkinson’s Law.” It says that work will expand to fill the time allotted. The longer you give yourself to do something, the longer it will take. Now, if you never set a time limit on something, theoretically, it could go on forever. That’s a problem I have. If I don’t set a time limit for a particular item, I’ll keep working on it until “it’s perfect.” That’s the perfectionist artiste in me. However, the pragmatist business man in me (or perhaps more correctly, my dutiful wife who has to constantly remind me I’m a business man as well as an artist) knows that that’s not a good way to run a business. It’s imperative I stay disciplined with my time. And so should you.

I encourage you to try a block schedule approach to your daily activities. Take control of your schedule, so that it doesn’t take control of YOU.

11 thoughts on “Block Schedules Save Your Sanity

  1. I loooove it! I couldn’t agree with you more and this schedule is totally helpful. I know this comment isn’t constructive, but this is great!

  2. I got that twitter too! Funny, I was actually thinking when I got it, ME TOO! I really love this “block” schedule idea, and it seems so obvious, yet I wonder how many are actually doing it? The scattered artiste personalities of most photographers I know, including myself, usually end up doing all of these things at once…or try to. And we are NEVER done. It’s enough to make anyone go crazy. So…Thank you for the great idea! Going into practice…today!

  3. UHM, thank you a TON for posting this. Between my husband and i, i often feeling like the all pervading chicken with its head cut off scrambling to some how make the work day feel like a productive one. working out of the home also creates a psychological obstacle to hurdle over as well. will attept the blockschedule these next couple weeks and see if it helps with the organizing of stuff including my brain🙂 thanks again!

  4. Thanks for posting this Ron, sometimes trying to get organized is something you put on that to-do list that keeps getting added to your list every week because other items on the list seem more doable and urgent, which they may be….but sometimes it takes a simple entry in a blog, in this case yours, to make many of us say “yeah, let’s stop the insanity and just jump on the bandwagon” and try it while there are others out there doing the same. It’s motivating when someone we respect and admire says “hey even I get overwhelmed, here’s my strategy.” Thanks Ron.

  5. Ron,
    I just thought I should say your blog is one of the most helpful resources I have found in looking to improve my business (and don’t you take that lightly — I am a genius at finding resources). Your blog ideas are practical and insightful, and best of all the things you say aren’t things I’ve heard a hundred times before. If you keep blogging, I’ll keep reading.

  6. Thank you all for all your kind words and encouragement. It means a lot. It feels good knowing the info here is helping others. Keep reading. More good stuff to come.

  7. Ron, Good Article. Here's my problem. My business is in the Video Production and Audio Visual world. Filmmaking/Video is my passion went to school for it, AV pays a huge chunk of the bills. My ongoing struggle is trying to maintain both worlds. They are days video pro days when I'm working from home or shooting. And the they are days and weeks when I'm Traveling. Finding time to build the company, family time, self time gets crazy at times. I like the block schedule, I'm also focusing on implement a good GTD workflow in my life, I'm a 40 y/o need to relieve some of the daily stress these post and ideas help.

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