After we’ve experienced a successful time block, we feel unshackled and accomplished—or exhausted and ready for some down-time. In the hours between our time blocks, it’s important to be methodical about our next steps so we ensure our enduring success.
For those who don’t know, time blocking is the time-management strategy of finding your most productive hours in the day and reserving them for your most important tasks. More than just scheduling a productivity-session for ourselves, it’s about protecting the time we need to make our most significant progress. It treats time as currency and values efficiency through effectiveness.
When you’ve experienced a successful time block, you’ve probably found yourself with more time on your hands than you thought possible. It’s a lot like cleaning your house and finding out that you have an extra bedroom. So what do we do with all that extra room for our day?
Prepare For the Next One
Time blocks are never a “one and done” thing. Success demands that we do the right things consistently over time, and that means having prolonged periods of focus lined up ahead of us. More often than not, you’re going to be spending your time blocks doing the same activity over and over again. These kinds of time blocks are great for habit building, but they also require us to limit as much drop-off as possible between our time blocks. That’s why it’s important to follow these steps right after your time block to ensure continuing productivity.
1. Find Clarity
Like muscles throbbing after a workout, a successful time block gives you a real sense of what it feels like to make progress. Using this experience while it’s still fresh is worthwhile to help you gain a sense of clarity on what you need to continue to focus on.
Two versions of yourself are constantly at war with each other: your present-self and your future-self. Who we are now always seems to set unrealistic expectations for who we are in the future. The battles waged between the “present-self” and “future-self” are usually brought on by unrealistic expectations of ourselves. We believe that we’ll simply remember what we need to remember, we believe we’ll simply have the motivation to get things done, or we’ll have the capability to do so. It’s best to avoid this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde mentality by taking charge of your dual personalities.
At the tail end of your time block, don’t leave anything up to chance. Give your future-self marching orders. Record your last thought, experience, or breakthrough, the reason why it’s important, and a goal for what you want to accomplish during your next time block. By providing yourself a clear sense of direction, you’ll be giving yourself a running start during your next time block. The next thing you’ll have to do is trick your future-self into actually following through.
2. Trick Your Future Self
In his book You Are Not So Smart, author David McRaney talks about how to resolve the conflict between your present and future self. He writes:
“The trick is to accept that the now-you will not be the person facing those choices, it will be the future-you—a person that can’t be trusted. Future-you will give in, and then you’ll go back to being now-you and feel weak and ashamed. Now-you must trick future-you into doing what is right for both parties.”
Think of tricking yourself as adding a shrewd measure of accountability in the shape of a booby-trap. If your time block is in the morning, and you have a history of struggling to wake up on time, tricking your future-self might be as easy as placing your alarm clock out of arms reach so you have to get out of bed to turn it off. (No more snooze for you.) If you know you have a tendency to wander onto social media at the start of every time block, set up countermeasures that will automatically lock you out of social media during your time block. Remember, willpower isn’t on will call, so take these precautions early while you’re still motivated to do so—don’t give your future-self a chance to muck everything up.
The next step is to remove any doubt of commitment by taking things a step further and adding a layer of accountability. There are several levels of accountability: personal, interpersonal, and technological and they can help you and hurt you in different ways.
Personal accountability is holding yourself accountable for achieving the outcomes you desire. Typically the best form of personal accountability comes from severe consequences, psychologically or physically, if you don’t keep yourself in line. The reason why the experts advise against personal accountability is because it’s fickle. When your willpower dies out, so does your progress. Approach personal accountability as a stop-gap between starting and finishing. It may be enough to get you going, but it isn’t always the thing that will help bring you to the finish line.
Interpersonal accountability is just that, accountability facilitated through other people. This type of accountability is tried and true. It’s been the subject of countless studies. Some have shown that you’re more likely to do something like working out if you know you have a friend going with you. Finding someone else who is as engaged in your success as you are, who can push you forward, level with you when you step out of line, and continue to be someone who you care about through thick and thin is a productivity luxury. If you bring someone else into your ONE Thing who does these three things relentlessly for ever and ever, you won’t lose.
But that person’s a unicorn.
The problem here is that your accountability rests in the hands of someone else’s willpower. (Still, that’s twice the willpower.) If they can’t be held accountable to keep you accountable, well, throw that accountability out the window. This problem is the reason why a lot of people cycle accountability partners frequently. When someone’s motivation to hold you accountable starts to dip, or you find it’s becoming less effective, sometimes finding a new accountability partner with a fresh batch of motivation does the trick.
Domo arigato, Mr. Robot-o. So much of the things we do and enjoy are empowered through technology these days that it’s only natural for it to have found a way to hold us accountable. The tech-focused accountability programs and devices of the past simply functioned like a kitchen timer. You input what you want to do, and it will nudge you along to do your desired actions. Today’s accountability technology takes things a step further, where you can tell certain apps what you want to do, and it will dish out consequences until they’re completed. But this vision often still exists in its infancy, and requires more human input than you’d probably want. For example, the idea of having an app and a wearable that shocks you when you veer off-task sounds nice, until you realize that you’re the one who actually has to push the button to execute the negative reinforcement.
Technology has the power to enhance your existing accountability methods by providing streamlined communication and insight into your progress. If you’re time blocking for exercise, one example of this in action would be using Fitbit to track your activity levels throughout the day and give an accountability partner full access to your results. But technology’s role in accountability doesn’t end there. It also has the ability to hold you accountable all on its own by dishing out negative consequences like setting a timer to turn off your internet during the middle of your time block.
In our experience, the best type of accountability is interpersonal accountability that leverages technology. You can’t lose with someone by your side, and it becomes harder for them to fail you when your progress is an open book for them to read. Sometimes even the thought of someone having access to your results is enough to push you out the door to get going.
3. Rest for a Few Minutes
At the end of any prolonged period of focus and progress, you should give yourself several minutes of shuteye to let everything sink in. This isn’t some wishy-washy advice—it’s science. When we rest, our minds get to work consolidating our memories, transferring and cementing important thoughts and experiences so we can recall them later.
Robert Pozen from MIT Sloan School of Management suggested in a recent interview with Fast Company that for every 75 to 90 minutes of high-focused work, we should rest for at least 15 minutes to let our brains retain what just happened and prepare us for the work we have ahead.
Other people have had success with the Pomodoro Method of Time Blocking. In this strategy, you work a 25 minute time block and then immediately break for five minutes, then you rinse and repeat. According to its creator, Francesco Cirillo, twenty-five minutes is enough time to get meaningful work done without exhausting yourself, and the five minute breaks do the same job of relaxing your brain so it can continue to stay engaged during another productivity burst.
To ensure that you give yourself enough time to recharge and consolidate, we actually suggest time blocking your rest within your time block. (Enter: Xzhibit.) Yes, it’s that important. If time blocking is all about using your time efficiently by using it in the most effective way possible, then consider this additional time block the Fonzie to your Richie Cunningham. It’s that cool thing that comes around, protects you, and makes sure you aren’t a total loser.
Engage in a Community
This is about more than accountability. It’s about surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded individuals who hold similar goals to yours that you can leverage for support and resources.
During our research, we came across a couple of interesting studies that showed just how important it is to engage in a community when facing large obstacles.
While wearing a heavy backpack, students were asked to stand in front of a hill alone or with a friend by their side and estimate the degree of the slope that faced them. Interestingly, those with a friend standing next to them were more likely to view the slope as less steep than those who stood alone. In a complimentary study, participants were asked to think of a positive, neutral, or negative relationship and then judge the slope while wearing a heavy backpack. The researchers found similar results, but found that a person’s judgement of the slope was influenced by the warmth of the relationship the participant envisioned. The better the relationship, the smaller the slope appeared.
The people you surround yourself with will literally lift a weight off your shoulders. That’s why, after your time block, it’s a good idea to step out of your silo and engage with a community that is pursuing similar productivity goals.
Leveraging a community does more than offer a platform for recounting what went right, what went wrong, and what you could do better next time. When you’re engaged in a community with people who are also attempting to prioritize your life, you’ll find support in the struggles that you feel, but haven’t even articulated yet. Shared knowledge goes a long way toward deepening our understanding of what we’re doing, and causes us to think critically about our actions. It’s important to leverage the insight of others if you are wanting to commit to living an extraordinary life through priority.
If you’re striking out on your own and having trouble finding a group, there are a few services online that will pair you with like-minded individuals. For ONE Thing specific masterminding, feedback, and time-management strategy sessions, there’s The One Thing Membership Community. This community is ripe with time savers and priority-minded individuals. It’s a forum where anyone can come together and find the helping hand they need to stay on track and make larger gains. But the communities out there for us don’t end there. There are also groups out there that deal specifically with habit building, like HabitShare. There are also communities that are built specifically for solo entrepreneurs like Owners Up, a site that groups up “solopreneurs” and helps them facilitate teamwork and growth.
If you’re a part of a community you’ll be less likely to give up and more likely to kick ass. So whatever your fancy, go get plugged in somewhere.
Tackle Your 80% in Order of Priority
The Pareto principle, also known as the 80/20 rule, states that 80% of our results are derived from only 20% of our actions. These small productivity pressure points are our ONE Thing. We knock them down and they make everything else easier or unnecessary. But what about everything else that we have to get done? They matter too, right?
Right. There are things we need to do, should do, and could do. Your ONE Thing is a “need to do”. But the myriad of things you should do can also contribute to your success—albeit with a smaller impact than your ONE Thing. Like your ONE Thing, which forces you to find out from a possible list of activities what takes priority, everything else in your life that you have to do can be ranked according to its importance. And there’s no better time to tackle them than right after a successful time block. If you’ve ever come out of a time block, glowing with focus, and found yourself kicking ass the rest of the day, you probably experienced something called the “halo effect”. It’s the idea that our actions snowball throughout the day and interact with one another for better or worse. The only thing you have to do is figure what to knock out first.
As you might remember from our book The One Thing, nothing matters equally. Everything can be ranked and prioritized, and that includes everything on your laundry list of “to do’s”. In order to figure out what tasks need to be addressed first, it’s a good idea to run all of them through the Eisenhower Matrix.
We’ve talked about it before, and while it didn’t make it into the book, we’ve really taken to this useful tool. There are other matrix tools out there to help you prioritize just about anything, but none of them really fit in line with our philosophy at The ONE Thing like this one does. Some, like the Action Priority Matrix values the speed at which something can get done and doesn’t take into account its urgency.
As you can see in the image above, whatever we apply to this quadrant will be categorized as a 1, 2, 3, or 4, based on its level of urgency and importance. On one extreme, tasks that are both urgent and important, take priority and require our immediate focus following a time block. On the other extreme, tasks that lack urgency and importance, are dumped and forgotten about. If you run everything through this list, you’ll find your have to do’s, your should do’s, and your could do’s. Then all you need to do is prioritize your time accordingly to knocking them out one by one.
Or, Just Indulge in the Time You Saved
Freedom isn’t free. We’ve all heard that saying at some point or another, but its wisdom doesn’t end with liberty. The original American dream wasn’t a home with a white picket fence and a Leave it to Beaver-style family. It was free time. Benjamin Hunnicutt explains in his book Free Time: The Forgotten American Dream that when the nation’s founders dreamed of a perfect society, they often thought and wrote about something called “higher progress”, where people spent less time making a living and more time actually living. They believed that through advancement and dedication, our work hours would shrink and people would have more free time to do as they please. In fact, the original idea wasn’t a “Four Hour Workweek”, it was just a four hour day. As Benjamin Franklin put it:
“If every man and woman would work for four hours each day on something useful, that labor would produce sufficient to procure all the necessaries and comforts of life, want and misery would be banished of the world, and the rest of the twenty-four hours might be leisure and happiness.”
The ONE Thing and time blocking echoes this idea. If we commit to being our most productive selves and free ourselves from distraction, we free up time that can be spent elsewhere.
Even though it may not feel like it at times, society has made significant progress on doing what it can to give us time back. Since 1830, the average person has decreased their work hours from about 69 to 35 hours a week. That’s not the case for everyone, though. According to researchers at the University of London, Americans are finding ways to work like it’s 1830 again. In a 2015 analysis they found that Americans were more likely to be found working after a traditional 40 hour work week than their economic counterparts. In fact, more than 1 in 3 Americans can be caught working on the weekends. This is unfortunate. When everyone else is spending less time on work, why are we finding ways to spend more?
It could be a problem with the philosophy that some of us hold. As a whole, we tend to equate spending time at work with productivity. But this thinking is wrong. Productivity is productivity, plain and simple. Progress isn’t measured by the time we spend, it’s measured by the actions we take. Success is about doing the right things. When we’ve done the right things, it’s sometimes okay to use the time we saved for just living life.
Free time is great because it gives us a chance to figure out what our next ONE Thing might be. It lets us indulge and discover. It’s what leads to new, unexpected skills that enhance every corner of our lives. It also gives us time to relax and shut down—something we’ve already covered is essential for productivity. When you’ve got some free time after a time block, don’t be afraid to use it for whatever your immediate needs are, whether that be goofing around or reading a good book unrelated to your work at hand. You’ll be better for it!