As I mention on the page describing the paucity of academic research in this niche, much of the “proof” for time blocking comes from outside the realm of published, peer-reviewed studies. On this page I focus on discoveries by non-academics: consultants, authors, and independent researchers.
While the idea of time blocking has probably been around since the invention of paper calendars, the most recent, popular criticism of the idea came in David Allen’s 2001 book, Getting Things Done. In his book he argues that a calendar is sacred, only to be used for scheduling one’s “hard landscape” of meetings, appointments and fixed dates/times. Everything else should reside on one or more lists.
Although there is evidence of a recent change of mind, many have followed his lead, repeating his assertion. They usually haven’t tried time blocking in a serious way, and offer little research or case studies. Quoting Allen’s book has been enough.
For a growing number, however, time blocking has filled a missing gap, especially with the availability of multiple calendar views in the most popular calendar apps: Outlook and Google Calendar. This feature allows the user to maintain one view with the user’s hard landscape, plus others.
In my own research I have paid most attention to people like me who have spent several months trying each technique. As I mention on this site’s Home Page, I my journey was involved a series of zigzags. Through it all, I struggle to make sense of the choices before me. Much of my journey is chronicled in an article seeking to resolve the ongoing disagreement between “listers” and “schedulers”.
Dr. Melanie Wilson, a psychologist, conducted a more structured experiment. She spent an entire year (2013), and the better part of the following year trying different productivity techniques.
On her blog, she offers a detailed account of her experiment with one new approach per week. Throughout the year, she documented the pros and cons of each technique. Here are her entries for topics related to Total Task Scheduling:
- Can David Allen’s Getting Things Done Really Hep You Get More Done?
- Can Time Blocking Help You Get More Done?
- Can a paper To-Do List Help You Get More Done?
- Can Scheduling Tasks Help You Get More Done?
Then, early in 2015, she discovered SkedPal, an auto-scheduler, and recommended the app in a post. She described the program as the answer to many of her questions. When I read her article, I downloaded SkedPal for the first time.
At around the same time, in early 2015, a new book was published that supported the idea of Total Task Scheduling. In his book, 15 Secrets Successful People Know About Time Management, Kevin Kruse interviewed a number of high achievers. His Secret #2 states: “Work from your calendar, not a to-do list.” In the third chapter, he described a number of people who are, in essence, Total Task Schedulers, including the CEO of Linkedin, Jeff Weiner. He quotes them as they share some of the finer points of the technique, many of which have been incorporated into our Lessons on this website.
Kruse argues that “Mapping all of these these items onto your calendar… is the right way to design your life. It’s a powerful way to stay consistent to those activities that give you the most return, and the most joy.”
While this is an important point in his book, he doesn’t make mention of other successful people who use different techniques such as memory or To-Do lists. In all probability, they exist.
A Single Theory – Schedule U
In my book I drew together ideas from all sources I could find, using them as a starting point for the lessons in A Course in Scheduling. Here is a short summary of the ideas I have put together, including changes that have occurred since publishing my book.
- There is no single set of behaviors, habits, practices and routines that is optimal for everyone. Even the proponents of a single well-defined set of practices, like GTD, understand that no two people implement its recommendations in exactly the same way.
- People teach themselves how to manage time demands from an early age. I define each one as an “internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.” As the graphic shows, each person evolves a system for managing time demands by the time we exit our teenage years.
- Unfortunately, our teenage, self-taught systems don’t scale very well. As our lives become more complex, we inevitably add more time demands which cause our system to fail. The only question is, “How fast does this happen?” Some people who show Type A traits ramp up to high volumes quicker than other people, but at some point most people face the same problem: their system which worked fine in their teenage years just can’t keep up. The result is a series of “errors-in-execution” such as lateness, information overload and feelings of overwhelm. As the pressure related to these problems mount, we go looking for solutions. The challenge is to find a new combination of tools, methods and techniques that are able to simultaneously manage more time demands, but maintain the same peace of mind.
- My research shows that people who try to adjust their methods do so following a predictable path as shown in in this diagram.While there are many explanations offered for the reasons why people use different methods (such as personality), this theory is simple: people settle on the level which allows them to manage the number of time demands they face each day with a desired peace of mind. When a mismatch occur, errors-in-execution creep in, forcing them to look for alternatives. Sometimes, they find them with the right upgrade.
- In my book, I outline the academic research that supports this theory. (Some of it is described on this website on the page for Academic Research.) The fact that it’s based on behavior-created capacity means that anyone should be able to pick them up with the right training, tools and support. Here at Schedule U, this “Single Theory” is the core, motivating idea.