Power Use of Your Calendar

John Forrister

GTD Connect
Staff member
From David Allen's article, Power Use of the Calendar: "Seldom have I seen anyone use their calendar optimally. And yet it is, in my experience, a cornerstone tool for maintaining consistent control and perspective, day to day. I delineated my suggestions about this in my book Getting Things Done, but it’s such a key practice I thought a more expanded explanation here would be useful."
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
This is as usual a good article from David. But I remain bewildered as to why there never is any mention in these teachings about time blocking. Every GTD coach I have talked to says it is perfectly fine to block time on your calendar for important projects. As I have said many times on these forums, if I don't protect my time with time blocks for my deep focused work, meetings magically appear. I see this as a good practice within GTD to protect my time so I CAN do focused work. As a professor, scientist overseeing a large research group, and someone with collegiate, university, and multiple national responsibilities and commitments, time blocking my calendar is imperative and not an option. So why can't we teach this within the GTD framework? Of course it is not for everyone and if someone thrives (like David Allen) by always choosing moment to moment on what to do next, then that is fine and wonderful. But for some of us - and I suspect many - time blocking ensures that we have adequate engaging time - and doing the work that matters in our respective fields.

Just my two cents worth...
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Please everyone convince me why I should not time block as I have described. I am eager to hear of differing opinions on this.
 

sesteph6

Registered
eh.... time blocking was miserable for me. My schedule is too fluid, I need to make intuitive decisions as to priorities. I tried timeblocking and it was just awful in my situation. I would timeblock and inevitably somthing more important would come up. Then I would have to blowoff the item I timeblocked for and it would weigh on me. Also I have anywhere 6-20 meeting per day. What's awesome about Davids methodology it I can constantly renegotiate those meeting as my landscape changes, then simply have my admin move. Plus I have an enormous amount of relatively short notice travel. I guess my point is, I tried and ended up 1. Feeling bad about missed commitments to the timeblock. 2. rearranging the timeblocks all day. (as opposed to meetings my admin can do). 3.Feeling very confined by the the commitments Ive made myself, as opposed to capturing free moments as they come available.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
eh.... time blocking was miserable for me. My schedule is too fluid, I need to make intuitive decisions as to priorities. I tried timeblocking and it was just awful in my situation. I would timeblock and inevitably somthing more important would come up. Then I would have to blowoff the item I timeblocked for and it would weigh on me. Also I have anywhere 6-20 meeting per day. What's awesome about Davids methodology it I can constantly renegotiate those meeting as my landscape changes, then simply have my admin move. Plus I have an enormous amount of relatively short notice travel. I guess my point is, I tried and ended up 1. Feeling bad about missed commitments to the timeblock. 2. rearranging the timeblocks all day. (as opposed to meetings my admin can do). 3.Feeling very confined by the the commitments Ive made myself, as opposed to capturing free moments as they come available.
You make good points. I too have experienced situations where things have changed overnight and sometimes within a day and the blocked time I had was no longer the most important priority at that moment. I realize I am being a curmudgeon on this and I am sure John is sick of hearing me bring this up. It is the eternal dance I face - if I don't protect my time, it is taken. Of course, I could just reject meetings and suggest different times. I do love the ability within GTD to make decisions on things in the moment. I will continue my dance and search for what works best for me. Thanks so much for your response!
 

tyarrish

Registered
I don't think it's something you can definitely say to use or not to use. It's just another part of how you want to implement the GTD methodology. I think it may also depend on the different careers, education, etc that people are dealing with at the time.
For me, I'll block time off during the week when I have active projects going on that next X amount of hours per day, just so I can focus on that at the time. But when I'm juggling multiple projects that are focused more on writing and documentation, I'll have a "list" of what I want to get accomplished that day, but be fluid enough in case I'm not in the mindset to work a set duration of time on it.
I also teach at the college level part time, so I vary when I may block off time in the evening to work on grading assignments, making sure the next lecture/assignment is ready, etc. Or I may just do it based on whether the family is going to be home that weekend or not. :)
 

Oogiem

Registered
if I don't protect my time, it is taken.
So..whose fault is that? If you ALLOW people to take over your time then that is the reality you will experience.

What if you flat out ignored all those folks who block you into stuff you don't cae about nor need to see?

I realize thais is probably impossible but have you considered that your afinity for timeblockins is a symptom of a much bigger issue/problem?

I'm being somehwat confrontational here in an attempt to poke you into thinking of things in a different way. It's not meant to be critical of you as a person but of how your actions have made you react.
 

ChrisChip

Registered
I agree with @tyarrish - it likely depends on the individual and their wider context. As long as you can renegotiate those blocks with yourself as needed, it doesn't have to interfere with your own intuitive decision making.
I used it before committing fully to my GTD practice, but recently have found those bigger important but not urgent projects with larger next actions are just languishing on my lists. Personally I find if I don't plan ahead, it's very hard to get into a state of Deep Work.
The book "Make Time" by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky gave me some good ideas on how to time block effectively, and they've both clearly used GTD in the past as well. They suggest blocking time for clearing inboxes or batching smaller tasks together.
I've decided to trial blocking some time out going forward on days where I know I'll have longer uninterrupted time. However I'll still start my day by clearing inboxes and reviewing lists, so I have the opportunity to renegotiate if required.
That's just me though, I can see how others would do better to not use it. Just because David doesn't use it personally, that doesn't mean it's "not GTD"
 

Xavier BOEMARE

Registered
This is as usual a good article from David. But I remain bewildered as to why there never is any mention in these teachings about time blocking. Every GTD coach I have talked to says it is perfectly fine to block time on your calendar for important projects. As I have said many times on these forums, if I don't protect my time with time blocks for my deep focused work, meetings magically appear. I see this as a good practice within GTD to protect my time so I CAN do focused work. As a professor, scientist overseeing a large research group, and someone with collegiate, university, and multiple national responsibilities and commitments, time blocking my calendar is imperative and not an option. So why can't we teach this within the GTD framework? Of course it is not for everyone and if someone thrives (like David Allen) by always choosing moment to moment on what to do next, then that is fine and wonderful. But for some of us - and I suspect many - time blocking ensures that we have adequate engaging time - and doing the work that matters in our respective fields.

Just my two cents worth...
Hi,
Actually I do teach it in my company, and I'm sure many do, but not as part of the GTD
For me, the way I teach it, and for a specific population, it's all about
- Avoiding invasion of meetings from your colleagues
- Keeping time for yourself to chose what's the most valuable things to do at that moment (focus time for a project, a new opportunity, read an article, a nap !)
- Choosing the time slot that is the right for you with the highest impact for instance (that would be the morning for 80% of the population : up to 35% of boost of your intellectual capacity around 10AM, the worst being around 3PM).

I've seen in this thread email time boxing mentioned I think: Imho, looking at GTD, I'd like to say that time boxing is about preserving a time slot, it's not about deciding in advance what you will do with it. And in parallel, regarding email for instance, I would talk about batch processing, not time boxing : dealing with all the emails you have at once, instead of dealing with only one every 15min. Much more efficient, at the brain level at least.

Regards,
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
So..whose fault is that? If you ALLOW people to take over your time then that is the reality you will experience.

What if you flat out ignored all those folks who block you into stuff you don't cae about nor need to see?

I realize thais is probably impossible but have you considered that your afinity for timeblockins is a symptom of a much bigger issue/problem?

I'm being somehwat confrontational here in an attempt to poke you into thinking of things in a different way. It's not meant to be critical of you as a person but of how your actions have made you react.
Yes, you are being somewhat confrontational and that is perfectly fine. I am a professor and am quite used to confrontation. Oogiem, you make good points, but it is never as simple as that. These ARE important meetings and part of my professional responsibilities and commitments. It is not that I don't want to meet; I just need time protected so that I can do focused work. Intentions in my world are not good enough. I can form the intention that I will work on project X tomorrow morning because it is important and due in a week, but if I don't block that time, people will place a meeting - and it might be important - from 8;00-10:00. I have told my colleagues that I prefer afternoon meetings, but it still does not work because they go by what they see as open, and with multiple people in a meeting, well there you go. But I do appreciate your pushing me to think of this in another way. I DO question every time block I have and ask myself if this is still the best use of my time based on how my ecosystem has changed since yesterday.

Another aspect here is the spectrum of my responsibilities. As a professor and scientist, that is where I need dedicated time for deep, focused work. But I also have significant administrative responsibilities at multiple levels as I had mentioned. These require many times more immediate responses and represent the bulk of the work that lands in my lap - that part of the three kinds of work. So deciding moment to moment IS an appropriate way to navigate a lot of my time. So there is the rub - sometimes I need to be in scientist mode; other times I need to be in administrative mode. Hence my statement that it is an eternal dance of how I approach my work.

So, I will continue to time block some and be careful that I do not get carried away with it. But it IS a valuable approach for me.
 

John Forrister

GTD Connect
Staff member
This is as usual a good article from David. But I remain bewildered as to why there never is any mention in these teachings about time blocking. Every GTD coach I have talked to says it is perfectly fine to block time on your calendar for important projects.
I wonder if you are looking for David to specifically use the words "time blocking," or "block time."

The first type of calendar content the PDF lists is "time-specific commitments," aka appointments. I interpret that to include appointments I make with myself to work on projects. I have month-end and quarter-end projects that can't be started earlier, and have to be turned around quickly. I must schedule time for those on my calendar. For many other projects, I choose what to work on when I have open time on my calendar.

I've known David and many coaches to schedule time for projects. Just this morning I happened to be working with a coach on a calendar technical issue, and saw two hours of time for a project scheduled for later in the day.

Because of your work environment, and the tendency for others to try to schedule meetings, you may need to set more appointments with yourself than David does. Whether it's an hour a month or several hours every day, the practice is still valid. No need to compare with, or justify to, anyone else.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
I wonder if you are looking for David to specifically use the words "time blocking," or "block time."

The first type of calendar content the PDF lists is "time-specific commitments," aka appointments. I interpret that to include appointments I make with myself to work on projects. I have month-end and quarter-end projects that can't be started earlier, and have to be turned around quickly. I must schedule time for those on my calendar. For many other projects, I choose what to work on when I have open time on my calendar.

I've known David and many coaches to schedule time for projects. Just this morning I happened to be working with a coach on a calendar technical issue, and saw two hours of time for a project scheduled for later in the day.

Because of your work environment, and the tendency for others to try to schedule meetings, you may need to set more appointments with yourself than David does. Whether it's an hour a month or several hours every day, the practice is still valid. No need to compare with, or justify to, anyone else.
Thanks, John! Yes, I do think of it as blocking time - appointments with myself so that I can focus on my work. Great comments from everyone!
 

Cpu_Modern

Registered
Longstreet, judging from your description of your situation (in this thread and prior instances) I am not sure, if what you do is time blocking.

Well, it is, but it isn't.

Presumably the basic idea of time blocking is that you turn discretionary time into scheduled time. Instead of choosing what to do at that precise moment, you pre-arrange your activity. That would be the conceptual difference.

Now with your situation it sound like we are not talking about your discretionary time at all!

If your peers and also your assistance can just determine your activity for a given time slot, than that time slot is not your discretionary time.

What you are doing is reserving time slots for discretionary use, out of the array of time slots that by now are allocated for organizational use.

What you are doing is time-blocking in reverse. You do not have discretionary time, you make it by blocking it out. Whereas ordinarily the idea would be that a knowledge worker takes some of his discretionary time and turns it into scheduled time.

Let's add another point to this.

Usually what happens when you are a "top-dog" in society, like a head of state say, you have staff that arranges appointments for you. They schedule (nearly) all your tasks and you just hop along that schedule. No @context list.

For most of us, though, we do not have any staff, in most cases maybe some "shared" secretary or department or so…
…and certainly nobody who draws circles into your calendar. Alternatively, you are a "line-worker" and just do work as it shows up and, again, according to a tight schedule others are preparing for you.

Longstreet, it seems to me that you walked the street long enough to have entered into "top-dog" territory. Now others are scheduling things for you again. While at the same time you still have more than enough todo on the mid-tier knowledge worker level, ie. research projects.

Like a head of state, a CEO etc you have your staff (or the staff of your peers that actually do arrange these meetings you were talking about:…) scheduling things for you and thus you do not have discretionary time any more. Your @context list should be empty. Except for @home of course.

What do you think?
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
Longstreet, judging from your description of your situation (in this thread and prior instances) I am not sure, if what you do is time blocking.

Well, it is, but it isn't.

Presumably the basic idea of time blocking is that you turn discretionary time into scheduled time. Instead of choosing what to do at that precise moment, you pre-arrange your activity. That would be the conceptual difference.

Now with your situation it sound like we are not talking about your discretionary time at all!

If your peers and also your assistance can just determine your activity for a given time slot, than that time slot is not your discretionary time.

What you are doing is reserving time slots for discretionary use, out of the array of time slots that by now are allocated for organizational use.

What you are doing is time-blocking in reverse. You do not have discretionary time, you make it by blocking it out. Whereas ordinarily the idea would be that a knowledge worker takes some of his discretionary time and turns it into scheduled time.

Let's add another point to this.

Usually what happens when you are a "top-dog" in society, like a head of state say, you have staff that arranges appointments for you. They schedule (nearly) all your tasks and you just hop along that schedule. No @context list.

For most of us, though, we do not have any staff, in most cases maybe some "shared" secretary or department or so…
…and certainly nobody who draws circles into your calendar. Alternatively, you are a "line-worker" and just do work as it shows up and, again, according to a tight schedule others are preparing for you.

Longstreet, it seems to me that you walked the street long enough to have entered into "top-dog" territory. Now others are scheduling things for you again. While at the same time you still have more than enough todo on the mid-tier knowledge worker level, ie. research projects.

Like a head of state, a CEO etc you have your staff (or the staff of your peers that actually do arrange these meetings you were talking about:…) scheduling things for you and thus you do not have discretionary time any more. Your @context list should be empty. Except for @home of course.

What do you think?
This is pretty insightful! Yes, I think this captures my situation. A top dog - guess I still don't think of myself that way, but not to be arrogant, in many ways I am in this category. One of the fascinating things you mentioned was me having empty context lists. That is not the case at all. I have a huge number of projects and actions, so I still track those via GTD. I don't use an @computer list anymore since I have access to my desktop computer, laptop, iPad Pro, iPhone, anywhere I am. As my life is complex enough as is, I now have very simple contexts: home, calls, errands, agendas and then two categories that are different - immersive and process. As a professor and scientist, I have immersive actions that require dedicated time, hence the blocking time for myself. As an administrator, I have a large number of "process" actions. Separating this way allows to be in my two modes - scientist/professor mode and administrator mode.
 

Gardener

Registered
I see no problem with timeblocking.

I do see a problem with:

From 10:00-10:25 I will do THIS.
From 10:25-10:35, I will do THAT.
etc., etc.

If you get narrow and specific and put a ton of tasks on your calendar, you'll be constantly running a losing race with yourself. And some people try to do this. I've always assumed that that's the main issue with putting non-hard-landscape tasks on your calendar.

But, "Monday afternoons (or "All weekday afternoons...") I will take no meetings or interruptions and will focus on tasks related to X" seems completely different and totally fine.
 

Oogiem

Registered
These ARE important meetings and part of my professional responsibilities and commitments. It is not that I don't want to meet; I just need time protected so that I can do focused work.
So why does David Allen's discussions on making appointments with yourself not meet your criteria?

I see that over and over again in the discussions and info on GTD so I never really get why you don't think that counts as time blocking the way you use the term.

I will say that for me the term time blocking is a shut down. You block out and have nowhere to go. I can't do anything if I am blocked so I never use the term except under duress. That doesn't say I don't make appointments for critical tasks though. I just never call it time blocking.

Part of that aversion to the term is the wider view of what time blocking means. So often I read things where people do use the term time blocking and it nearly always means a minute by minute schedule on the calendar. It is also used as the place where their tasks live. That is the antithesis of how GTD works. Because that is how it's used so often in the wider world I can see why David Allen and GTD folks in general avoid the term. It would give the wrong impression of GTD to people who come from the wider personal productivity world. The concept, making an appointment for yourself, is certainly valid and does show up often but the terms are different because of the negative conotation from other productivity teachers when compared to the GTD system of how you keep tasks available.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
So why does David Allen's discussions on making appointments with yourself not meet your criteria?

I see that over and over again in the discussions and info on GTD so I never really get why you don't think that counts as time blocking the way you use the term.

I will say that for me the term time blocking is a shut down. You block out and have nowhere to go. I can't do anything if I am blocked so I never use the term except under duress. That doesn't say I don't make appointments for critical tasks though. I just never call it time blocking.

Part of that aversion to the term is the wider view of what time blocking means. So often I read things where people do use the term time blocking and it nearly always means a minute by minute schedule on the calendar. It is also used as the place where their tasks live. That is the antithesis of how GTD works. Because that is how it's used so often in the wider world I can see why David Allen and GTD folks in general avoid the term. It would give the wrong impression of GTD to people who come from the wider personal productivity world. The concept, making an appointment for yourself, is certainly valid and does show up often but the terms are different because of the negative conotation from other productivity teachers when compared to the GTD system of how you keep tasks available.
I see your point and it is all about semantics. Obviously, when I was referring to time blocking, I meant making appointments with myself to protect my time so I can do my focused work. So blocking time for myself so it is not open on my calendar and available for meetings. I may designate that appointment for a particular project, but it is still an appointment with myself, hence I have "blocked time" on my calendar for me.
 

Longstreet

Professor of microbiology and infectious diseases
@Oogiem: You stated: "I see that over and over again in the discussions and info on GTD so I never really get why you don't think that counts as time blocking the way you use the term". Show me the plethora of teachings from GTD on making appointments for yourself. Maybe in discussions on the forums, but where in the official teaching and documents? I am sure I have missed this, so hence my asking for resources.
 

John Forrister

GTD Connect
Staff member
Show me the plethora of teachings from GTD on making appointments for yourself.
This example isn't a plethora, but perhaps a start. It's from the Getting Things Done book, on how to use the calendar for time-specific actions.

"Time-Specific Actions: This is a fancy name for appointments. Often the next action to be taken on a project is attending a meeting that has been set up to discuss it. Simply tracking that on the calendar is sufficient."

That includes mention of a timed calendar appointment as the next action to move a project forward.
 
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