Time Block Planning

After trying out the Sorted app, time block planning has finally clicked with me. I tried it before with pen and paper and it didn’t grab me. Using GTD and Things it is so easy to pick up the quick administrative tasks that I can do in 10 minutes. But the more important work, Deep Work if you will, happens in 1 hour or more increments. Using Sorted, I now give each task a duration estimate. Then I use this to make sure I schedule at least 2 or more of these big rocks a day so I’m spending more time on what’s important. In a GTD style list I realize it is more tempting to check off a longer list of tasks, so at the end of the day you feel like you accomplished a lot. But then you fall into the trap of spending too much time on the trivial tasks. Like making a short phone call or filling out some online form. Of course those things have to happen, so I also make sure to set aside a block of time for what I call admin tasks (or do them during Zoom calls).

I’m also using Trello to give myself a bigger overview of everything on my plate. My projects are laid out on 3 Trello boards, the specific tasks are then put into Sorted when I’m ready to work on a project. This also helps stop Sorted from becoming an endless list of tasks that can lead to a sense of being overwhelmed. I would sometimes look at my Anytime list in Things and just be turned off by the list of hundreds of tasks staring at me. But as GTD points out, it is important to capture everything, so I have a backburner column in Trello. My day to day work happens in Sorted, so I don’t even see those items until I want to.

This setup was partly inspired by this blog post by Cal Newport, the Productivity Funnel: The Productivity Funnel - Study Hacks - Cal Newport

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I’ve failed at all of the productivity techniques out there, but time blocking is the one I’ve been lately failing at more gracefully :stuck_out_tongue:

Of course the reason is an unpredictable work schedule, where calendar is king. So a quick planning session on Monday mornings allows me to give space to both the urgent stuff and also for the deep and important work that otherwise gets neglected.

Regarding Sorted, while the UI is very very attractive and useful I found it lacking in terms of advanced capabilities like the ones offered by the classic cadre of Omnifocus, Things or Todoist, and light years behind Amazing Marvin, btw, which has the best timeblocking & calendar syncing features I know of, albeit at the cost of a steep learning wall.

Calendar integration is so important to me that I am now using Reminders + Calendar, currently testing GoodTask for a little more oomph.

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Thanks for discussing your setup. I’ve looked at Sorted but haven’t really tried it out.

Yeah… playing with it now. This might work for me now that I am getting more to do at work.

Damn you!

I just followed that link to Cal Newport’s post and I saw the Time Blocking Planner and watched the video. I’ve been very intrigued by time blocking. I’ve half-heartedly tried it twice but I think it has failed because of the reason I need it so badly - that I get distracted.

In the past year, I also have found that I do like using paper and pencil for things. It’s a nice break from being digital all the time. I like having something staring me in the face and then physically crossing it off. So this planner may be in my future.

Reminders + Calendar does solve 99% of (my) time blocking needs, once (my) prep-work is completed:

In Craft (Obsidian), create notes with

  1. Project plan (natural planning mode, or any other technique that fits needs)
  2. Actions, steps, or tasks to complete project
  3. Links to References in iCloud, Devonthink

In Reminders and Calendar

  1. Add projects (as lists) and actions, steps, tasks to Reminder
  2. Drag actions, steps, tasks from Reminders to Calendar, to desired date, and set start/end time, etc.
  3. Adjust as required.

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Curious about your method of dragging Reminder to the Calendar. I seem unable to do so on Big Sur

I do the “Time Blocking Workflow” (Select actions, Organize) on the iPad.
If one needs to do it on all three devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac), the [Reminders, Calendar] steps can be done on Sorted.

Thank you for posting your workflow. The App Workflow indicating what apps you use and for what is helpful!

:+1:

That’s very interesting, I see you’re also using the Productivity Funnel from Cal Newport. I think it is a very useful way to think about a productivity system. And using a different tool at each level makes sense too.

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I’m sure some of these ideas predate computers, but can you point out the Roman engineers talking about these things? I would be shocked if this really goes back 2000+ years. They didn’t even have paper and pencil, how could they write a list of projects and/or tasks?

Finally I can drop some trivia from studying latin!
The Romans did use wax tablets. Think of it like a picture frame, which’s glas was removed and filled with soft wax. You could use a pointy spatula to carve letters into it. You could use your fingers or the flat side of the spatula to flatten out mistakes made as if you would be erasing. Put it on top of a stove of near a fire so that all the wax melts and let it cool down again and you erase the entire page. They even had foldable two-page versions, where the two wax sides where facing each other when closed and therefore protecting the content, when carried around or pocketed.

The remarkable eink tablet is essentially a modern take on the wax tablet.

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I use to have a similar workflow and dragged tasks from Things into Fantastical, but I stopped doing it, because it would only grab the task title without any context like a project or duration.

To provide this info I built a Shortcut for it that would get all that “meta-data” and push each selected task to a color-coded calendar and prepend the project name in brackets to the task’s title and added a things:// URL referring to the task to the description of the calendar entry. It was quite tedious to set up and then I realized that it won’t work on the iPad since Things is not a unified cross-platform app and I never got around to adapt it. Also the entire workflow just took to long due to forced UI animations and generals slowness of lengthy Shortcuts running.

In the end it is just so much faster to simply jot down a note in a notebook or piece of scrap paper. You also rarely have to go back to you digital calendar and see when you planned to do what, since most days won’t go as initially planned anyways. Paper is much more forgiving.

I like Things or other digital tools for quick capturing and pinging me with reminders for deadlines, but there has to be some “task scaping” at the end of the day. Especially where all the weeds get removed and everything gets put in the right pot in whatever tool that is.

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Very interesting.

I wonder how the engineers designed all those aqueducts, buildings, monuments, bridges, and roads.

Or, how Marcus Aurelius wrote Meditations.

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I never thought about that, to be honest. :thinking:
And it seems to be not as clear as one might think: ancient history - What was the medium for Marcus Aurelius's Meditations? - History Stack Exchange
Yet, I can’t imagine that he carried around copious amounts of wax tablets for all his letters, especially when he was Roman emperor and well-off. I’d say either parchment (from animal skin) or papyrus (paper from egypt). Engraving a slate would require someone to do it for him after dictation or from a pre-written wax tablet, but the hefty weight remains.

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They all had secretaries. Slaves, mostly.

That’s cool, I didn’t know about that!