Time Blocking Tips Needed -- Maybe Calendar Sets are the Answer?

I’ve been having a bit of an issue with procrastination and not being focused as of late. As a result, I’m about a week into an attempt at time blocking.

I have a few categories set up within my work Outlook calendar (e.g. Project Work, One-Off Tasks, Admin, Meeting) and I shade them with their own unique color. I use the same color scheme in Fantastical (personal devices) with the color codes matching across the board – I’m not an animal :smiling_face:

I have similar “projects” in Todoist, so when a “Project Work” hour comes along, I know to pick a task from the “project” area of Todoist which I’ve got prioritized based on my weekly reviews.

It’s working well, but I have a bit of a quirk that I was hoping the community could help with or provide input on.

Prior to this time blocking trial, my calendar held events only. So I’d have a couple meetings a day, maybe a hockey game of my own, maybe an evening activity for the kids etc. A typical day would have 3-4 entries on average so it was pretty easy to see where I had to be.

With time blocking, I now have 15-16 events in the calendar. Yes, there are different colors for most and it’s easy to visualize the differences on a desktop computer. On my iPhone though, it looks like a wall of events each day and it’s easy to get overwhelmed and be afraid to look at it.

In one sense this is what I want, a list of my work for the day (with breaks and room to breathe, of course). But I also need to quickly see if I need to be IN a meeting vs just working on some tasks.

I’m not sure if calendar sets are the answer here and if so, maybe I need new calendars for my time block sections as opposed to just “categories” in Outlook.

Just wondering what some of you do to time block but also avoid schedule/information overload on your devices.


I am not a fan of time-blocking beyond a two-day block. So, part of the daily end-of-work wind down, I look at commitments (the un-mutable hardscape) for the next two days. I then will rough out the time blocks for my professional and personal needs. In my diary, I record what I actually did and how I felt about it - good use of time, felt rushed, not enough focus, etc. That diary informs the next end-of-work session to block out the next two days. I just keep rolling forward from there, learning from experience as I go.

If an emergency comes up, or the plan for the day didn’t work out as I thought it word, then fine. No sweat.

Looking at calendars stretching to the horizons with blocked-off periods is always going to be overwhelming, and unrealistic. (Especially when the calendar is full of different colors, each with their own demands!)

I imagine your goal is to be and feel more comfortable with how you spend your days, without feeling you’ve lost opportunities or “wasted time”, (Whatever “wasting time” really means, is beyond me.) You won’t succeed if the answer is to pressure yourself to manage your time on a pattern that stretches on for days. You will succeed, however, if you take life in the small chunks it offers and think about how you would make the same choices, or make different choices, and learn from them for the next day. Just one day.



I just started hyper scheduling 2 weeks ago myself so take these thoughts with that in mind.

My first pass on Sunday is to make sure I’ve got things like meetings (offline and online), meals, and exercise (I tend to look at the weather report as it’s mainly a walk outside and put them in accordingly knowing that could change) put in for the week.

Then, I schedule the following day or two (max). That is based on what I have to get done according to Omnifocus.

I have learned to leave gaps because undoubtedly things will come up that I didn’t account for. If nothing does, it’s like some free time that I can then fill up.

My client blocks have no detail. It’s just overestimating the time I think I need to do the Omnifocus tasks.

My client work is all one color and things like webinars that are not business related are a diff color. I’ve got various other colors for things like meals and exercise.

I don’t tend to get overwhelmed with this but based on your comment of “But I also need to quickly see if I need to be IN a meeting vs just working on some tasks”, perhaps it’s as simple as using individual calendars with its own unique color (e.g. red) that signifies meetings that you HAVE to attend. So when you take a quick look at your schedule, the first thing you look for is red blocks. You don’t necessarily need a calendar set and worry about switching between them.

And perhaps I’m misunderstanding something but do you have 15-16 events in one day? That seems like a lot but I’m not trying to judge.


It’s 15 events but it’s time blocks like “walk the dog”, “break”, “project work block”, “one off tasks block” “admin block”.

I do have a half hour block at the end of each day for “plan tomorrow” so I adjust things around meetings and such - but I may have overdone it. :thinking:

Sounds like you overdid the colors. My calendar has 3 different colors, red for work meetings, blue for personal meetings and yellow for time blocks. That’s it. I use Apple Calendar and the Time Block calendar can be turned off so all I see are meetings.

I also only time block in chunks of 1-2 hours. If you have 15, then those blocks are probably too small. I feel like there is no point in having a time block of 15 or 30 minutes. 1 hour is the minimum.

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Thanks. To be fair, my smaller blocks are things I want to make sure I do at a certain time (eg meditation).

But I could definitely trim down the colors.

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I am using a Numbers sheet. I just started a few weeks ago. Perhaps a similar approach would fit your needs.



Agree with others’ comments about balancing hyperscheduling versus reality, but to answer your specific question I think you do indeed have the answer in the title of your question. At least in Fantastical defining a calendar set that just shows your fixed commitments would allow you to see wood for trees

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The key here is that different aspects of Fantastical can be configured to see different calendar sets. E.g., you can set your lock screen widget on a particular focus mode to show only the meetings, and so on for every place Fantastical shows up on your devices.

I have one time blocking calendar, and a few events calendars describing the hard landscape. I schedule one to four 1.5+ hour time blocks per day depending on the day. The key for me has been locking down distractions pretty harshly during those blocks. I started this practice a few months ago and have been loving it.

I have been using a few other utilities to help with this:

Rules triggers different Shortcuts depending on the event coming up. I use it to switch focus modes, minimize everything, and lock down distractions. (I actually talked about this one in the last segment of my recent chat with David!)

Dato provides a customizable menu bar display of upcoming calendar events. It also has a feature where it presents a big full screen notification/reminder of particular kinds of calendar events. I use this to warn me when a time block is about to start. (Dato is on SetApp.)

Ultimately, though, Mike Tyson’s classic wisdom holds true. My days often see me getting punched in the mouth (though my toddler has yet to take this literally), so the plans go awry. Reflection is key (as @KVZ put more eloquently). I’d add that forgiving yourself and trying to be the sky, not the weather, is usually central to my reflections.

Like @ryanjamurphy I find calendar sets in Fantastical to be really helpful with doing time blocking without overwhelming your calendar. One of those sets for me is a Time Blocking set. I have it pull in events from my different events calendars (work events, personal events, etc.) and then I can fill in the gaps with the other stuff I plan on using the day for. If I don’t want to see that, I could just switch to my “events” set or narrow it down to “work events.” AS @KVZ notes, time blocking requires maintenance—while I sketch out my week on Sundays, I have to tweak the daily plan for tomorrow at the end of the day.

I have to say “color codes matching across the board” is something I’ve come to appreciate. I have colors for specific contexts consistent across some of my most used productivity apps—OmniFocus, Fantastical, Drafts, Timery, Finder tags, etc.—and doing so really helps me to quickly/intuitively understand what context I am looking at/working in.

I do agree with some on here that the days being blocked with color can be overwhelming. But I do want to try and motivate myself to do different kinds of work throughout the day. I realize this will often change, and nothing is set in stone, but it’s good to have intention there.

I came across this article on the Asana blog.

As you go down the page a bit, they have this image:
Screenshot 2024-03-18 at 10.34.06 AM

When I said in my original post that I have potentially 15-16 events in the day, it’s because I have something very similar to this set up. I have a few more breaks and open spaces in my setup however.

I ended up making a calendar set with and without my newly created time-blocking calendar. This lets me see only “events” on my iPhone/iPad widgets and Fantastical, but on my work computer I have everything blocked off as per the above example. Going to try that for a bit.

What’s key for me is a block for 20 mins at the end of each day to plan the next day. I can bump my project work around meetings and shift as needed.


I find there comes a point where, visually, time blocking no longer works, when you get past c. 10 blocks per one day. Most calendar UIs struggle to render more blocks than that in ways I find helpful (at least on my 24" screen), or the font will need to be reduced to read entries for shorter blocks (e.g. 30 mins ones) as they get crunched.

I tend to be flexible with my personal time and don’t add blocks for social engagements or my own downtime, family events, etc EXCEPT where these come from a shared family calendar (eg shared between my partner, or childcare related).

I also echo using ‘sets’ – I have a few additional calendars that I want to see for quarterly big picture planning but not in my weekly views. I use 4 colours, I think.

So this image supposes that people can shift with no notice from one environment to the other. I find that very hard to do, and some context shifts takes a lot more attention and time, either to prepare for the next block or process one just complete at the other end. When does this person get changed for their ‘workout’ at 5pm on Wed after their ‘project kick-off’ from 4-5? I mean – you really need your buffers. This is often where my own blocking falls down – too ambitious by far, leading to disappointment. As you say, timeblocking needs to come with the realisation that changing tack can still be a messy process. It should be aspirational and help with being intentional about the (little) time you have each week; and a salutary reminder that there’s only so much you can get done.

I agree. I’m not quite as regimented and I have breaks and blank spots programmed in. It’s just a trial to see if anything sticks because I’m having some issues with focus and staying on task as of late. Lots of mental distractions going on, so to see “work on Projects” block sitting there it does kick me a bit in the butt to get going. Even if I burn 15 mins of that block getting a snack. :face_with_diagonal_mouth:

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I schedule a day at a time - sometimes the day before, sometimes first thing in the morning. (And if I miss a day, I don’t sweat it).

I use a plain text list in my Obsidian daily note which has one hour slots laid out in the template ready to fill. (I then fill in notes against a sub-bullet of each task as to how it went, any ideas, relevant documents etc as a form of interstitial journaling).

  • 12:00 ---------
    • Meeting with [[Bob]]
      • Had a great chat about the new project. He gave me a rough spec: [[Rough Spec for Bob Project]]
      • The meetings with [[Bob]] go on to long! I must put a timer on next time!
  • 13:00 ---------
    • Lunch
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I actually time block some like the calendar in the screenshot (and am on my way to the gym as I type this!), but when I put “work out 5-6pm,” it might mean 10-15 minutes of getting ready/changing, 30 minutes of working out, 10-15 minutes getting home and cleaning up. For me, the hour block is “an hour or so working out and things associated with it” rather than anything more specific. And maybe “project kick off” is a 30 minute meeting with buffers on both sides for meeting prep and then post-meeting follow up?

I find keeping these blocks pretty rough and aspirational in nature to work well enough for me. Some planning, but also loose enough for flexibility.


Not that it matters but I was thinking the same when I saw that image. A block of time includes buffers.

I somewhat do the same but my blocks are large in nature so there may be a wind up and wind down included. Or I may have 15 mins of empty time because I can’t switch quickly between work blocks. I only butt up against other things when it’s things like meals.


You and @pkondo articulated it better than I did. I agree with both of you.

It’s a block for that activity but maybe that block involves set up, tear down, maybe it goes over 12 mins.

Point is, it’s an idea that guides you. If you lose composure because you let 8 mins slip out of place then yeah, it’s not a great system. But I’m aiming not to do that.

As an aside I just love Sindre Sorhus, what an incredibly useful stable of apps - but please make a donation


I’m going to add this here just because I found it shocking and somewhat relevant (but probably more humorous).

In a recent episode of The Art of Manliness (which I like a lot), they are talking about Timeboxing. The guest’s blocks are 15, 30, or 60 mins long. No more. Imagine how many blocks he has in a day!?