Tips from a Work-at-Home Writer: 4 Keys to Block Scheduling

Productivity & Block Scheduling

I figure everyone is working from home, so, as a work-from-home freelance writer, I wanted to share some strategies for increasing productivity and utilizing block scheduling. As a work-at-home mom, I’m fairly used to (and well equipped) to be flexible and creative in ways I get things done. I’ve been utilizing this super effective method for some time, but only now realized it is, like, a thing and people call it block scheduling.

I previously discussed ways small businesses need to change their approach during the Coronavirus pandemic, and now I want to talk about ways people–small business owners, self-employed people, and traditionally employed folks–can all make the most of these days spent home under the realm of social-distancing.

Ways To Build a Block Schedule

Build a block schedule by examining your goals, your responsibilities and your hours of availability. Instead of an overwhelming list of things to do and trying to find time to do them, find chunks of time (hours or even 30 minute increments) and start filling those calendar spaces with tasks and projects.

  1. Figure out daily to-dos and recurring tasks that need to be on the schedule.
  2. Consider important work goals and deadlines that have fixed or inflexible due dates.
  3. Think about recurring appointments or routines that you must work around.
  4. Start considering your day in chunks of times rather than lists of itemized to-dos.
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Photo by Kaboompics .com from Pexels

1. Dailies & Tasks

This sort of runs parallel to numeric point three below, but it’s on a smaller scale. Do you like to walk the dog at ten? Do your kids leave for school by a certain time? Do you have certain chores you prefer to do in the morning vs. the afternoon? A lot of my work-from-home-strategy banks on nap time of our youngest, who is still home full-time, and when the others are all gone for school (which is now irrelevant because we’re all here, all the time, because Coronavirus).

But these types of daily chores and routines can be a helper, not an enemy, to your block scheduling. For instance, I know everyone won’t be out the door until eight a.m. and then I know the baby will be ready to nap at 9 so–instead of trying to cram work in somewhere in the early morning (because if I lived alone in a weirdly isolated perfect world, that is what my Type A Personality would enjoy)–I work with this routing. A normal Monday–when we have no other appointments typically, and when people can leave the house (lol), my schedule looked like this:

6 a.m. nurse the baby

(I’m an early riser. This was hard because I felt I should be getting up at 5.30 a.m. But this was easily deemed impractical once I honestly had a look at the schedule and realized I’m up a lot at night with the baby and inevitably she always was ready to eat at 6 a.m.)

7 a.m. Bigger Kids off to school

7.30 a.m. Household upkeep, just a bit

(usually dishes. Always the damn dishes)

8 a.m. Play with the baby and get her tired!! Start some laundry.

9 a.m. Nurse & Nap. And now I can WORK

9.30 a.m. Schedule Any Client Calls or Zoom Conferencing etc.

10-Noon Writing for Clients/Batch Blogging the Posts You’re Reading Here

Noon-2 Organize Social Media, Work on Illustration, Eat Something Probably

(The Baby wakes up somewhere in that last block. She doesn’t understand punctuality, clearly Block Scheduling is her thing also)

2-3 pm Creative Work, Printing Stuff, Prep the Next Day

3.15 pm Eldest arrives home and Snacks, Mom-Time, Homework Help, and Family Art Class all begin.

 

Hopefully you can see that, with this structure, I have a lot of flexibility with fairly defined guidelines in place. For instance, I find it easier to dedicate uninterrupted time to  play and enjoy my fourth and final baby. That is so important to me, let me tell you, to enjoy that last round of firsts and finals. Knowing that yes, our routine and schedule allows for work time makes it much easier to shift my full attention and focus to just her without worry or stress.

When I shift into work mode once Baby H is down, I’m not locked into a singular specific task. If I have a client call, I handle that–but otherwise, I can choose from a list of things that can fit in this hefty chunk of work time. It really boils down to Writing Time for two hours, and organizationally this works–but it always works with my schedule, not against it.

Once Baby H wakes up, of course, I feed/change and do the mom thing a bit. It is the perfect time to switch to the more fluid and sometimes flexible workflow of illustrating. Baby H can remain entertained while I get some sketches down or scan some illustrations. I’ve been known to paint with her on my hip, but that is getting a bit dangerous now that she is a bit more capable of finger-painting.

Usually, she has an afternoon nap. I crank out the more detailed demands of illustration, file prep or emails, and get those things out there before my kids start arriving in quick succession starting at 3.15 p.m.

It isn’t perfect, some days are different, but for the most part, I know how certain chunks of time go. I have a set type of task that goes into certain designated chunks of time.

 

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This is not what parenting and working simultaneously looks like. This is a beautifully posed stock photo that is basically the opposite of real life. Work from home and parent simultaneously with great caution. Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

2. Work Deadlines & Inflexible Dates

Instead of looking at these like looming lines of death, look at these like excited finish lines to cross victoriously and celebrate. With the help of block scheduling, you are going to smash these goals, maybe even finish early, and celebrate with cake. Or whatever you like to celebrate with. I’m a fan of cake.

When I’m chunking my time out according to the daily routines and tasks, I consider what deadlines I’m headed towards. If I have a big writing deadline, then I work on that at 10.30 instead of blogging a batch. If I have an illustration deadline, I will priortize that over organizing my social media content calendar. Makes sense, right?

 

3. Appointments & Routines

I always consider the personal things as well. Frankly, as a self-employed freelancer, the personal and the professional are always closely packed together. Plus, as a mom of four, I’m also shuttling kids to this appointment or that and coordinating our family of 6 in my synced and color-coded calendar to be sure we are kind of on top of it most of the time. (And when we aren’t? “Oh, I’m sorry, I’m a busy mom of four……..”

So, my block calendar takes in account my eldest’s guitar lessons on Fridays and my Middle Littles weekly appointment with a therapist, and my various group fitness classes about four times a week (I’m convinced Zumba class is just al of us middle-aged mamas trying to relive our high school dance and cheerleading days). These things are constant, recurring, and important to our family. Yes, I schedule self-care. I know I get my hair done every six weeks and have certain appointments that recur anywhere from weekly to bi-weekly, monthly, or even bi-annually. I account for every single thing I can and this ultimately makes me more efficient with my time.

4. Chunks of Time vs. Lists

Freeing yourself of lists is like freeing yourself of a really precarious noose that could snap you up any moment. Chunks of time afford you flexibility and freedom while helping you keep up with your productivity. You’ll start viewing your chunks of free time in a more opportunistic way, too, I almost guarantee it. It becomes more about fitting things where you can and less about hoping things get done in time, because the list is so incredibly long you already feel defeated.

Having been a work-at-home-mom for so long, I feel like I innately utilized this Block Scheduling model simply as a means of survival. But, truthfully, it is a valuable tool for anyone and I hope it helps you make sense of your time if you are suddenly required to work from home and change everything you know about your work scheduling.

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Look at your schedule visually, in chunks, with pictures–however it makes sense to you.

Why Block Scheduling Really Works

Block scheduling is a really flexible way to view your calendar–and it can definitely hold a lot of visual appeal, if you’re into that kind of thing. Looking at your productivity in a new light can hopefully help you achieve some new goals and achievements as you plan and implement your work strategy.

What kind of scheduling strategy do you use? Feel free to discuss. I love finding nifty planners, apps, and other methods to make it happen!

 

 

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