Guest post by Marija Kojic
How to avoid burnout with Time Blocking
According to one research that surveyed a sample of 7,500 working people, burnout plagues as much as 67% of employees:
- 23% of employees report they feel burned out more often than not
- 44% report they feel burned out occasionally
Here's what burnout is, how it manifests, and how you can avoid it by using a popular time management technique called time blocking.
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion. The World Health Organization classifies it as an “occupational phenomenon”. Its cause is chronic work-related stress that usually comes from:
- feeling overwhelmed with work
- being emotionally and physically drained from work
- being unable to cope with constant demands at work
The physical symptoms of burnout include chest pain, dizziness, headaches, stomachaches, and a weakened immune system.
The psychological symptoms of burnout include feeling tense, irritable, pessimistic, detached, joyless, anxious, and apathetic.
If you’re unsure whether you may be suffering from burnout, you’d be wise to consult with a medical professional if you:
- feel exhausted all the time, with no distinguishable reason
- feel cynical about your work and life
- start to perform poorly at work
Who is most at risk of burnout?
Logic may imply that people working from offices are more at risk from burnout than people working from the comfort of their homes.
After all, they usually get up earlier, undertake an often tiresome and stressful commute, and then arrive back home at a later time. This makes office-based workers great candidates for burnout.
However, that doesn’t mean that remote employees have a lower risk of developing burnout.
In fact, with more and more companies mandating work-from-home arrangements, and more and more people worrying about how to migrate their offices to their homes, hold meetings from afar, and maintain remote communication with their teams, people may be working (and stressing out) more than ever. Which means an even higher chance of burning out.
In line with that, studies show that remote workers are already more likely to experience burnout, rather than less. For example, as much as 66% of remote tech professionals claim to feel burned out, as opposed to 64% of office-based tech professionals.
So, whether you work from home or from an office, if you are operating in stressful situations, you are at risk of burnout.
Let’s see how time blocking can help you with that.
5 tips to avoid burnout with time blocking
Time Blocking is a time management technique that involves working in time increments, i.e. “time blocks”.
First, you list all the tasks you want to do in a day — 3 to 5 priority tasks is an optimal number of tasks, depending on their level of difficulty.
Then, you define a specific time you’ll spend on each task. For example:
- Task 1: 1 hour
- Task 2: 40 minutes
- Task 3: 30 minutes
Once you’ve defined your times, you’ll need to find a suitable place for each task in your calendar:
- Task 1: 9:00 am - 10:00 am
- Task 2: 10:05 am - 10:45 am
- Task 3: 10:50 am - 11:20 am
Once it’s time to work, you work on the tasks in the scheduled order. You start working on Task 1 at the designated time (e.g. 9:00 am), and you stop working on it at the designated time (e.g. 10:00 am).
Once, you’re finished with Task 1, you simply work your way down your schedule until you’ve finished all your tasks within their predefined time slots.
Now, burnout is often the consequence of working too much and working without a structure.
And, the point of time blocking is to provide you with a way to plan a clear work structure and limit the time you’ll spend working on specific tasks.
So, here are 5 concrete, actionable tips on how you can best avoid burnout by time blocking:
1. Define realistic “time blocks” for your tasks
Elon Musk is sometimes quoted to say that he prefers to work in 5-minute time increments. And, the examples I gave for time blocked tasks range from 30-minute to 1-hour time increments.
But, Musk’s work habits are likely unattainable for most people. And, working on a single task for 1 hour may be too much for you personally, and cause your attention to drift after a while.
So, in order to avoid burnout, but also stay efficient and productive when working on tasks, you need to identify the time blocks that work for you.
One of the best and fastest ways to do that is to identify your ideal time blocks by tracking the time you spend on tasks.
For this purpose, I suggest you use a time tracking app that has a timer:
Each time you start working on a task, write a description for it and start the timer.
Once you’re done with the task, stop the timer.
Repeat this activity for each type of tasks, each time you work on them.
This way, you’ll gain insight into the realistic time you need to finish each task — and you can define your time blocks accordingly.
For example, if you usually spend 3 hours writing a short project proposal, then you should always block 3 hours for this task.
If you follow this time tracking formula each time you work on something, you’ll easily be able to make feasible work schedules — ones that won’t overwhelm you enough to cause burnout.
2. Minimize the number of tasks you’ll work on
One of the strongest triggers for stress and burnout is working too much for too long.
So, it’s always best that you minimize the number of time blocks you’ll work on during the day.
Now, we’ve mentioned that the practice of time blocking usually advises that you limit your daily work to 3 to 5 tasks.
However, you can also choose to time block your entire day for your #1 most important and most urgent task instead.
This is a time blocking practice made popular by Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter and Square. He always focuses on only one type of task per day, and you can follow suit.
So, whenever you feel that you're going to have a busy week, you can make a plan to work on 1 type of priority task only, per day.
For example, you can block your entire Wednesday for client work, Thursday for strategic tasks, Friday for marketing tasks, etc.
By working on one type of tasks per day only, you’ll be able to:
- focus on tasks better
- finish tasks faster
- minimize the stressful time you’ll work overtime to catch up with your work
3. Define buffer time between tasks
One of the common mistakes people who have too much work make is racing from one task to the next, in order to finish as much as possible in a short amount of time.
Sadly, this practice can only make you lose time instead of saving it. You’ll tire yourself quicker, resulting in prolonged time it takes to finish tasks, because you’ll need to invest extra effort to finish them when you’re tired.
And, as you’d expect, this practice can easily lead to burnout.
To avoid this, it’s important that you also define at least 10-minute time blocks for buffer time between tasks.
You can then use each 10-minute block to reflect on the task you just finished, take a relaxing break, or prepare yourself for work on the next task.
4. Define “time blocks” for work breaks
Taking breaks is just as important for the quality of your work as finishing the work tasks themselves.
Moreover, taking breaks is also important for you to take good care of your health, and avoid burnout as a result of a healthier routine.
Yet, when you’re immersed in your work, it’s all too easy to forget to take breaks.
But, if you define official time blocks for your breaks, you’ll greatly increase the chance that you’ll actually take them.
So, define specific 10 to 15-minute “time blocks” for various breaks throughout your workday.
You can then use up these breaks to grab a snack, make yourself a cup of tea, stretch yourself with a couple of fast exercises, or simply meditate.
This way, you’ll energize yourself for another work-related time block, and increase the chances that you’ll focus on it better and finish it faster.
5. Define time blocks for leisure activities and self-care
Time blocking isn’t just a practice you should use to make time for your work. You should also use it to reserve some time to spend on relaxing, leisure activities after work.
Want to have a hilarious Skype coffee session with friends? Catch up with the newest season of your favorite TV Show? Have a fun game night with your family? Enjoy a bubble bath in the afternoon?
Whatever fun activity you want to enjoy, block time for it in your calendar, just like you would for any work assignment.
This way, you’ll limit the time you’ll:
- spend overworking yourself past work hours
- save more time for yourself
- actually set a proper work/life balance
Escape burnout by time blocking your day, today!
If the main cause of burnout is prolonged stress, and prolonged stress is the consequence of working too much for too long, then limiting the time you’ll spend on certain tasks and allocating enough time to healthy, enjoyable activities is key.
Define specific time blocks for your work assignments, breaks, leisure, and other activities. Write everything down in your calendar, and stick to your daily plan.
This way, you’ll save time for anything you need, establish a suitable work/life balance, decrease stress, and minimize the chance that you’ll burn out.
About the author
Marija Kojic is a productivity expert specialized in time management techniques. She works at Clockify, where she enjoys helping people discover meaningful and effective ways to work smarter.