Ditch The To-Do List

time blocking for writers

Ditch the to-do list!? I hear the gasps across the Internet now. I have touted the benefits of the to-do list for longer than I can remember. I have notebooks full of my to-do lists from many years ago — why I keep them will be the subject for a different blog post.

In preparation for my speaking engagement at the BlogPaws 2016 Conference in Arizona, I have “to-do” list as one of the items I will be talking about. What I have discovered in recent months, though is that my to-do list is a lie. What?! I know!

How will I know what to do if I don’t write it down, you may be asking. Take a deep breath. Relax. I’m not going to toss you out into the world unarmed for success!

What I am now doing and finding more beneficial to my writing productivity is to follow a time-blocking method of a daily to-do.

time blocking for writersWhat is time-blocking?

At its core, time-blocking is “devoting a particular amount of time to a specific task.” For example, my time-blocking for today looks like:

  1. My own writing 6 am to 745 am
  2. Client X social media 8 am to 9 am.
  3. Client Y blog post writing 9:15 am to 10:30 am
  4. Client Z newsletter prep 10:45 am to 11:45 am
  5. Misc tasks and email noon to 1 pm

Rather than writing a to-do list that states:

  1. One blog post for Robbi
  2. Client X social media
  3. Client Y blog posts
  4. Client Z newsletter
  5. Misc tasks and email …

I am blocking out that time and getting done what I get done in that block. Sure, if I am in the midst of a blog post or finishing up a newsletter and a timer goes off, it doesn’t mean I will drop what I am doing and get to the next task. One caveat to that is if I am involved in responding to emails, I will sometimes stop in the middle of that task because I will be blocking off time for that in the afternoon.

Why is time-blocking beneficial to productivity?

I doubt I am the only one who has written: Write two blog posts for client X” and that task could take me eight hours! Why? Because it’s not a time sensitive task. It’s “two blog posts.” Sure I can usually write two blog posts in an hour or two, depending on the topic, but with a vague “write two blog posts” on the to-do list I have essentially given myself the freedom to make that task last all day. There are days that has happened, too.

Time-blocking helps hold you accountable to performing tasks for Client X because you know you are under deadline. A self-imposed deadline, but a deadline nonetheless. Of course, you could fritter away that time-blocked area of your calendar, but then again you may realize, “Yipes, I only have an hour to get Client X’s work done. I’d better get to it!”

Holding myself accountable keeps me on track.

Have you tried time-blocking? Did it work? Do you write a to-list? Does it work? I’d love to know in the comments.

NOTE: When it comes to email, in many cases, that task will put you into a reactive mode. When you’re responding to email you are putting out other people’s fires. If you’re worried that a client or friend will wonder, “Why isn’t she answering my emails?” You can set an out-of-office message that reads, “I check email at 10 am, 2 pm and 530 pm. I will get back to you in one of those time frames.” That way the person who is writing to you will know that — depending on when they emailed — they may get an immediate response or they may have to wait a few hours.

Depending on the type of business you operate, you may need to add a line that reads, “If this is an emergency, please text me at 123.456.7890.” Only give your phone number to people who may actually have a business emergency between your time-blocked email hours.


5 replies to this post
  1. Hi Robbi! I just discovered your blog after perusing a few articles on the BlogPaws site. I like what I see! I personally love talking about time management and organization because I’ve usually got a million and one things to do and I found this post very helpful.

    I’ve actually been writing a to-do list and then scheduling the times to complete the different tasks for years, but I never referred to it as time-blocking. I have a Passion Planner and it has space for both a personal and a work to-do list and its days/weeks are set up appointment book style, which makes time-blocking very easy. I also use highlighters because I like to see each item’s time split by color.

    I know I probably just shared way too much for a first comment, but the topic makes me really excited! Thanks for the post 🙂


    • Hi Lacey! I tried the Passion Planner, but it seemed a bit overwhelming to me — not sure why. I have also tried the Self Journal which is only a three month journal and it’s undated. Somedays it’s a bit much and I revert back to my notebook and old school calendar for my time blocking. I love that you shared all of that with me!

  2. Hi Robbi,
    I was instantly drawn to this post because I am an avid list maker, and someone suggesting I ditch the to do list got me curious. Naturally my first reaction was no way, it’s not happening, because I can’t function without a list. However time blocking is fascinating. I have daily lists, but tasks not accomplished can just be moved to the next day. I’m going to give time blocking a try, and see how much more productive I can be. Thanks for the tip!! Hindy

    • Hi Hindy, Full disclosure I still use a bit of a to-do list inside my time blocking calendar. For example, I know I have three clients who needs posts so I will write down that Sue needs 1 and Mary needs 3 and John needs 2 so I can track who needs what BUT they go inside my Time Block of Write Client Posts from 11 am to 2 pm. I’d love to know how it works for you. Please keep in touch!

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