Slot and Block
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Look at somebody's calendar and you will see a clear snapshot of what a person is getting done. We all have 24 hours in a day. Period. If we do not consciously create our days, the likelihood that we are living reactionary lives is pretty high. Rather than planning and executing our heart's passion, we can spend all day spinning our wheels answering emails and dealing with other people's to do lists. Taking charge in our lives starts with taking an honest look at what we are really up to. What are we TRYING to get done vs what RESULTS are we concretely seeing?
I'm going to quickly tell you about an effective tool I use daily to create life consciously. I was first introduced to Slotting & Blocking when I started doing peer to peer interpersonal development work in men's circles. Everyone got together once a week with certain things to accomplish throughout their weeks. Some guys were crushing goals and others were coming up short consistently. Why? The key difference was Slotting & Blocking. "Slotting" is as simple as estimating how much time a given part of a project will take and inserting that "slot" into your calendar.
"Blocking" is our ability to have laser focus during the slotted activity and NOT get distracted by social media, the dog, our phone ringing, the kids, emails, etc. I've worked with plenty of guys who are great at slotting but their blocking skills lack gusto. Lots of people are aware of slotting, but are not aware of the other side of the coin (blocking) and end up failing in the execution phase. Just having an awareness of how critical blocking is can help. Over my decade long career in natural foods manufacturing I've seen this play out as well. Someone's full time job is to be the master planner at many manufacturing companies. These are analytical thinkers who are typically good with numbers, moving pieces and seeing both big picture and details. Very often another person altogether - some OPS executive - does the blocking and execution. When companies don't separate these functions results are often lacking. I've seen consultants come in on a few occasions and recommend to make this separation. The two skills are related but typically a person is better at one than the other. We have to juggle both to master our time. This takes practice. It also helps to have a team to check in with to talk through whichever skillset we are not as naturally inclined to do well in. Slotting Tactics: 1) Make a list of all of the tasks you want to accomplish and estimate how much time each of those things will take you.
2) Prioritize which things are MUST DO and which are NICE TO DO.
3) Start adding a few of the MUST DO items into your calendar and if you have enough space, add in some from the NICE TO DO list. As your calendar fills up, remember to add in slots of time to goof off or otherwise chill out - we are not robots and if we fail to have space in our days and lives we burn out quickly. There is a trend for people and our society at large to leave no space to just be which leads to getting overly stressed out, sick and less effective. Try to avoid that mistake... or learn the hard way like I did. Coming back from burnout is really not fun. We do well to keep in mind that we must find the balance between chill time and active times where we push our lives forward.
Blocking Tactic: Once you have a block added to your calendar, go for it. Without judgement, just notice how many times within that block you get derailed through some distraction. Take a tally of how many times this happens and don't cheat! Most people will find they are less effective than they would have thought here. It's fine. Good blocking is really the training of our attention.
One way to start building that attention is to look at how much time has passed from one distraction to the next. How long can you typically go before getting distracted? 5 minutes? 10 minutes? 30 minutes? The answer doesn't matter but the goal is to put something in place to help you grow that number. If you are able to focus for only five minutes before you find yourself getting distracted try setting a timer for 6 minutes and resist the urge to get side tracked until the timer goes off, then take a small indulgence. As 6 minutes becomes easier to handle, increase the timer gradually by 2 minutes.
Something else to track is how long the thing you slotted actually took to get done. Maybe you allocated 30 minutes but it actually took you 2 hours! It's fine. As you practice slotting & blocking you will get better at both. These tactics deals with concrete actions. Check out our post on Segment Intending if you want to explore expanding this concept into feelings you are holding or states of mind to cultivate. Slotting & Blocking is ultimately a tool to help you take control of the direction of your day, week and life. You can move slots around as needed until you find your sweet spot, let your slotting & blocking work for you rather than adding more stress into your day or causing you to feel constricted.