Getting stuff done is the name of the game. How you do it is up to you, but to be a productive member of society, you need to be able to get things done. When you peel back the layers, this idea essentially translates into a matter of managing your time.
How do you balance your work, life, hobbies, sleep, health, and interests over a day? How do you ensure you get things done in as efficient a way as possible?
We see different hacks and methods all the time, but one of the simplest and most powerful approaches for managing your time comes from chunking.
What is chunking?
Chunking is a strategy where you define time slots to tackle specific tasks throughout the day. Your chunks are dedicated to that single task alone. It can be as short or as long as you want, but it should be focused on a single thing and void of distraction.
Ultimately, this is a method for getting into the zone, finding your flow, and truly focusing your attention on the things you need to accomplish.
More often than not, we have a fuzzy idea of what we need to do on a given day. We may settle in to start a task, maybe spend about 10 minutes and then the worst thing happens, your attention shifts.
Maybe someone stopped by your desk. Maybe you received an email. Maybe you remembered something else you needed to finish. Whatever it is, you broke your attention and started multitasking. You shifted your attention and with it, any progress you had made on the task at hand.Most things we work on are often accompanied by startup time or the time it takes to get in the right headspace. How much time this takes depends on the task, but it’s always there and multi-tasking is its enemy. This startup time becomes a sunk cost if you don’t finish what you start. You’ll have to get back into the zone again, which is an avoidable problem with chunking.
Chunking would mean you knew exactly what your goals were for the day. You would what to start with and how long it would take. You would protect that time and not allow for distractions to exploit it. You’d have shut your door, put on some headphones, and silenced your phone. You’d focus on a single thing, finish it, and move on to the next item on your agenda.
Notice the difference?
Nowadays, we often feel we’re being pulled in multiple directions and face a never-ending list of things to do. We feel like we don’t have nearly enough time. Chunking is a solution to this problem. It allows us to take control of our time and our work, which makes things far easier to manage.
The quality of your work is a function of two things according to Cal Newport, author of Deep Work. First is time. You need to dedicate time to what you’re doing, but the second part is what we often overlook: focus. Not being distracted, or uncertain of your objectives, or aimless in your work habits.
This is why chunking matters. It helps you focus but also improves the quality of your work. You get more done.
How to chunk your time?
Chunking can be a powerful technique if used correctly. Let’s break down the steps needed to make to unlock its value.
1. Update your to-do list.
To be able to chunk your time effectively, you need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. Far too often we don’t really know what we need to get done tomorrow or what is really most important. We settle in for work the next day and just throw ourselves into our work, without much thought.
Instead, take 5 minutes to review what you did today and what you need to do tomorrow. Prepare yourself for what’s to come. An important part of this process is to be specific in your goals and tasks. The more specific you can be, the better you’ll be able to allocate your time.
2. Designate each task a time slot in your day.
Once you have your to-do list, you need to assign each task a time slot for when you’ll work on it. You can organize this in a number of ways, from time available to the priority of the work. However you go about, take your best guess on how long a task will take and put it into your schedule, whether that’s a calendar, a notebook, or an app.
It’s also important to remember that chunking takes practice too. You’ll be more aware of how much time tasks take along the way, so don’t worry about getting it perfect the first time around. It may take you 30 minutes or 4 hours, but that understanding comes with experience.
The initial priority is to schedule your chunks and then stick to them.
3. Turn off the distractions.
Before you begin on any chunk of time it is vital you eliminate any distractions to the best of your ability. I’ve devised a simple checklist for anyone who may struggle with this sort of thing:
- Silence your phone
- Disconnect from the internet if possible. If not, use a tool like StayFocusd
- Shut your office door
- Work somewhere new, where you don’t feel at home
- Put up a do not disturb status in any messengers
- Use the bathroom
- Get any beverages you may need
- Play some music that helps you find flow and use headphones to drown out any ambient noise
We all know how we procrastinate. We all know how we get distracted. Taking the necessary measures to prevent those distractions from taking hold goes a long way.
4. Do the work and gather data.
Do the work. That’s all that’s left to do.
For any chunk of time, you should only be focused on a single task with your undivided attention.
IDeally you get that task done, but either way, at its end you should assess how it went. Did you have enough time? Did you do good work? Did you feel rushed? Did something distract you?All of this data can inform your next session and improve your ability to chunk time overall.
Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind.Nathanial Hawthorne
Time is your most valuable resource, so managing it something we should all take seriously. Moreover, how you spend your time is what determines who you become as a person.
If you truly wish to achieve your goals and maximize your time, chunking is a great way to do so.