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13 Reasons Why Time Blocking Doesn’t Always Work for You

Time blocking not the magic bullet you hoped for? Figure out why!

Photo by Energepic on Pexels

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

I always feel like time blocking should be the magic bullet for finishing my weekly Big 3 tasks. I should just block off the time, show up at that time, and voila! I’ll complete my tasks, right? Nope. Time blocking doesn’t always work for me, and now that I’ve figured out 13 reasons why, I’ll give you some steps to take when it doesn’t work for you.

1. I didn’t do all three steps of time blocking

Time blocking is more than just taking a pen and marking off certain hours on your calendar. Rather, as this Clockwise article explains, it’s a 3-step process that comes down to what, when, how to deal with each task.

  1. In advance, choose what to work on.
  2. Decide when priority tasks should be done.
  3. On your calendar, block off the estimated chunk of time for each task.

The fix is simple. We must make sure that all three tasks are done.

2. I didn’t identify the subtasks

If you asked me, I would swear that I had developed a plan. But maybe that was a skimpy plan.

Many times, the trouble is that I didn’t recognize — or write — the subtasks. So, guess where I get hung up? I get hung up in the subtasks!

(And who knows? Maybe I could have delegated some of those subtasks.)

Better planning would have helped.

3. I didn’t get started

In this book, The Big Leap, Gay Hendricks uses the term startitis. It’s a great term, don’t you think?

If you’ve ever had a dead car battery or a quirky engine, you have a clear-cut example of startitis. It can be a whole lot harder to get going than to stay going.

Consider Newton’s Law: An object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion. Hence, it makes sense that a task or a project that hasn’t been started is inert, and conversely, a project that’s already in motion is more likely to stay in motion, right?

In his book Start, John Acuff reminds us that the only thing you have control of is the starting line. The finish line is much more elusive.

Yet, even though I know all of that, I can monkey around, thinking up a justifiable reason why I can’t start right this minute. But in truth, it’s really about the story in my head. I feel like the task is too daunting and/or I feel like I just don’t have the skill to tackle the associated tasks. But that story is a common reason behind why time blocking doesn’t always work.

We must ask ourselves what story is happening in our heads.

4. I didn’t give myself any margin

In his book, Margin: Restoring Emotional, Physical, Financial, and Time Reserves to Overloaded Lives, Richard Swenson explains that margin is something held in reserve for contingencies or unanticipated situations.

Yep. Sure enough, something crops up that I just couldn’t have seen coming. Good, bad, or neutral, it’s just there, and it needs a human response. It’s a family member, and I need to help. It’s a technical snafu, and I need time to problem-solve. It’s road construction, and I need to take a detour.

The fix: Building in more margin is critical to finishing on time.

5. I succumbed to Parkinson’s Law


I’m quick to point out Parkinson’s Law to others. You’ve seen this law in action, I’m sure. The term was first coined Cyril Northcote Parkinson in 1955. Basically, this law states that work expands to fill the time allotted for its completion.

I see this all too often. I don’t have a hard stop, so hey, I can tinker with rejigging this proposal, designing this course, writing this post, or whatever. You might accuse me of having the Perfectionism, Procrastination, Paralysis Cycle.

I don’t consider myself a perfectionist; maybe I’m in denial there. My husband often — very often — tells me that “Better is the enemy of good enough.” I assume that’s a paraphrase of the French philosopher Voltaire’s quote:

…le mieux est l’ennemi du bien.

(Translated, this means, “the best is the enemy of the good.”)

Here’s the not-so-secret fix: Give yourself a different “P” here. Progress. As Bill Phillips said, “Focus on progress, not perfection.”

6. I tolerated interruptions

I could have put a sign on my office door that says “Genius at Work. Do Not Disturb.” (Yes, I have that sign, I just don’t always use it.)

I could have put my Slack notifications on pause. But I thought, oh, I’m the boss, I don’t want to appear to be unconcerned if someone needs something.

I could have ignored the UPS guy at the door, but I was eager to get that package. Then we talked. Tick-tock. I lost minutes.

Check out this post which gives 10 ways to avoid interruptions, including — get this — starting an interruption log!

Interruptions are a common reason why time blocking doesn’t always work. And distractions are another.

7. I didn’t eliminate distractions

Distractions are a little different from interruptions. Whereas an interruption is something or someone deliberately trying to get my attention, a distraction happens unintentionally.

A distraction can be something as ubiquitous as noise. It could be my own negative self-talk. It could be context switching, e.g., I print out a document that’s entirely readable and acceptable, but I decide to clean the printhead because the color is a little less than pristine.

Next time, I could minimize or eliminate interruptions, distractions, or both.

8. I’ve grossly underestimated how long it would take

There’s that 10-minute video that might take me…well, maybe 30 minutes to make? I need to set up, then actually do the recording, edit, and maybe upload. Shouldn’t take more than 30 minutes to do that 10-minute video, right?

Nope. About 3 hours later, I’m still not finished.


Not being able to estimate how long something will take is a more common problem than you think, and it might be why time blocking doesn’t always work! Training yourself to make better estimations is key.

9. I didn’t delegate

Usually, I can delegate right and left! But when don’t I delegate? Two big situations come to mind:

  1. I didn’t recognize a subtask that someone else could have handled for me, or
  2. I ran into a snag and didn’t realize I needed help to do it.

Doing better planning and recognizing my limitations might help. Lack of delegation is a major reason why my time blocking doesn’t always work.

10. I didn’t face up to the boundaries

I sometimes have trouble setting boundaries. And when I don’t do that, there are consequences. Someone invades my time or my space, or both. When that happens, it’s tough for me to stay focused, and without focus, my time management goes downhill.

As usual, most situations like this can be improved by self-awareness.

To get at least some degree of self-awareness, I completed a very enlightening questionnaire in therapist Nedra Glover Twab’s book, Set Boundaries, Find Peace.

Afterwards, I did some soul searching and realized that, more often than I want to admit, I give others porous boundaries, and that has an impact on my productivity.

What’s the panacea here? Having a built-in hard stop. A hard boundary.

11. I lost my focus

Sometimes, my butt is in the seat, but my brain is halfway out the window.

An easy fix for this is music with alpha beats that encourage focus and flow. I like several of these, but this one is my favorite free one. However, I bought the EOC Institute binaural alpha beats, and I find it easy to gain focus when I listen to those beats. I have no affiliation with the company, but I use the alpha beats daily. Yes, daily. 
 I use my ear buds while I’m trying to focus on the task at hand. They massively improve my focus, especially if I’m using the alpha beats.

12. Something else feels more important

Oh, this big, hairy thing just came into my life, and I just can’t ignore it! It’s just so important, so critical, so earth-shattering.

So I completely ignore my self-imposed time blocking.

Does it just “feel” important, or is it truly important? When I step back for a moment, I realize that at first glance, many things feel important, but if I sit with that thought for a few minutes, I often realize that it can wait.

13. My motivation was less than my persistence

I can be very persistent. Ridiculously so, sometimes. Other times, I just can’t face it one more minute and I give up.

Revisiting my original motivation — or finding more motivation — can help.

These might not be all the reasons time blocking doesn’t always work for me, but it’s most of them. Sometimes, I find I’m better off trying to do time boxing, which, as I’ve explained, is entirely different.

What’s your best explanation for why you don’t finish your task in the time you’ve allotted for it?

This post was first published on my Medium blog—follow me there for the most up-to-date entries!

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to and affiliated sites.

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