“A 40 hour time-blocked work week, I estimate, produces the same amount of output as a 60+ hour work week pursued without structure.” – Cal Newport, Author of Deep Work
I’ve become a firm believer in controlling my calendar rather allowing it to control me. Time blocking is a simple way to plan time sections to block out for key work you want to accomplish. For recruiters, time blocks are often used to designate time to source and screen candidates, handle administrative work, and work on recruiting strategy.
According to the Todoist Blog (one of my favorite tools), time blocking is incredibly helpful if you:
- Juggle many different projects/responsibilities (Jack Dorsey uses day theming to run two major companies at the same time)
- Spend too much time in “reactive mode”, responding to email and messages
- Find their day chopped up by meetings
- Battle constant interruptions throughout the day
- Struggle to find the time and mental space for big-picture thinking
The goal of time blocking is to divide your day into blocks of time which is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks. Most recruiters like to have an endless to-do list of things they hope to get done during the course of the day. When you use the time blocking mindset, you’ll begin each day with a focused schedule that outlines not only what you’ll work on but also when.
There is a certain freedom that comes from doing this method correctly. I sometimes struggle focusing on key drivers of success during the day because my thoughts drift in and out of the endless list of demands. Now that I use time blocking, when those thoughts creep in, I simply stop, add it to the time block that’s most appropriate, and get back to my tasks at hand. The freedom to scratch the itch but categorize and forget it has allowed me to end my days feeling less stressed, more accomplished and definitely more efficient. I noticed when days are time blocked in advance, I don’t spend time worrying about what I need to focus on or accomplish.
Todoist gives some great advice on how to begin this behavior: The key to this method is prioritizing your task list in advance – a dedicated weekly review is a must. Take stock of what’s coming up for the week ahead and make a rough sketch of your time blocks for each day. At the end of every workday, review any tasks you didn’t finish – as well as any new tasks that have come in – and adjust your time blocks for the rest of the week accordingly.
Teaching my team to time block was a different story. The idea of turning off your email and chat to focus on sourcing for a key role sounded like a great idea until they had to execute it. I think the biggest mistake most of us made involved committing two to three hours to source or work on a project. We committed to “going off the grid” (email, chat, etc) to focus but I think the longest most of us lasted was roughly 45 minutes. I’d encourage you and your team to start with 30 minute increments and build up the skill before going all in.
Another version of time blocking is to have theme days. Maybe Mondays and Fridays are your administrative days while Tuesday-Thursday is sourcing, screening and offer negotiations. Dedicating each day to a single theme creates a reliable pattern of work and further limits the cognitive load of context switching which leads to a loss of efficiency.
Let’s say you’re planning your week on the previous Friday afternoon or on the Sunday afternoon. Your first task is to jot down your goals for the week. Let’s look at an example:
- Source for ABC Role and book 5 qualified interviews with the hiring manager.
- Review applicants for my open roles and schedule phone screens for the week.
- Conduct candidate screenings and prepare write ups for the hiring managers.
- Follow up with managers who interviewed candidates last week.
- Research and create an outline for the presentation to executive management at the end of the month.
Once you have your goals for the week, you want to time block your week to make sure you make progress on each of these goals. Remember, some of these most likely have 10+ sub tasks below them. Thinking about all of the sub tasks is what will overwhelm your brain and create chaos. The trick is to mentally dump those tasks into their own time slot and move on. Each task completed will move you closer to accomplishing your goal. This methodology helps you take the large daunting tasks of managing through your 5 goals and 100+ tasks and breaks them into small, manageable steps you can take every hour of every day.
Here’s how I structure my days to accomplish maximum productivity as a recruiting leader. This is my time blocking for every Tuesday through Thursday.
|8:00 am||Administrative and follow up needs from yesterday|
|9:00 am||Daily stand ups with the teams|
|10:00 am||Sourcing for critical roles in the sprint|
|2:00 pm||Follow up with managers who’ve interviewed candidates to get feedback|
|3:00 pm||Schedule interviews and follow up with candidates in process|
|4:00 pm||Administrative tasks, project work/updates, planning for the following day|
As I think of tasks during the day, I assign them to the appropriate time block. If I need to call candidate John Smith about scheduling an interview, I’ll add it to my time block list for the 3-4pm section designated for such tasks. If I have a great idea for a project I am working on, I’ll add it to the deck to think through from 4-5pm. Previous to time blocking, I would get diverted chasing all of these random thoughts but now, I have a time slot designated to capture them and give each task the proper amount of time to focus.
The biggest benefit I get from time blocking is the ability to do deep work. I am responsible for not only recruiting the key roles for my firm but also for evolving our recruiting strategy to be one step ahead of our competition. Prior to time blocking, I rarely had time dedicated to deep work and my output suffered accordingly. When you schedule a block of time to work on a single project, problem, or task, your mental resources are invested in only one thing versus multiple options fighting for your focus. The more you “single task”, the more you build the mental muscles required for deep work and the easier it becomes to stay focused.
Another key benefit is the ability to knock out shallow work or administrative tasks quicker. This type of work doesn’t require a ton of mental resources but if spread over the entire day, it can tax the brain and increase the chances of mistakes. I noticed my ability to group similar tasks within the time block improved my ability to knock them off of the to do lists. Dedicating a block of time daily allows recruiters to complete the necessary, sometimes mundane parts of our job and reserve energy, focus and creativity for the more value-add type of tasks.
A byproduct of this method is the retraining of your brain. Not only will you begin to categorize and assign tasks or ideas to their appropriate time block, you will also begin noticing how you spend your time. You may begin finding more efficient ways to block your week to maximize productivity. I already shared how Mondays and Fridays are often blocked off. I use those days for one on one meetings with my team, project work and meetings and any other type of administrative work I may have for the week. This system works best for me and I only found it after working in a time block for a couple of weeks.
Finally, as I began to become more comfortable and dependent on my time blocking routine, I noticed how I instinctively tied every idea or task to a goal. Although I follow the schedule shared above, I sometimes have overarching themed days dedicated to a project or goal.
For example, I might need to prepare a deck for our Data Science group outlining our recruiting strategy for the remaining months of the year and forecast into the following year. I will look at my open jobs and find those in the Data Science group, mark Wednesday as “Data Science Day” and align all of my time blocks to the Data Science group. This could include some market analysis for key roles within the department, following up with candidates in our pipeline to check in and get some additional market intel.
I’ve found focusing on tasks as they relate to a goal has been one of the key drivers of my success using the time blocking methodology. It’s a great way for recruiters to take ownership of their week and become more productive. If you find yourself exhausted at the end of the day, give time blocking a try and see if you can lay your head down at night feeling more productive.
and Sprint Recruiting
I joined the HR industry in 2004 after working as a sales leader in the Financial Services Industry for eight years. After spending his first couple of years in HR trying to fit in, I found my voice. Now I leverage all of the things I once hated about HR to become a consultant and invaluable partner to the businesses I support. I contribute to the HRGazzette and to DataDrivenInvestor on Medium. WARNING: my writing style is raw and in your face, not what you would expect from an HR executive.
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