During the summer I treated myself to a passion planner. It is black and very 'grown up' feeling and was, I decided, the way forward to help me with pacing for chronic fatigue, and to use time-blocking techniques in particular.
Now I'll admit the planner lay on my desk largely unused for a few weeks, erm months, but then I embarked on a new time blocking adventure! It has been so helpful, so I thought I would share my time blocking tips and tricks.
Most of all, it has been helpful for pacing and time management for chronic fatigue, so if you are a fellow spoonie then I suggest giving it a try too 🙂
What is time blocking?
Let's start with the basics - what is time blocking?
Time blocking is a form of time management. As Todist describes, 'it is a time management method that asks you to divide your day into blocks of time. Each block is dedicated to accomplishing a specific task, or group of tasks, and only those specific tasks'.
So in your planner you map out your tasks over the day in time blocks. For example, you may have that from 10am to 11am you are replying to emails, and then from 11am to 12pm you are resting.
Time blocking is a more structured way to manage tasks. Previously I used to have a 'to do' list, but without designating when I would do those tasks. With time blocking you map out when during the day you will undertake them.
Using a planner for time blocking
I use a passion planner for time blocking (as well as detailing appointments etc). It was a gift to myself using some birthday money that I adored from the beginning. It has a week over two pages, and each day is broken down into half hour segments.
So at the start of the week I think through the 'big' tasks to accomplish, the necessary tasks such as medical appointments and then the work tasks and other 'life' tasks I want to do.
I start by marking in appointments and things such as when the supermarket delivery will arrive or when I have to meet a deadline. Then I plot out other tasks (including rest breaks!) around them. It's actually quite satisfying to see my life all quite organised!
Time blocking and how it's NOT all about working harder
I think that time blocking may often be seen as a way to accomplish more. It's frequently described as a tool to increase productivity and focus after all. That idea evokes images of very structured work, and perhaps getting more done.
However, for those with chronic illness conditions and the fatigue and pain that goes along with it, I suggest that time blocking can actually be almost the opposite - it can be used to increase rest by designating particular times to do so during the day.
In this way, productivity is not about doing something active or mentally challenging, it is about actively resting. And if you ask me (and I suspect the rest of the chronic illness community), then rest is very much being productive in a sense, because it enables us to feel as well as we can do.
Related post: Pacing with chronic illness (and how I'm choosing to 'spend' my energy)
The benefits of time blocking for those with chronic fatigue or pain
I want to start by emphasising that I can only speak about my own experience here, and I am definitely not saying that time blocking is any kind of cure for chronic fatigue or pain (if only!).
However, I have found time blocking to be helpful as a tool (alongside others) for helping to manage chronic fatigue, and to not 'overspend' my energy as I am prone to do.
1. Distributing tasks across the day and week
With time blocking I have a sort-of rule where I think about what I need to do that day (urgent, important tasks that cannot be delayed, medical appointments etc) as well as what I need to do that week. Then I plot them out in my planner. Next I add tasks that I want to do (such as blogging!) and distribute them out over the week.
The benefit of time blocking is (trying!) not to do everything in one day and then using up all my energy to feel awful for the next few days.
How I think about my tasks for the week:
- Urgent and/or non-negotiable: for example, medical appointments or work deadlines
- Important: need to be done that week, but not right away
- Wish list: the things I want to do, but aren't essential (creating a new recipe, for example)
- Rest: a non-negotiable that has to be planned in each day
2. Not taking on too many tasks
Plotting out tasks is helpful because it means that I don't keep adding to my diary. Or at least, I try not too! I've been pretty strict about looking at my planner and thinking, OK these are the tasks for the day and that's it.
Of course, life doesn't always go to plan . . . An emergency trip to the vet clearly couldn't be planned for, or delays in getting back from a medical appointment.
It's also the case that different times of the year may require adapting the number or type of tasks you include. For example, the holidays typically mean a little more cooking, socialising and shopping for gifts. At that time, it may be helpful to cut back on other non-essential tasks to not overspend on energy.
3. Breaking tasks down into smaller chunks
I'm one of those people that has an idea, and then wants to complete it that day. For someone with chronic fatigue and chronic pain, this approach isn't always the best, especially when it comes to bigger tasks . . .
Using time blocking techniques has helped me break tasks down and then schedule them. So rather than putting 'write a blog for a chicken recipe' on the planner, I have little tasks. Test the recipe, take photos, edit photos, write up the recipe card, and write the rest of the post all become separate tasks rather than trying to do them all.
This time blocking approach allows much more time for rest, and takes the pressure off to do it all in one go.
4. Planning rest (and lunch!)
Time blocking techniques for chronic fatigue work best, in my opinion, if we make sure we block out time for rest! I know it's pretty obvious, but I am terrible at getting caught up in a task and not having some 'down time'.
And lunch! I now take half an hour for lunch rather than just the time it takes to eat. It's actually quite nice to look at the clock and know I don't have to do anything for that time.
5. Feeling more organised
As I work from home, and largely for myself, it is very easy to have a scattered approach to the day, or at least for me. Work, housework, gardening, shopping, washing, ironing, playing with the cat, it was all a bit dis-organised and haphazard.
Using a planner helps me feel more organised, which in turn makes me feel much more calm. Of course, I don't plan time with the cat though. He kind of rules the house and gets played with whenever he requests it 😉
I use a passion planner, which doesn't seem available at the moment. This Legend Planner looks very similar in terms of the layout for the day and actually has a lot of extra pages with additional spaces for visions, goals and more. I will likely switch to this one next year!
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What is pill shaming? (and how it harms those with chronic illness)
Clothes and chronic illness: comfortable styles and symptom management
I hope this post on time blocking techniques with chronic fatigue was helpful - I'm active on Instagram and Twitter if you would like to follow along for more posts like this on daily life with chronic illness!
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Yes this can be super helpful! I used to do it a lot but I honestly forgot about it! Thanks for sharing it <3
Hi Susie! Yes, I've been finding it so helpful and actually quite enjoy mapping everything out 🙂