Time Blocking. It’s a simple productivity method—just schedule time to complete each your tasks, just like you’d schedule time for meetings. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most strategies difficult to actually implement in your daily life.
The value of time blocking is that it helps you build your day around your priorities. By scheduling your time in advance, you are able to more easily say no to non-priorities.
The downside, of course, is that your tasks are everywhere—your inbox, your to-do list app, your team’s project management tool, the notepad beside your desk. You need somewhere to pull them together and schedule them in order. Luckily, there are some great free apps that will help you master time blocking without taking up more time than they’re worth.
These apps were selected based on three criteria:
Cost. These apps are either free, or their free versions include all the core functionality you need to use them effectively.
Scheduling Capability. There are a lot of task management and scheduling tools out there, but very few tools that combine both those functions. We wanted to find tools that combined both in some fashion, to maximize efficiency for time blocking.
Simplicity. Since the point of time blocking is to focus on your most important tasks, we wanted to find tools that didn't go overboard with bells and whistles or complicated interfaces.
Plan (Web, iOS)
Best for quickly scheduling time blocks.
If you just want a simple, powerful way to block your time, you’ll love Plan. It’s part to-do list, part calendar, and all business. With a clean user interface and little in the way of extra features, Plan is perfect to quickly set up blocks of time for priority tasks and projects.
Plan is a "Grocery List"-type to-do app with a twist: The app shows your Google Calendar side-by-side with your to-do list, so you can drag-and-drop tasks into your calendar. (You decide whether or not others can see these focus blocks on your calendar.)
It also includes Day/Week/Month view options, as well as the ability to create lists and projects to further organize your tasks. Plan also offers data insights into key activities like taking lunch or exercising (by pulling keywords like 'walk' or 'lunch' from your calendar appointments), as well as the average time spent on a task.
If you appreciate the simplicity of the grocery-list style of to-do management, but want to be more consistent about blocking focused time for your tasks, Plan is definitely a great option.
Week Plan (Windows, iOS, Web)
Best for comprehensive prioritization and scheduling for all your tasks.
For the worker who prefers the Getting Things Done style of to-do management, Week Plan offers a tool that emphasizes smart weekly planning for every aspect of your life. It shows your schedule by day, week, or month, and helps plan out your tasks accordingly.
More than just planning, however, Week Plan offers several tools to help you actually accomplish the plans you make. These tools are based on several of the most popular productivity techniques:
A built in Pomodoro Timer tracks your time in 25 minute sprints, prompting you to take a 5 or 10 minute break every half hour so you don’t burn out.
The Quadrant feature offers an Eisenhower’s Matrix to sort your daily, weekly, or monthly tasks by priority and urgency so you can visually prioritize your workload.
Following the concepts taught in Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Week Plan also prompts you to create weekly goals based on your various roles in life: Spouse, parent, friend, group leader, etc. This is useful for keeping all your tasks in one place, and making sure you’re giving priority to all the important roles in your life.
Week Plan is a great tool if you struggle with focusing on prioritization, or if you are a visual organizer. In addition to being able to block your time, you will also be able to track time and keep up with your priorities, all in one simple interface.
Want to see Week Plan time blocks in your Google Calendar? Set up a simple Zap that automatically creates a new calendar appointment when you create a task in Week Plan. All you have to do is make sure you set start and end dates and times in Week Plan.
Create detailed Google Calendar events for new tasks on Week Plan
PomoDone (Mac, Windows, Linux, Web)
Best for tracking and implementing time blocks.
The Pomodoro Technique is a favorite among productivity enthusiasts—and for good reason! The simple concept of focusing your full attention in 25-minute bursts, and taking brief, deliberate breaks, is a powerful tool for turning big tasks into manageable ones.
It’s also an important part of the concept of time blocking. Personally, I find that splitting my focused time-blocks into Pomodoro sessions is a sure way to make sure I actually stay on task during my scheduled time, while still getting up to stretch my legs and refresh my brain every half hour.
And while there are a lot of different Pomodoro timers available (we wrote about 12 of the best ones), one that is particularly useful for time blocking is PomoDone.
PomoDone is a Pomodoro timer with a twist: the app is task-focused, and tracks time spent on tasks and projects. Its native integrations with Trello, Wunderlist, ToDoist, Evernote, Asana, Basecamp, Slack, and JIRA make it easy to import tasks from your existing task management tool.
From there, it’s as simple as choosing your task from PomoDone’s interface and starting your timer. You can control the timer settings to allow for various lengths and break times, as well as how the timer is displayed on your desktop once you turn it on.
PomoDone’s ability to manage and track time by task is a big plus when you’re trying to block focused time for yourself. By providing analytics on your focused time, PomoDone enables you to better plan and execute on your time-blocked schedule.
Pro Tip: If you use RescueTime—a tool to track your productivity—you can double up on the productivity hacks by having Zapier trigger a FocusTime session every time your PomoDone timer starts. This has definitely helped me in staying on track during my Pomodoro sessions.
Start FocusTime sessions whenever you start a PomoDone timer
If you’re not sure which of these apps would be right for you, you can follow these 4 steps for choosing the right app—or just experiment to find the balance of tools that works best for you.
Looking for more of a traditional to-do list app? Here are 40 of the best task management apps to choose from.
Image by Eric Rothermel.