Managing your time - Time-Block Method with PDF Templates

Article explores the time-block method as a way to manage your daily expenditure of time and presents a revised template that works best for me. See if this template works for you and adapt it if you find it useful. My latest technique is based on a revised method from what Cal Newport has called - The Time-Block Planner.

What is this article about?

There is an Eastern philosophy that summarizes the importance of time management. And it goes something link this:

How we spend our day is how we spend our lives.

and another philosophy that summarizes the value of time

Every morning we are given a new gift of 24 hours, how we use this gift wisely - shapes us, transforms us, molds us and helps forge a path towards our destiny. This process ends up being our journey.

I hope I’ve convinced you the value of time and why we want to make use of it effectively.

If you’ve come here looking for a new method or process to manage your time (along with some templates), then you’ve come to the right place. You are welcome to try out my system and see if it works for you. And the templates are completely free at no cost to you!

My Journey

Over the years, I have tried out many systems, techniques, templates, philosophies and understandings on effective time-management. I don’t want to name them all here because the books alone can fill a wall. I do not claim to be a master of any particular system. I am always refining and perfecting my art to this day. I will share what I use as my system and you are free to take what is useful and leave behind what does not work for you.

If you are anxious to get to the templates skip to the bottom of the page to download them. But if you’re interested in how to use them then it might be worth the read.

The system and why it did not work for me

Rather than going through my failures, let me share the system that I use today:

At this juncture, a few months ago I came across Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner technique and I tried his method. It does work but over the months I have improvised and added additional changes to the template to make it work for me.

Here are my challenges with this technique:

  1. My typical work day consisted of 12-hrs and so I needed a bit more room for the daily time-block template.
  2. I am a minimalist at heart. I don’t think to carry a bag full of junk to manage my day. (although I end up carrying more junk for other reasons. Let’s not get into it now). With the book format, I felt that I will be carrying a lot of baggage on daily basis. Not to mention the cost to refill from Cal Newport’s system ($22.50 on Amazon for approx. 3.5 months of a planner - little pricey for my taste.)
  3. In his technique, he starts out with the premise that you time-block and plan your day before you use any devices such as computer or phone. For me, my planning details come from multiple sources. I have an secure office computer where my external meetings for that day come in. (I cannot access them from my home computer). I have a personal computer where my volunteer and personal, family activities, appointments comes from. I also have my evenings where I plan my continuous education and exploring new ideas and projects. So I need to incorporate from all of my sources to compile a plan for the day.
  4. As an engineer, I am a strong believer in the concept of a feedback-loop. And so I like to plan my next day using the time designated for “Daily Reflection and Journal” as well as “Daily Metrics”. (By the way, the “Daily Metrics” is a great idea.)

My improvised version of the Time-Block Planner Template

Using the ideas that best work for me, I have modified the templates and created my own templates shown below.

Time-Block Planner Front Page

Time-Block Planner Front Page

Time-Block Planner Back Page

Time-Block Planner Back Page

(scroll-down for the link to the templates)

Template Synopsis

Time-Block v2 : Day Scheduler

  1. Review Cal Newport’s Time-Block Planner system here before you try to make sense of the template above.
  2. With the first column, you can start your day at any arbitrary time each day but then stop at any arbitrary time and continue on. Examples: [6am, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 1, 2, 3, 8pm, 9pm, 10pm] or [6am-6pm]
  • This allows you to arbitrarily stop during the evening time when you can’t control the time for your chores with your kids or family.
  • Or you can break up the day into two work activity segments.
  • Or you can break your productivity times into multiple zones and take care of other activities in between.
  1. List out your daily-distractors (time-wasters) down at the bottom. I’ve given you room for upto eight activities and some additional room at the “Notes” section below.
  2. I also like to see my hours spent each day and so the column in the right shows my tricking time.

Time-Block v2 : Daily Summary

  1. Use the “Daily Metrics” section and the “Shutdown Complete” check-box the same way as Cal Newport describes it.
  2. Same with “Tasks” and “Ideas” - remember, when you have an idea or task - jot it down and move on. When you get to a point where you need to organize it or during “reflection time”, assign those tasks and archive those ideas for a planned future or transfer it to the next day.
  3. Use the “Daily Reflection/Journal” section to note down what worked, what did not work, how to take corrective steps to better utilizing the system the next day.
Time-Block Planner Front Page

Time-Block Planner Front Page

Items in my small folio (that I carry around)

  • Today’s Time-Block Daily Template - (two-pages, printed front and back). (scroll-down for the link to the templates)
  • Monthly Calendar Template for last month, this month and next month (or two). Example: If current month is November, then I carry Oct, Nov, Dec, Jan.
  • Habit Tracking Template for this month.
  • My current Black n’ Red Wirebound Notebook (8.5 x 11) for jotting down notes and meeting minutes. Although the notebook is a bit pricey, I love the paper quality and one notebook typically lasts me for four months. So I think it’s a good investment.
  • Uniball Signo 207 Medium Black pen (this works best for my note taking without bleeding).
  • Uni Mechanical Pencil Kuru Toga 0.7mm

Larger Folio That Stays By My Desk at Home

  • I keep a larger folio by my desk where each of the daily sheets get three-hole punched and organized. This will act as a journal. I have tabs for each month. My previous monthly items (see “Monthly Calendar Template” below) are also organized for the year.
  • Keep in mind, the larger folio that stays home is your way to take inventory of your time and at the same time, not investing your hard earned money in some folio that was not designed with you in mind.
  • People have asked me - why not use the bullet journal. You can - if that works for you. I’ve tried it and it did not work. But I do use the bullet journal for my daily note taking and meeting minutes. (I will share those samples in a future date).

How to use it?

Time-Block Planner Front Page

Time-Block Planner Front Page

Time-Block Planner Back Page

Time-Block Planner Back Page

  1. Create and get into the habit of carrying a simple folio that holds all of your day to day items for organizing yourself and the valuable time. Try to avoid having to carry your life around.
  2. I print one of the above template for each day - front and back (one-page).
  3. At the beginning of each day, I get into my office computer, my personal computer and compile my schedule and then block my day accordingly.
  4. I assign time for my distractors (time-wasters) such as answering emails, web surfing, social-connections, etc - throughout my day. And I try to stick to it. When I catch myself wavering, I discipline myself to come back to the routine.
  5. Yes, new meetings come up throughout the day. If I’m unable to move the meeting to a future date, then I simply use the next column and improvise using the techniques taught by Cal Newport in his Time-Block Planner.
  6. I also keep several templates for organizing my monthly goals, tracking my habits, etc.
  7. At any given time, I try not to carry any additional templates except for today (front-and-back, 1 page), monthly page, habit page.
  8. When I have an idea or task that comes up, I designate it on the back page and move it at the end of the day when I reflect.
  9. At the beginning of each month (typically on the last day of current month or first day of next month), I plan my monthly.

This is my current system.

Download the templates

Templates are in PDF format. You can download them individually (or as one bundle from the links below)

  • Time-Block Daily Template : for capturing your daily activities (One-Page, two-sided, front & back)
  • Monthly Calendar Template : for capturing your monthly goals & activities (One-Page per Month). I typically carry last month, this month, and next month in my folio.
  • Habit Tracking Template : for tracking your habits and goals (One-Page per Month). I typically carry this month habit tracker in my folio.

Here are two earlier versions I created to track time:

Just Give Me The Whole Bundle :-)

Time-Block Planner(Front Page)

Time-Block Planner
(Front Page)

Time-Block Planner(Back Page)

Time-Block Planner
(Back Page)

Monthly Planner

Monthly Planner

Habit Tracker

Habit Tracker

If you find these templates useful, then consider sharing a link on your social group and/or buy me some coffee. Contact me via Disqus on this page, if you would like me to add some features that you feel will benefit others. I will consider all requests. Thanks for visiting!


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Today’s Quote

When you talk, you are only repeating what you already know.
But if you listen, you may learn something new.
- The Dalai Lama, XIV