If you have trouble focusing on your growing list of tasks, try block scheduling. With this task and time management technique, you create a block in your calendar for each task on your list. Using the built-in features in Outlook Calendar, you can create a block schedule easily.
Tip: do you need to take control of your inbox? Learn how to use Microsoft Outlook rules to tackle it.
What Is Block Scheduling?
Block scheduling, sometimes referred to as time blocking, is a useful method of task and time management. Its most common use is in academic scheduling, where lengthier classes are held only on certain days of the week. However, this technique can help improve your productivity at work by allowing you to focus on one task at a time.
Rather than bouncing between reading an email, returning a phone call, and working on a report, you set aside a time block for each task and only work on that task during that time.
For instance, you would set aside an hour from 9 AM to 10 AM to read, write, and reply to emails, then an hour from 10 AM to 11 AM to work on reports.
By blocking out time for a task, you can concentrate better on that specific task and complete it before moving on to the next one.
The key to block scheduling is planning. At the start of your work week, create your block schedule for each day or at the start of the day, create the schedule for each time increment, then stick to the schedule to get everything done.
If you’re ready to try this method of task management, there are several features in Outlook Calendar that can help you set up a block schedule. Let’s take a look!
FYI: looking for an alternative to Google Calendar? We have some options!
Use Categories to Label Events
Once you set up an event in Outlook Calendar, you can use a category to color-code and label it to create the block schedule. It can help you spot various types of events at a glance.
By default, Outlook gives you categories with their colors as their names, but you can also rename them to something more meaningful or create your own category. For instance, you could use the Yellow Category to indicate returning phone calls or a custom blue category called Emails for writing and replying to messages. Follow the steps below to set this up:
- Create an event by double-clicking the date and time on your calendar, using the “New” section of the ribbon on the “Home” tab, or with the keyboard shortcut Ctrl + Shift + A.
- Add the details for the task, including a name, start and end times, and other information in the event description.
- In the “Appointment” or “Meeting” tab, open the “Categorize“ drop-down menu in the “Tags” section of the ribbon and select a category.
- You’ll see the category at the top of the event. Make any other adjustments to the task you’d like, then click “Save & Close” when you are finished.
- Do the same for the remaining tasks on your schedule. When you view your calendar, you’ll see the different color-coded categories for each type of task.
Rename or Create a New Category
- To rename the default categories or create one of your own, open the “Categorize” menu and select “All Categories.”
- Choose a current category and use the “Rename” button to give it a new name or the “New” button to create a custom category.
Read on to learn more about working with categories in Microsoft Outlook.
Set Reminders to Start the Next Tasks
You can easily lose track of time when you’re focused on a task. To help you stay on schedule, you can set reminders for your events that alert you beforehand or at the time the task begins.
Open an event or create a new one and go to the “Appointment” or “Meeting” tab. Use the “Reminder” drop-down box in the “Options” section to choose an alert time.
If you choose a time, such as 10 or 15 minutes, it will give you the time necessary to finish up the current task before you begin the next one.
Create Recurring Events for Daily Tasks
When you plan your week, you may have tasks that you perform each day at the same time. For this, you can create recurring events to reduce the time it takes you to plan your schedule. As an example, you could set up a block to go through your email each day at 9 AM.
- Open an event or create a new one. Go to the “Appointment” or “Meeting” tab and select “Recurrence” in the “Options” group or choose “Make Recurring” in the event detail section.
- Use the fields in each section to set up the repeating task.
- Appointment time: select the “Start,” “End,” and “Duration.”
- Recurrence pattern: choose how often to repeat the task on the left, then when to repeat it. For example, if you repeat a task each workday morning, you’d mark “Daily” on the left and “Every weekday” to the right.
- Range of recurrence: select how long the task should recur. You can pick a start and end date, end it after a certain number of occurrences, or choose “No end date.”
- When you are finished, click “OK” to save the recurring task event.
- Complete or edit the remaining details for the task as needed and select “Save & Close.” When you view the event on your calendar, you’ll see the Recurring Event icon in the corner.
FYI: you can also use Task Scheduler in Windows to schedule your tasks.
Switch Views for the Current Day and Planning
A nice feature of Outlook Calendar that makes using a block schedule easier is the ability to switch your view. You can use one view to plan your week and another to see your schedule for the day.
With your calendar open, either go to the “Home” tab and use the buttons in the “Arrange” section of the ribbon or open the “View” drop-down arrow on the right to select “Day,” “Work Week,” “Week,” etc.
Use Statuses for Busy and Out of Office
Statuses in your Outlook Calendar block schedule let others know if you’re busy, out of the office, or working remotely.
Open an event or create a new one. Go to the “Appointment” or “Meeting” tab and select the “Status” drop-down menu. Choose a status to attach to the event.
For example, you could use “Busy” for important tasks or meetings, “Out of Office” for your lunch block, and “Tentative” for tasks where you don’t mind being interrupted.
End Tasks Early or Start Late for Break Time
One other handy feature you can use in an Outlook block schedule is the ability to automatically shorten appointments and meetings. You can set a specific amount of time to end early or start late to give you a short break between tasks.
- With Outlook open, go to “File -> Options.” Select “Calendar” on the left and scroll to the “Calendar options” section on the right.
- Check the box for “Shorten appointments and meetings” and choose either “End early” or “Start late” in the drop-down box to the right.
- Use the subsequent drop-down boxes to choose a time increment for events less than an hour and one hour or longer. Click “OK” to save your changes.
Moving forward, you’ll see new events you create reflect that end early or start late time automatically.
Don’t discount those few minutes between tasks for short breaks to stretch your legs or use the restroom. One of these pomodoro timers for Mac may be able to help you out.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I change my work days and hours in Outlook?
You can easily set up specifics so that your calendar focuses on the days and times you work.
In Outlook, select “File -> Options.” Choose “Calendar “on the left, then use the fields in the “Work Time” section to choose the days and times. Click “OK” to save your changes.
What’s the difference between appointments and meetings in Outlook?
Appointments are events for just you, while Meetings are those with other people. For most block schedule tasks, use the Appointments event type. If you plan to meet with others, use the Meetings type.
Can I make an appointment (task) private in Outlook?
You can make appointments and meetings private in Outlook to hide some details from others. Keep in mind that if you give “Read” permissions to another user, they won’t be able to see the details, but if you give “Delegate with access to view private items” permissions, they will.
To make an event private, go to the “Appointment” or “Meeting” tab. Select the event in the calendar and click “Private” in the “Tags” section of the ribbon.
Image credit: Pixabay. All screenshots by Sandy Writtenhouse.
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