This is a transcript of Episode 3 of the Simple Systems with Sam Podcast. A block schedule will change how you look at your day and productivity, so let’s start setting one up, one step at a time.
Episode 3: Block Schedule Party!
If you were to ask me, “Hey, Sam, what’s the one thing I can do right now I’m on summer break? What will make the biggest difference in my productivity and my efficiency, and feeling like I’m just a little bit more in control, even when school starts back up?” It’s gonna be this: let’s go ahead and start talking about our block schedule.
This is going to be a multi part series, where we talk about the benefits of block scheduling and how you can set one up for yourself, also how you can kind of shift it around to really personalize it and make it your own.
When Block Schedules become Necessity
So let’s set the scene. I’m sure we’re all familiar with this. But after a year of teaching, you finally hit summer break, and you have that wall of relief wash over you, and you just want to relax. And then you’re like, you know, maybe this would be a really great time to pick up a new hobby to get in shape to tackle that big project around the house. And you just didn’t have any energy for it during the school year. And now you have all this time.
But more often than not, you then realize that the day is completely flown by you. And Netflix is still asking if you’re watching and of course you are. So you press the button one more time.
The Structure we Need
We actually really crave balance, we want to feel like we’re not only getting this relaxing time in but that we’ve been productive. We don’t want things to pile up behind us as we’re taking our time to Refresh and Reset. But without a constant schedule in place that balance tends to lean towards going to the pool for hours a day and then napping. Which is not a bad day, I just want to make sure that we’re still taking care of the other priorities in our life. So how do we manage to fit everything in when we just want to chill out? And the answer is a block schedule.
Block Schedule Analogy
Imagine a school day. I know that’s really rude of me to talk about how exciting summer isn’t and go back to school, but I promise you, it’s worth it. During the school day, if you’re a student, the bell rings, you start your day, you go to your first period. And let’s say you’re an algebra.
During algebra, you learn about algebra, you have some questions, maybe you get some homework for later. And then the bell rings again, you pack up your stuff, you go on to your social studies class. In social studies, you don’t sit there and still stew about algebra. You don’t sit there and think all the things that you really needed to do during algebra that you didn’t get done, you have to focus on social studies.
And then when the bell rings, for the end of that class period, you pick up and you move on throughout your day. Students have a schedule during the day that tells them what to focus on. And they thrive with that routine, they know what’s coming up next. Adults have the same need for that.
The Other Side
In fact, as a teacher, let’s say you’re a math teacher, you teach that first hour algebra class, and then the bell rings, and you’ve got calculus coming in. You can’t just keep teaching an algebra lesson that you didn’t finish, you can’t keep answering questions. Those kids have to move on. So you also have to stop and switch your focus.
You’re going to hit all of your major priorities throughout the day, because you have a start and stop. And in that timeframe, you have to limit what you’re able to do.
The Big Idea
You can’t cover an entire curriculum in one day, you can’t cover your whole to do list in one sitting. So this block schedule is going to help us break up our day into areas of focus. And when we have that area of focus, we can focus on two to three things max.
We are not looking at your whole to do list. We are saying: if this section right here, this little mini block class period, is when I’m focusing on my health, I’m not gonna go wash the windows, that just doesn’t make any sense to me.
Instead, I might do a workout, I might make a meal plan, I might go ahead and re track my food for the day in my app, whatever you need to do to focus on your health. That is your “class block” to do it in.
Creating Your Own Blocks
While the school analogy is working out really well. I’m actually going to just shift a little bit because I think that the biggest bonus to this block schedule is when you’re not already in a pattern like that. How do we get to our own pattern, our own routine, our own blocks that are going to help us?
Well, you’re going to need to set up a couple of different types of block schedules depending on your situation. For me at school, I create a mini block schedule for while I’m at school. And it doesn’t include classes. I know what’s going on in each of my classes. I don’t need to plan and schedule that out. But I instead have mini focus blocks.
So; before school, during my plan period, during lunch, during study hall, and after the last bell has rung. During each of those blocks of time, I’m going to try to accomplish as much as I can, so that I don’t have to take schoolwork home. And then I can leave school with a clear conscience and everyone feels great.
Blocks at Home
At home, I’m going to have a different block schedule for the weekends when my kids are with me all day than I do right now on summer break, where they’re in daycare. But I do need some sort of structure when I’m on break, and I need some block scheduling to be there. So you’re going to have a few different ways that you can set this up depending on the situation that you want to conquer.
The Simple Step
First, I would suggest starting with either being on break or a weekend block schedule, so that you can feel confident in that. And then we’ll start working more on how you can focus your mini blocks at school.
Find your Breaks
The first step that you need to take is figuring out when your “class periods” begin and end. And we don’t have to follow on a 47 minute bell schedule. So let’s go ahead and take what natural breaks you have during the day, find those and kind of list out the times.
For me, my day’s broken down by basically my kids and meals; we wake up, I dropped my kids off at school and I have breakfast. My first block goes from waking up to finishing breakfast. Then after breakfast until lunch, I work. After lunch, I actually get myself a whole block over lunch to focus on a few different things. After lunch, I then am going to do household and errand chores, until I have to go pick my kids up. Once I pick my kids up, then it’s family block until I have to put them to bed. After I put them to bed, then I have an evening block where I can wrap up whatever I need to for the day until I go to bed.
So the natural breaks are usually meal times or when you know you have to do a specific task very regularly. And you want these blocks to fall somewhere between two to three hours if possible. Sometimes they’re longer. Sometimes they’re a little shorter, but much shorter than two hours and you just can’t get into the zone. Much longer than three hours, and you start to think that you’re like invincible and can tackle a million things. But you lose the focus after about three hours.
I tried having a four hour work block earlier this summer. And even though I have plenty to do, plenty that I want to get done over the summer for this, I just could not manage to get myself to stay focused for four hours. So right now, it just so happens out that I was able to make my blocks three hours throughout the day. (except for my morning block my evening block there about two and a half because I’m either waking up or winding down depends on when my kids get up).
Go ahead and find your natural breaks in the day. Figure out what type of tasks you usually do or focus that you’d like to set. But don’t worry if you’re not 100% sure on that we’ll talk about the four burner theory and how to make your blocks fit your priorities in the next episode.
But for right now, we just need to figure out when those blocks are going to start and stop. And you’re going to have a few different schedules to start creating. So think about a regular day on break like a weekday; when you don’t have school, maybe your kids already have something to do, maybe they don’t. A weekend, which is always going to shift our priorities just a little bit. And then if you’re feeling really adventurous since right now it’s summer, go ahead and start thinking about your blocks during a school day. And we can get those lined up now so that when back to school season rolls around, you’re ready to go.
Bonus: Block Schedule Template
Before we go, I just want to make sure that you check out the show notes for a link to my freebie resource library where you can actually find a mini block schedule page. And you can start working on your own personal blocks and kind of outlining what you think is going to work and where.
Now I like to laminate these and use either wet erase or dry erase markers. So you don’t have to print out the page a million times or you can download them into something like your iPad for good notes and use it that way. However you want to start let’s just go ahead and get started. I’ll see you the next episode.