Planning Tactics | Block and Back Scheduling

Jonathan Hobbs
May 27th, 2019

The combination of block scheduling and back scheduling changed my life. I know that sounds like hyperbole, but I mean it. 

Some of you might already be aware of these concepts, but for those that aren’t, I would love to introduce you.

BLOCK SCHEDULING is usually a term used in reference to academic calendars.  But the idea transfers to real life easily.  It’s also much easier to think of it in terms of “blocks” thanks to modern technology where everyone has some sort of digital calendar (If you don’t have a digital calendar, it still applies. It just might harder to set up).  The basic idea is to think of your day (week, month, etc.) in terms of “blocks” of time.  The easiest version of this might be to look at a week, and have (1) breakfast, (2) mornings, (3) lunch, (4) afternoons, (5) dinners, and (6) evenings.  You can also add early mornings if you’re the type of person that has things on the calendar that early (you sickos).  You then block out those times for a typical week and assign tasks to specific blocks.  Monday mornings can be set aside for reviewing Sunday.  Processing receipts and setting up for the weekend can be Thursday afternoons.  Use the “blocks” however you want. The point is that you block these time slots out in your weekly calendar (set it up once and make it repeat weekly.  Super easy).  Some of you might need to break your day up into more specific blocks.  I have to have early afternoon and late afternoon blocks, which helps me to schedule our students’ sporting events.  Whatever works for you, set it up.  Then fill the calendar with the details.  A parent wants to meet with you.  You can say, “I try to make my meetings happen on Tuesday and Thursdays over lunch.  Do either of those work for you?”  Obviously, there is plenty of room for flexibility.  

Block scheduling helped me organize my thoughts and my time.  However, what really helped me was when I started to work backwards.

BACK SCHEDULING is the practice of setting up your calendar backwards.  In my current ministry position, it is not that hard to figure out what my annual calendar will be.  I usually have a calendar for the entire school year ready to hand out by our fall kickoff.  However, I spent years of my career skipping the next valuable step, which is to take those dates and schedule what needs to be done (and/or decided) for those events & retreats.  Three to six months before the retreats, I need to have a good idea about the transportation plans.  Eight weeks before the all-nighter, I have to have the tickets to the space rented out.  Two weeks before I need to purchase the movie tickets.  Etc. Etc. Etc.  Yes, we do a lot of this stuff instinctually. However, if we can actually put it on the calendar before the need arises, we can be way ahead of the game.  More importantly, when these steps are organized they become far easier to delegate.  My ability to empower my leaders and parent volunteers has skyrocketed since I’ve enacted the process of back scheduling. 

If you have a full calendar, this idea might sound overwhelming.  I would suggest trying back scheduling on a couple of events or retreats for the coming year.  Write out all of the things that need to be planned/done and write out when they have to be completed (The next level of this would be to add who will be completing the task, but at the present time the answer might always be you).  Then, simply add all of this to your calendar.  Include all the details you like in the entry.  Once you’ve done it for a couple events, I believe the benefits of back scheduling will be obvious and you will want to integrate it fully into your professional calendar.  

I take a week in August to completely plan out what my schedule looks like for the next 12-18 months.  I reserve the appropriate rooms, and set reminders of when to send out emails.  The back scheduling process can be as detailed as you want it to be.  I include designing and sending out “save the dates,” writing packing lists, hiring speakers, and sending out follow-up evaluations.  Each Sunday, I am able to look ahead at the week and see my to-do list.  If I need to take time off or an emergency arises, I am able to move the responsibilities to another time, or delegate them to someone else.

When you combine both back scheduling and block scheduling, your weekly calendars become clear.  You will find yourself becoming far more efficient with your time.  You will have the ability to balance work and family.  As a testament to this, I just finished a semester of grad school where I took a full load of four classes, worked full-time at my church, and I am married with two young children!  Did I perfectly balance everything?  Absolutely not!  But I did far better than I would have without this system.  It seriously was a game changer and I think it can be for you too.    

Jonathan Hobbs

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the YS Blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of YS.