Time-blocking in Obsidian

Effectiveness is a matter of managing time, not tasks.

Not planning work in terms of time is like balancing a checkbook without factoring in an account's debits. Giving each hour of the day an intentional task balances the day in terms of time.

Time-blocking is a personal productivity system that gives you visibility into where you're spending your time, a method for gaining control over your calendar, and a scratch space to store the chaos that each day inevitably surfaces.

In this article, you’ll learn how to use time-blocking in Obsidian.

What is time-blocking?

In short, time-blocking is a personal productivity system.

Cal Newport introduced the physical version with the release of his “The Time-Block Planner”. A planner containing thirteen weeks of planning with each day taking up a two-page spread. On the left side of the page are two columns one for tasks and another for ideas. Then on the right side is a time-block grid.

It’s the grid that separates time-blocking from a to-do list. Using the tasks list as a guide, you intentionally block off specific hours of the day to complete your work. Naturally, time-blocking favors deep work since it’s created to write a book about the subject.

On page 9 of the physical planner, there is an example. Within the grid, there is a large block of time dedicated to the vague words “start research”, which is all that’s necessary. After all, it’s taking the time to do the work that matters most.

In a way, time-blocking is like treating your calendar like a database treats its tables. Blocking and locking when necessary to process what matters.

Time-blocking is a simple yet effective system that brings order to the chaotic days of knowledge work.

Daily note

Implementing time-blocking in Obsidian requires a few plugins, starting with the daily notes.

Enable the Daily notes plugin:

  1. Click settings ⚙️

  2. Click Core plugins

  3. Scroll until Daily notes appear

  4. Toggle the plugin on by clicking the slider on the right

  5. Close the settings page

Configure the Daily notes plugin:

  1. Create a new folder called Planner

  2. Click settings ⚙️

  3. Under Plugin options, select Daily notes

  4. In the New file location input box type Planner

Daily notes are a core Obsidian plugin that creates a new note per day using a time date format as the name. Use the daily note to represents the two-page spread of The Time-Block Planner.

Click the Open today’s daily note located on the left sidebar.

Within the daily note, create an H2 section for each of the following:

  • Daily metrics

  • Tasks

  • Ideas

  • Schedule

Daily metrics give you an opportunity to capture feedback. Avoid measuring everything. Only measure what truly matters to you. Things you hope to improve. For me, that’s the number of hours spent in deep work and words written per day.

Instinctually you might being by brain-dumping tasks and ideas.

That’s a misuse of those sections. Tasks and ideas provide a specific space to capture information throughout the day.

Both sections exist to prevent you from becoming distracted. As ideas come to you or tasks attach themselves to you simply log them and continue doing the work you planned to do.

Scheduling is where you design your ideal day.

When you plan your day is up to you. Preferably though, it’s at the end of the previous day or the start of a new day.

Instead of marking the hours of the day in a grid, use a check-marked bullet to plan your day. Put the hour of the planning task just before the name. Use the military time for the hours of the afternoon.

Example:

Day Planner

Checklists are great, but seeing the entire day at a glance is better.

Another Obsidian plugin called Day Planner gives you the ability to see that checklist into a daily calendar view.

Enable the Day Planner plugin:

  1. Click settings ⚙️

  2. Click Community plugins

  3. Toggle off Safe mode

  4. Click Turn Safe mode off

  5. Click Browse

  6. Enter Day planner in the search box

  7. Click Install

  8. Once installed, click Enable

After the plugin is installed, close the plugin search menu.

Configure the Day Planner:

  1. Under PLUGIN OPTIONSclick Day Planner

  2. Click the File mode drop-down, select Command mode

  3. Toggle off Complete past planner items

  4. Change the Timeline Zoom Level to 1

  5. Close the Settings menu

Delete the folder called Day Planners.

Link Day Planner to the Daily Note:

  1. Open your existing daily note

  2. Click on the < on the right side to expand the backlinks pane.

  3. Hit ⌘ + p and type plan.

  4. Click Day Planner: Link today’s Day Planner to the current note in the list.

Your daily note schedule now appears on the bottom right as an hourly calendar.

The Day Planner plugin defaults to file mode which generates a new file daily and attaches the note to the timeline graph. You won’t use that because it doesn’t integrate with the calendar plugin, which you’ll configure next.

Calendar

Effective time management requires a proactive approach. For that, few things are more useful than a calendar.

Adding a calendar to your time-blocking planner allows you to easily review yesterday's work to plan today’s and to stage tomorrow.

Enable the Calendar plugin:

  1. Click settings ⚙️

  2. Click Community plugins

  3. Click Browse

  4. Type calendar (if needed)

  5. Click the Calendar plugin in the search results

  6. Click Install then Enable

Close the settings menu.

Click the calendar icon at the top of the backlinks pane.

Click tomorrow’s date on the calendar. When prompted click Create to generate tomorrow’s note.

Use the calendar to quickly move between dates. Stage future appointments by creating notes in advance and review past notes at the end of a week to ensure good ideas don’t fall through the cracks.

Shutdown ritual

Unfinished tasks occupy the mind far more than completed ones because the mind constantly pulls what’s incomplete back into awareness.

Each recall refreshes the task’s or idea’s half-life in short-term memory, a process known as the Zeigarnik effect. That's why unfinished tasks are so distracting, regardless of their importance.

Luckily, a task doesn’t need to be completed before it leaves the mind. Because the brain cannot distinguish between an actually finished task and one that is postponed by taking a note.

Writing something down literally gets it out of your head. Disrupting the endless looping of thoughts. A shutdown ritual is an intentional habit to bring temporary closure to all open tasks at the end of the day.

Allowing you to step away for some much-needed recovery.

Add a shutdown ritual to your daily note:

  1. Open the daily note

  2. Under Daily Metrics, add a Shutdown complete checkbox

How to use a shutdown ritual:

At the end of the day, shutdown by completing the following steps:

  1. Record personal metrics

  2. Review tasks and ideas

  3. Review other potential sources of unresolved work obligations
    1. email, direct messages, kanban boards, etc…

  4. Update weekly plan

  5. Check the shutdown box

Your goal is to convince yourself nothing is being forgotten, missed, or needing to be kept track of.

Weekly note

Daily notes zoom you in. Giving a detailed hourly plan of execution. If it were an animal the daily note would be a hound. Weekly notes on the other hand offer a hawk-like view, zooming you out.

Detaching you from the trenches of everyday life so you can think strategically.

Create a weekly note:

  1. Click New note

  2. Rename the note with the format of YYYY-MM

Within the weekly note, add an H1 heading for each week of the month.

Flexibility comes first with the weekly note. There is no predefined formatting required because the formatting should match the challenge of the upcoming week.

Weekly notes are important because they allow you to plan multi-way efforts. Efforts that are typically reserved for deep work sessions instead of checklist tasks.

Use the weekly note to stage work granularly or heuristically.

(Optional) Enable folding headings:

  1. Click settings ⚙️

  2. Under OPTIONS click Editor

  3. Toggle on Fold heading

Create a Daily Template

Once your day has structure, it makes sense to populate new daily notes with a template.

  1. Create a new note called template within the planner folder.

  2. Add the Daily metrics, Ideas, Tasks, and Schedule headings

  3. Within the schedule, fill out a typical day. Use generic terms like Deep Work Session 1 and 2 and Check-in to act as placeholders.

  4. Click settings ⚙️

  5. Under PLUGIN OPTIONS, click Daily Note

  6. Update the Template file location to planner/template

Now when you create a new daily note, it will be pre-populated with the contents of the template.

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