Time Chunking: What is It and How To Use It Daily

Sheena McGinley, May 9, 2024

How to use time chunking

I know what you're thinking... "Yay, another buzzword term to absorb. There aren't enough hours in the day or room in my brain for more time-related lingo…"

With today’s constant firehose of information, particularly around your working day, it’s easy to switch off and shut yourself down to new methodologies – even if they have been created to give you back your time.

We know only too well; after all, saving you time is our mission at Memtime! So, let’s digest time chunking for you.

Benefits include:

  1. Information breakdown: It makes for more effective time management by collating smaller bite-sized pieces of information into bigger, and therefore more achievable, units.
  2. Memory optimization: "Chunking" information together in these more attainable units is easier on the brain. It means we can more readily process the finer details.
  3. Total recall: These chunks become building blocks for often convoluted topics. In other words; breaking things down into chunks leads to easier information recall.

The short story? This time management technique gives you the structure to effectively work on one task at a time. It allows you to bid goodbye to any time-sucking detours to your day.

Here's what you can expect from this blog post:

What is time chunking anyway?

Simply put, time chunking is an organizational hack to ensure you focus more on the task at hand. This results in fewer pesky distractions throughout your day.

At this juncture, you’re probably thinking “Well, yeah – isn’t that what we all strive to do in work?” In theory, yes, but this rarely happens in practice, particularly in the absence of a functioning time-tracking process.

Managing your time effectively can be incredibly tricky. So, this is where time chunking really sings in its simplicity.

Chunking dedicates focused time to single tasks, keeping any potential distractions to a minimum. Conversely, multitasking involves juggling numerous tasks at once. While this sounds great on the surface, the reality is very different. Multitasking can be the death knell of focus and can quash the quality of your output.

Simply put: Chunking = deep dives. Multitasking = shallow dips.

As for the time chunking methodology itself, it’s pretty straightforward.

  1. Firstly, divide your day: Segment your workday into 30-minute blocks.
  2. Secondly, focus for 25 minutes: By dedicating each block to a specific task, you can then focus on that particular chunking assignment for 25 minutes.
  3. Thirdly, enjoy a break: After your 25-minute burst of intense focus, reward yourself with a 5-minute recess.
  4. Lastly, repeat & recharge: After completing this cycle a total of 4 times, you can refresh yourself further by then taking a more substantial 15-minute break.
Time chunking breaks

Why you should consider time chunking

Like I said at the top of the article; it’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by the sheer volume of tasks all vying for your attention on any given day. So, by breaking things down into these more manageable chunks, you can avoid the dreaded analysis paralysis.

In fact, grouping items into more manageable segments has been a technique favored in cognitive psychology since the 1950s. Why? Because chunking maximizes information processing and retention.

Time chunking provides a clear beginning, middle, and end to proceedings – with several breaks in between (always a bonus). Put it this way, if you commit to focusing on something for 25 minutes, everything else – be it emails, impromptu phone calls, or DM dings – don’t have long to wait.

Equally, 25 minutes isn’t an inordinate, prolonged amount of time. The chances of your mind wandering when you know a bell will blow in a few minutes signaling a break is far more manageable than clock-watching until lunchtime. It mitigates procrastination.

How you spend your 25-minute sprint is entirely up to you. It can either be spent on a single task, a bundle of smaller related tasks, or a portion of a larger task.

How to get started with time chunking for work

We’re here to bust the myth that time chunking is best suited to those working from home/using a hybrid model; it can also work well in a bustling, in-person workplace.

There are various chunking practices you can modify to best suit your day. Here’s how:

  • Start small. Kick things off with a familiar task. Only, this time, silence all potential distractions (put your mobile device in another room if you have to). This way you can tackle your task head-on during your first chunk. Then, you can marvel at how much quicker you get this familiar task done when you free yourself of the usual diversions.
  • Establish clear priorities. We all have that one colleague who demands immediate feedback… And while immediate feedback is required in some instances, it’s not always warranted. Next thing you know, your priority queue is being infiltrated by all manner of arbitrary requests, rendering your brain bogged down in distractions. To mitigate this, define exactly what a priority request is and establish a clear channel for such occurrences. Everything else can wait. If you attempt to address every request, nothing gets done in the process.
  • Adopt a ‘Do Not Disturb’ approach. Obviously, it doesn’t have to be for the entire day. If you want to apply chunking to your personal workload, you could let your teammates know you won’t be available for meetings/coffee/chats until after a certain time. Who knows, this might encourage them to adopt a similar more focused approach – being more task-oriented in the morning and moving meetings until after lunch, or vice versa.
  • Make it work for you. For instance, if you feel your flow is being interrupted by your timer after 25 minutes, why not try 40-minute work stints instead? You can then refuel with a 10-minute break. If 15-minute bursts work better, try two of these stints in a row, followed by a break.
  • Time chunk to deadline. If you’re using your defined sprints to complete a larger project, outline a chunking schedule to ensure on-time completion.
  • Make it visual. Listen, I’m an advocate for positive visualizations and manifesting, but – in this scenario – I mean it quite literally. It’s one thing to set a timer every 25 minutes and log your time, seeing your day mapped out into visualized time intervals is another experience altogether.

Here's where Memtime can help you. It automatically records your working day, then provides you with a friendly, visualized timeline with your activities on it. Even though you won’t specifically pre-block chunks of time or set up break reminders with Memtime, you can browse your past activities in 1 minute, 5 minute, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes or 1 hour intervals, which is pretty powerful.

Basically, this makes it super easy to recall all your day, see where the distractions kicked in, and ultimately, assess how on track you were with time chunking, in a visualized way:

Captured activities in Memtime

And the best part? It’s free to try for 14 days, without any need of providing your payment details.

Our 5 golden rules for time chunking

While embracing time chunking and the integrations expediting it are the keys to its success, there are some additional factors that should be considered for the best results.

1. Find your chunk groove

At the risk of repeating myself – it’s best to write your own rules in terms of duration. After all, only you know the span of your concentration. While 25-minute chunks are proving to be the most popular, either shorter (15-minute) or longer (perhaps 40-minute) bursts might be a better fit for you.

2. Schedule like a boss

By that we mean you need to treat your chunks like pivotal appointments. Don’t miss them, don’t reschedule them, and never double-book.

3. Focus in

In hindsight, putting your phone in another room is only half the battle when whatever device you’re working on is connected to the internet. So, additionally, don’t forget to close unnecessary browser tabs that might hijack your eyeballs. Also, inform any in-person colleagues that you’re in “focus mode”. And, if you – like me – suffer from email reply anxiety, why not set your OOO stating your availability?

4. Embrace the breaks

We’ve all been there. Squeezing in that “just one last thing” before you’ll let yourself “enjoy” a break. These 5-minute breaks are perfunctory so treat them as such. Fully utilize them. Make sure you get up and move around. Also, ensure you get some fresh air and a change of scene – even if it’s only momentary. Grab a drink, stretch those limbs – and then get back to work refreshed, not switched off.

5. Review and refine

Like any process worth employing, we recommend regularly evaluating your chunking strategy. It might be adjusting your preferred chunk sizes, break lengths, or the types of tasks you opt to group together for optimal productivity.

Signs your time chunking efforts are paying off

Success indicators

There’s that inner voice again. This time, it's saying: "OK, this all sounds great and relatively easy to implement, but how will I know if I'm "chunking" time effectively?"

You should notice one or more of the following results:

  • Increased control: You should feel like you've more handle on how you create fruitful and time-efficient results.
  • More time availability: By implementing chunking, you will start to notice your focus shifting more towards goals you find more rewarding – simply because you have more time to entertain work you find more purposeful.
  • Decreased distractions: You're saying "see ya" to flights of fancy because you're less likely to entertain disruptive interruptions to your workflow.
  • To-do list dominance: Who's mastering that more focused to-do list to completion? Correct. You are mastering that to-do list.
  • Less stress: Let's be honest, that's the dream end goal in terms of work. If you're effectively implementing time chunking you're less likely to feel the burnout.

Wrapping up

Listen, we get it, there are so many time-management methods it’s (somewhat ironically) tricky to keep track of all of them. This is where time chunking is particularly effective given the difference-maker for good time tracking is often how the information itself is presented.

Here are some key pointers to keep in mind when initially trying chunking as part of your time management.

  • Monitor productivity: At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s important to monitor your progress. This way you can adjust your chunking strategy based on what works best for you.
  • Embrace Flexibility: Speaking of what works best; have the flexibility to adapt your chunking approach based on the specific task plus your schedule.
  • Find a chunking buddy: It’s not as strange as it sounds! Simply partner with a cohort who also uses time chunking. Much like a training buddy, you can hold each other accountable and share helpful tips.

Finding the best time chunking method is an ongoing process. Experiment, evaluate, and adjust to discover the approach that unlocks your productivity.

Meet the author:

Sheena McGinley - post author

Sheena McGinley

Sheena McGinley is a columnist and features writer for the Irish press since 2008. She’s also a business owner that is conscious of how time tracking can foster progress. She wrote for SaaS companies and businesses that specialize in revenue optimization by implementing processes. She has the unique ability to digest complex topics and make them easy to understand. She shares this precious skill with Memtime readers.

When she's not making words work for people, Sheena can be found taking (very) brisk dips in the Irish Sea.