How I overcame procrastination by blocking time

Updated to Habits, Productivity on January 2, 2023.

I was in a car the other day with a radiologist and a neurosurgeon talking about hypertension. 

This conversation is actually not as unusual as it might sound. I volunteer for a local society that does trail clearing in a popular hiking and mountain bike park and many of the volunteers happen to be recently retired doctors. 

Back in the car, one of the doctors happened to mention that recently his medical partner, who is in his early 60’s, had a mild stroke. As we wound our way further up the dirt road to our work site my education continued. 

I learned that strokes are the second biggest cause of mortality worldwide and the third most common cause of disability. The scary statistics get worse. As you age your chance of a stroke doubles every 10 years after 55

There’s a checklist of health conditions that make you more susceptible to a stroke, like obesity, high cholesterol, and diabetes. But the biggest culprit – six times out of ten – is hypertension or high blood pressure. In my books, that’s worth paying attention to.

What’s interesting is that stress, in itself, is not the direct cause of high blood pressure. It’s what we do when under stress that leads to nasty results. We eat too much, drink too much, and move too little. Basically, we deal with stress by making unhealthy choices.

For me, stress starts with worry.

Ngoc Son Temple, Hoan Kiem Lake, Hanoi, Vietnam

I’ve had a lot of worries

There is a world of problems you can worry about – take your pick. You can worry that Ukraine will be pummeled into a tiny province of rubble, or that we’ve passed the tipping point with global warming, or the tiny spot on your chin is cancer. 

Or not.

“I’ve had a lot of worries,” quipped Mark Twain “most of which never happened.” Our mind loves a good worry. Like a dog chewing a bone, we want to turn our worry around, looking from all angles, poking and prodding until it swells up into something bigger than it really is.

I used to worry incessantly before every keynote speech. I’d worry I’d miss my flight or wasn’t prepared enough, or I would be greeted by the “audience from hell.” Trust me, when you have 60 minutes to educate, entertain, inspire, motivate, and get laughs from an audience you’ve never met before, any sane person would invent a long list of worries.

It was at one of those events when a fellow speaker opened an exit door for my worries. He suggested that audiences don’t want you to fail – in fact, they want you to succeed. “They want to see you having fun—enjoying yourself. That way,” he explained, “they can enjoy the ride with you.”

When I accepted the long list of what I could never control – my flights, the audience, the speaker before me going overtime – I was free to focus on what I could control.

Enjoying the moment. 

What your life will have been

In her book, Comfortable with Uncertainty, Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön tells the story of delighting in the preciousness of every single moment.

A woman is running from lions. She runs and she runs, and the lions are getting closer. She comes to the edge of a cliff. She sees a vine there, so she climbs down and holds onto it. Then she looks down and sees that there are lions below her as well. At the same time, she notices a little mouse gnawing away at the vine to which she is clinging. She also sees a beautiful little bunch of strawberries emerging from a nearby clump of grass. She looks up, she looks down, and she looks a the mouse. Then she picks a strawberry, pops it in her mouth, and enjoys it thoroughly.

Learning what to focus on, and what to ignore, seems to be the ultimate secret to living a healthy, stress-free life. “Whatever compelled your attention from moment to moment,” writes Oliver Burkeman in Four Thousand Weeks (a must-read for anyone over 50), “is simply what your life will have been.”

So, what are you focussing on?

What to focus on

You can learn a lot when you’re the dumbest one in a car full of doctors. I learned that strokes are a silent pandemic. And that hypertension is the leading cause of that pandemic. And I learned the leading cause of hypertension is stress. 

I was also reminded that stress is a choice.

We all have lions and tigers in our life. Maybe even a mouse or two gnawing away at something we value. Meanwhile, we have the moment.

Choosing what to focus on (and what not to) might just be the healthiest choice you can make.

Got this far? You might also like these posts:

Photo of eggs by Nik on Unsplash
Photo of Ngoc Son Temple by author
Photo of tigers by author

You get off the phone with great intentions.

“Yes” you say (full of promise and pride) to your prospect, “I’ll get that proposal to you by Thursday.”

So far so good.

Immediately you note “Send proposal to Joe Blow” (not his real name, hopefully) to your long, growing To-Do list. Or maybe it goes into Outlook Tasks, on an app, or the back of a crusty napkin – whatever.

It goes on a list. And then…

Tuesday goes by.

Wednesday goes by.

Now it’s Wednesday night. And instead of chilling out reading the latest Lee Child with a glass of warm ale, you’re bent over, half-asleep trying to complete a proposal that is probably more important than 80% of the junk on your list, phone calls, interruptions and emails that gobbled up your time in the last two days.

Sound familiar?

Well, you’re a blockhead.

No, actually you need to block time (you might also be a blockhead, but that’s for a future post.)

Let me explain.

Why we make appointments

When I ask audiences if they respond differently when there’s an appointment on their calendar, without exception, they all nod their head. Of course, we do—an appointment represents a commitment attached to a deadline.

You’re either there or you broke the commitment.

“Send proposal to Joe Blow” on a To-Do list is destined to get lost somewhere between “Pick up laundry” and “Back up my hard drive.”

The trick is to create an appointment (block time) for the task you want to complete. I call it Blocking time (clever.) Blocking time helps you complete critical tasks and overcome procrastination.

Blocking is a part of my overall planning strategy, called Plan Like A Pilot.

How to Block time

Let’s go through the all-too-familiar scenario above, once more.

You get off the phone and add “Send proposal to Joe Blow” to a To-Do list. That’s important – you do want to cross tasks off once it’s done.

Next you go to your calendar (I use Google calendar) and make an appointment with yourself (slightly narcissistic, but it works.)

As soon as I make a critical commitment I block time (red boxes) to avoid procrastination.


When making your time block, pay attention to how you define the work. What seems like a molehill in the moment can look like a mountain up-close.

When an appointment labeled: “Complete proposal” rolls around it might look so daunting you blow it off. Instead, you could label it “Work from ##### proposal to create proposal for #####.” Or break it into two blocks: “Create quick draft of proposal”, and “Check pricing and deliverables – send final to ######.”

If you want to create reoccurring blocks of strategically unavailable time, I call those Boundaries (read about Boundaries in this post.)

If you’re with me so far, let’s look at what tasks to block time for.

When to block time

If I block time for everything I need to get done its overkill. Instead, I block time for any of the three following reasons:

  1. I know I might procrastinate on this task
  2. Someone (like staff, a client or a prospect) needs this information
  3. The task is strategic to a project I’m involved with. For example, I block time for writing proposals, planning events, preparing slides, writing my blog, preparing for a talk and a host of other reasons critical to my success.

No more procrastination

While blocking time to get things done might seem simple, so are sleep, water and food – they still work.

When I see the block of time on my calendar I treat it like an appointment. I wrap up whatever I’m working on, brew some tea and get ready to go to work on that task.

By the way, guess how I got this blog completed?

I blocked time for it.

Tell me in the comments below – what tasks frequently come up that you need to block time for?