Creating an Annual Time Block

Stephen Covey tells the story in First Things First of attending a seminar, in which the instructor pulled out a wide-mouth gallon jar. He sat it on the table next to some fist-sized rocks.

A Jar of Rocks“How many of these rocks do you think we can get in the jar?” he asked.

The students made various guesses. The instructor then proceeded to fill the jar with the rocks. It looked like it was full. He asked the class, “Is this jar full?” Everyone looked at the jar and agreed that it was indeed full.

He then reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. He then dumped the gravel into the jar. The gravel went in between all the little places left by the big rocks.

Then he grinned and once more asked, “Is the jar full?” By this time, the class was on to him. “Probably not,” several of the students said.

“Good!” he replied. He reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He poured it into the jar. It went into all the spaces left by the big rocks and the gravel. Again, he asked the class, “Is this jar full?”

“No,” the class shouted.

He said, “Good!” He then grabbed a pitcher of water and poured almost a quart of water into the jar. Then he said, “What’s the point?”

Someone said, “If you really work at it, you can always squeeze more stuff into your life.”

“No,” the instructor responded. “That’s not the point. The point is this: if you hadn’t put these big rocks in first, would you ever have gotten any of them in?”

I would make an additional point. The big rocks are a metaphor for the important stuff. If you don’t make room for the important stuff, it will be overwhelmed by the less important stuff.

With this in mind, I decided last week that I wanted to plan out the next three years. I am not talking about all the little details. My life is too dynamic for that to work. But I wanted to make sure that I scheduled the most important things, so that I wasn’t overwhelmed by the urgent.

I decided I would “put the big rocks” into my calendar for the next three years. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a good tool to do this with.

What I really wanted to see was the whole year at a glance. Unfortunately, Entourage for Mac doesn’t offer this kind of view. The most you can see is a one-month view. The same is true of Outlook for Windows.

So, I created an Annual Time Block Tool in Excel. I have included my own calendar as an example with a blank sheet, which you can copy. You can enter the year you want to schedule in cell A5, and the calendar will automatically recalculate. It even takes into account leap years.

I began by scheduling the most non-discretionary things and moving to the most discretionary things. So I scheduled in this order:

  1. Company Holidays
  2. Church Holidays
  3. Industry Events
  4. Vacations
  5. Board Meetings
  6. Business Review Meetings
  7. Special Trips
  8. Time with Friends

Your list may differ. The issue is to grab the dates while you can before someone else does. Frankly, I would rather have other people plan around my priorities than be forced to plan around theirs. Remember: if you don’t have a plan for your life, someone else does.

The key is balance. Make sure you schedule time for the things that are important to you. If you don’t, you will find yourself scrambling to find time for the things that are important. If you are not careful, you will wake up one day and discover that you have spent your life living for other people’s priorities.

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  • Ryan K

    I  love the rock story. It’s easy to lack structure and run on the fly but planning the big things out helps to make sure they happen.

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  • paul peterson

    Michael, no kidding here… most of your posts make me just want to hug you because they are so good. This one is no exception! GREAT post! Thank you for unearthing and sharing this gold! Have a great night!

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Paul. I consider myself “cyber-hugged.” ;-)

  • Bill Dodge

    Mike, I love the spreadsheet, but I can’t get the year to update when I change the date in A5.  is there some trick to getting the weekends to adjust?  I am trying to do 2012 and 2013.  I have tried several different ways., nothing moves the weekends.

    • Bill Dodge

      Mike, I checked the other responses and I was able to change the calculation to Automatic from Manual and it worked.  Thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      I’m glad you solved the problem. Thanks.

  • Jonathan Watson

    Google is the way to go. Not only does this allow me to see years at a time (Go to Labs) but it’s fully syncable between platforms and devices.

  • Mark Weaver

    thanks Mike, for so willingly sharing your time management skills.  the time block tool ROCKS! 

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  • Tasha McKinlay

    What a great idea, and a great template! I do believe I’ll do this too! Thank you!

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  • Daren Sirbough

    I’ve filed this excel spreadsheet and will begin working on it on the 2nd of January 2012.

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  • Casey

    Love this post! Great idea! Unfortunately, when I download the Excel document and recalculate the date to 2012, the leap year throws the entire layout off. Any ideas? I am using Excel on Mac, btw.

  • toddplunk

    Do you happen to have an updated excel file for 2012?  The Leap year seems to be causing problems when I try to update for 2012…

    • toddplunk

      Never mind my request above, I was able to update and recalculate the template!  Thanks again for this resource.

      • Eric

        How did you do this? I love this template but wont update 2012.


        • toddplunk

          Eric, Let me know if you run into any issues, happy to send over my version if you can’t get this to work…
          On the Template Tab:1. Change the date in cell A5 to 1/1/2012 (in the formula bar, not the actual cell)2. Next, change the formula in cell G5 (March 1) to read =D33+1 (instead of =D32+1)3. Copy cell E32 and paste in cell E334. Rename tab to 2012

          • bwang

            Todd you wouldn’t be able to send your updated template to me would you?

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  • Karina Elizabeth

    I’m so glad you posted this! I  am about to finish a dissertation and am so excited that I will get to start devoting big chunks of life to something new.  This will be a great resources as I move on!!

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  • TrishM

    Hi Mike.  I am a huge fan of your blog and the work you do – thank you for making the tools and information you have gathered available to all.  It has really made a huge difference to my life.  

    I downloaded your wonderful Annual Time Block worksheet with Excel 2011, and spent a frustrating few hours trying to figure out why the worksheet wouldn’t calculate the day of the week correctly once I had entered the new year (2013).  It turns out that I needed to set >Calculate to >Automatically in the >Preferences window in Excel first (which I didn’t know).  I am not sure if anyone else as had this problem, but I thought I would post this thread in case they do.  

    Warm regards, 

    Trish Mitchell

    • Michael Hyatt

      Thanks for letting me know. I thought I had reset the calculation to automatic, but perhaps not. I have done so and re-uploaded the file. I am wondering if local preferences override the setting in the workbook. Hmmm.

  • Mb252490

    Great idea. Just spent an hour trying to start it up for 2013. But, MAC and Windows version of Excel handle dates differently. It won’t work.

    Pity – a great idea

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  • Olabisi Ridges

    Exceptional planning, I will be following this format, thank you very much.

  • Jim Harmon

    Michael, I would love to hear about the role friends play in your life
    and how you work them into your schedule. I see that you have a monthly
    Friends Saturday on your annual time block and a week night dedicated to
    friends on your ideal week plan. How do you use these two planned
    events to foster and maintain deep relationships? How did your mentoring group develop?

    • Michael Hyatt

      I answer some of this in a podcast I did with some friends.

  • Darcy Eikenberg

    Thanks for sharing this, Michael. Do you (or your team) have an updated version for 2014? If not, it’s certainly straightforward enough to adapt, but thought I’d ask to leverage it if it already exists. Much thanks.

    • Michael Hyatt

      No, we have not posted that. Please feel free to adapt. Thanks.