How To Use Opportunity Blocks To Tackle Your Biggest Life And Career Challenges

I am often overstretched, which means I have to make difficult decisions about how to spend my time.

The problem is that when I don’t give myself time for what I call an opportunity block each day, nothing goes particularly well.

Opportunity blocks are times I set aside in the day to dream, think, and creatively problem-solve the challenges I’m facing in my life and career.

I adopted this practice after reading the following quote.

I only write when inspiration strikes. Fortunately, it strikes at nine every morning. — William Faulkner

Opportunity blocks are separate from my creative practice. They give me time to think about how and why I do my work. Scheduling time in the day to think and be inspired is something that has become a priority.

Here are eleven things to think about when setting up your own opportunity block practice:

  1. Schedule time for opportunity. I try to place an opportunity block at the start of every day so it has the best shot of actually happening. 

    Tip: Get out your calendar and set a regular time each day or week for your opportunity blocks and treat them like any other appointment or commitment.

  2. Give yourself permission to take this time. With so many other things happening in the day, it is often difficult for me to give myself permission to take the time for an opportunity block to occur, but it is necessary to keep me from burning out. 

    Tip: It is ok to take this time for yourself. You will be far more productive over the course of the rest of the day if you commit to this practice.

  3. Do not use opportunity blocks for other work. This is your time. Do not use opportunity blocks to tackle unfinished work for someone else. It can wait. 

    Tip: Make opportunity blocks a priority for you to move the dial toward the big life and career goals you set for yourself.

  4. Keep a journal. During each opportunity block, I take note of the things I worked on and I often use my journal to help me quickly pick up where I left off the day before. 

    Tip: Writing down your ideas can help you organize your thoughts and find new inspiration.

  5. Limit multitasking. Tackling a couple of ideas during each opportunity block is about as much as I can handle. Trying to do more than that gets overwhelming and I find that I don’t get deep enough in thought to accomplish what I set as a goal for the day. 

    Tip: Focus on one task at a time to help you stay present and fully engaged in your creative work.

  6. Create a dedicated space. If I sit down to do my work and am distracted, it is very difficult for me to do the type of deep work necessary for opportunity blocks to feel productive.

    Tip: Designate a specific area in your home or workspace where you can focus on creative work without distractions.

  7. Take breaks. I have about 45 minutes in me before my mind starts to wander so I take a few short breaks during each opportunity block session.

    Tip: Allow yourself to take 5–10 minutes breaks within the opportunity block timeframe to clear your mind and recharge.

  8. Disconnect. If I get a ping on my phone or computer while in the middle of an opportunity block, sometimes I can’t recover from the distraction. Technology can be one of the biggest disruptors to this work. 

    Tip: Turn off your phone and other devices to eliminate distractions and fully focus during your opportunity blocks.

  9. Get outside. Opportunity blocks don’t necessarily need to happen at your desk, in fact, some of my best moments of inspiration occur when I’m on a long run or biking. 

    Tip: Take a walk, hike, or simply sit in a park or natural environment to help clear your mind and find inspiration during your opportunity blocks.

  10. Collaborate. Sometimes, I get stuck. When that happens, the best solution has always been to connect with other friends and colleagues during an opportunity block in order to advance my ideas. 

    Tip: Working with other creatives can help you stay motivated and generate new ideas.

  11. Set goals. Opportunity blocks are not free time. I view each opportunity block as a time to move my big ideas forward. Every minute I get to do work like this is a gift so I don’t ever go into the block without a goal for what I would like to accomplish. 

    Tip: Review your journal and spend the first five minutes of each opportunity block to break your time down into manageable goals and prioritize the most important tasks first.

Opportunity blocks are necessary for creatives to move their big ideas forward and there is no better time than now to adopt this important habit.

Thanks for reading and please let me know how your opportunity block practice is going.

Photo Credit: Estée Janssens

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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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