Let’s face it, we live in a busy society. We’re available 24/7 due to smartphone technology, demands on our time are often non-stop, and the separation between work and personal time can be blurred and unrecognizable. There are only 1440 minutes in a day and how you spend each one can have a big impact on not only your productivity, but your sense of satisfaction in life. It’s so easy to always be in reactive mode and at the end of the day feel like you were busy, but not really sure how you spent your time. Making a conscious choice to spend your time on things that are important to you takes effort and awareness. Tracking your time can shed light on how you’re currently spending your time versus how you want to spend it.
Know What You’re Tracking
– In order to analyze your data it helps to develop some general categories of how you spend your time. There will be some similar categories for most people and some unique categories for others. Here’s an example:
- Work – Client Time
- Work – Admin Time
- Professional Development – e.g. reading articles, attending workshops, networking in your field, etc.
- Wellness – exercise and self care
- Relationships – time with family and friends
- Play – entertainment
- Distractions – surfing the net, doing mindless things to avoid doing what you need to
- Managing Business of Life – paying bills, errands
Or if your goal is just to be more productive at work, you can break your categories into:
- Client Emails
- Internal Emails
- Business Development
- Professional Development
- Administrative Activities
Think about your own categories of time and adapt the list appropriately. Try to keep your list to about 10 categories or less so you’re not having to track too many.
Set a Base Line
– Once you have identified the categories for tracking your time, come up with an estimation of how you think you’re spending your time based on an average week. Sticking with the example above (number of hours is in parentheses):
- Work – Client Time (35)
- Work – Admin Time (9)
- Professional Development – e.g. reading articles, attending workshops, networking in your field, etc. (4)
- Wellness – exercise and self care (16)
- Relationships – time with family and friends (25)
- Play – entertainment (8)
- Sleeping – (50)
- Eating – (10)
- Distractions – surfing the net, doing mindless things to avoid doing what you need to (6)
- Managing Business of Life – paying bills, errands (4)
Choose Your Tools
– If you’ve gotten this far in the article, you’re likely realizing how much time tracking your time will actually take. You’ll want to make this as easy as possible so you’ll really do it. My preference is an electronic tool, but you can create you’re own diary of time using paper and pen. Just make sure it is always with you so you can record your time accurately.
There are a few electronic time tracking tools that can automate this process, making tracking your time one less thing you have to do. Check out Toggl, Harvest, and RescueTime as good options for tracking time on your computer and phone.
– You’ll need to commit to the process of tracking your time for at least two weeks, and it won’t be easy. It is not intuitive to stop what you’re doing and record how long it took. Set reminders on your phone every hour or so to remind you to record. Be as specific as possible. Remember this is a means to an end. If you really want to change how you spend your time, you need to invest the time to gather the data on how you’re currently spending it.
Analyze Your Results
– If you track your time manually you’ll have to add up your category totals and determine percentages of time tracked. If you invested in electronic tools, you can get tons of reports showing your results. Compare those as percentages to what you originally estimated. Are you spending more time doing administrative activities then you’d like? Can you delegate more or figure a way to automate some of those? Is your relationship time out of wack from your work time? What small change can you make to improve that.
Tracking your time can be extremely beneficial if you want to make the time you have available reflect your best self. It may not be a fun exercise, but it will be a fulfilling one.