We’ve all been there. It’s suddenly 5 o’clock on Friday, and our to-do list is staring back at us, untouched, despite us spending the week glued to our desks.
Time management is one of the most difficult aspects of productivity. It’s easy to feel like there’s just not enough of it when you’re dealing with competing priorities and everything feels like it needs your attention right now.
One of the best methods I’ve found to combat these feelings is time tracking, an unsung hero of productivity. I know that, unless you’re an hourly worker, you may feel hesitant to track your time.
Why bother? Isn’t it just one more thing to add to my list? I still need to get the work done regardless of how long it takes.
I get it. It may seem like adding another item to your list (time tracking) would do little to help you accomplish more. However, something a lot of us have in common is the inability to estimate how much time a task actually takes. A common sign is overestimating how many things you can do in a day.
Similarly, many people tend to spend a lot of time alternating between tasks or engaging in seemingly small distractions that end up taking a lot of time out of their day. Not to mention our tendency to engage in busy work as a way to feel productive; case in point, writing and rewriting to-do lists, scrolling through project documents, or organizing files are all ways of keeping busy without actually accomplishing much.
Here’s where time tracking comes in.
The Case for Time Tracking — Even if You’re Not an Hourly Worker
Time tracking works in two ways. First, it allows you to audit how you’ve been spending your time in the past. You can begin tracking your work for a month and discover where your time is going. Are you spending your day doing impactful work? Having a detailed log of your activities gives you a clear view of your progress and achievements over a period of time.
Second, it allows you to improve your planning by identifying your most productive times and setting realistic goals for each day or week. Time tracking also helps you find the tasks you can automate or delegate to gain back your time for more productive endeavors.
How To Use Time Tracking To Accomplish More in Less Time
First, Find Your Time Tracking Method
The way I see it, there are two ways to approach time tracking. You can track the things you do. Or you can track the time and fill it with a task.
Allow me to elaborate: For the first approach, tracking the things you do, you’d use a timer to measure how long something takes to complete. For the second one, you’d set a timer and work on one thing until the timer goes off. Both ways are valid and can be combined to accomplish different things. A good example is using the Pomodoro technique to complete smaller administrative tasks and using a timer to track how long a client project takes.
There are countless free tools you can use to track your time, like Clockify, Harvest, Toggl, and Pomofocus. You may have to test around to find one you like, but I’d strongly suggest using a tool like these instead of tracking manually and logging tasks on something like a spreadsheet, which would create more work.
Once you find a method that works, use it for about a month so that you have a clear view of how you’re spending your working hours. From there, it’s time to optimize.
Then, Analyze What Works
Once you’ve been tracking your time for a while, you’ll find common themes. You may notice that you perform better earlier in the day or that the time in between meetings is fruitless, so it may be a good opportunity to fit in smaller tasks like replying to emails.
These findings are essential in your planning. Use them to organize your day in a way that suits your work style and rhythms.
Finally, Create a Plan
Now that you understand how you’re spending your time, it’s time to plan for the future. As a general rule of thumb, you’ll want to schedule the bigger tasks and commitments first. Then, add the smaller or more flexible tasks around those big ones.
This is where we often fail, adding too many big items to the day or week. Instead, consider prioritizing and distributing the load by breaking projects into milestones and setting deadlines with enough lead time whenever possible. The 1-3-5 rule will help you prioritize if you’re having difficulty.
Your plan should also account for rest and interruptions, as these are unavoidable — and can be beneficial. Instead of forcing yourself to work through a slump, bake in a 15- or 20-minute to go for a walk or drink a glass of water, or engage with your team. Your brain will thank you for it.
An optional step in your plan is creating a visual calendar. You can use time blocks to break your day and ensure that there’s enough uninterrupted time to complete tasks.
“Work Expands So as To Fill the Time Available for Its Completion”
Have you ever heard that quote? It’s called Parkinson’s Law, and while it refers to bureaucracy within organizations, it’s easy to see the adage’s relevance in almost any work environment.
The truth is that time management is often a combination of managing priorities and effectively avoiding (or truly, accounting for) distractions. If you’re looking for the tools to manage time within your projects and team, book a consultation, and together, we will create a strategy to improve your operations and give you your time back.