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Free Up More Time by Keeping Track of It

Free Up More Time by Keeping Track of It

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  Ever wonder why you don’t have enough time in the day to complete all the things on your to do list? You’re likely wasting it somewhere.

There is a huge shift in mindset when you go from not feeling like you have enough time in the day to knowing that you got done what mattered the most and that you won’t lose track of the things you didn’t get to.

With my clients I almost always suggest a week or so to be spent on tracking time. Owners and managers become more aware of where their time is being spent and can make better decisions to use it more effectively. 

For teams of people, we track time for many of the same reasons but also to ensure that position descriptions and priorities (GOALS) are supported by what is actually being worked on. For managers of teams, we ask how we can provide the proper leadership to enable individuals to contribute to the bigger picture. By evaluating where time is spent managers and leaders can pinpoint how to be more supportive and enable individuals to do their best work. 

 

Tips for more effectively managing your schedule:

Control Distractions: whether they are distractions we enjoy such as scrolling social media or those we do not like such as disruptive phone calls and emails, there are measures that help to control distractions.  Schedule email review at 11 am and 3 pm and disable notifications from taking you from focused work.  Allow for social media time with a limit so you are less likely to go down the rabbit hole for hours of the day.

Plan Your Day so it Doesn’t Plan You: If you know you have three big things to get done, schedule them into the most opportune times of the day and stick to the schedule.  Use time blocking and plan meetings with “yourself” so that others respect your schedule.  Block off time for things that you frequently run out of time to do – like your budget!

Chunk Your Time into Bigger Blocks: Schedule to do similar types of activities in blocks of 30-60 minutes so that you are focused.

Schedule Personal Items: Don’t forget to block off time for yourself and your personal goals.  If you know that you get too stressed if you miss a spin class it might be a bigger priority than you thought.  Many people get caught up in the “I’m the busiest person” game.  It’s not a contest and your success is should not be measured by how little free time you have.

Include Your Priorities: Use goal and priority setting techniques to make sure you are moving the dial in the areas that are most important to you.  I repeat this often: get the most important things done first.

Do What Works for You: if you always get sleepy after lunch plan to do something more active like filing or a walking meeting so that you don’t stare at a computer screen for an unproductive hour.  If your kids always call you after school to ask what’s in the fridge, schedule time every day to chat with them and find out how their day went so you don’t get interrupted during a meeting.  Schedule detailed work when you have the most focus and try to be active when you aren’t.  Productivity usually follows a daily pattern.  Taking a step back and recognizing what this pattern is allows you to take advantage of it.

Track Time Occasionally: If you aren’t tracking time for projects and clients already, once per year take a look at how your day is being spent.  How can you reorganize and structure it to be more efficient?

Seeing how much time I’m spending with certain clients makes me want to re-evaluate contracts and also helps me understand some of my bandwidth challenges more deeply.

Christy Lawrence

Small Business Sales Consultant, Time to Profit

Track time with these steps:

By spending as little as 15 minutes a day for one week you can figure out where you are wasting time and how you can better structure your day.

1.) Take a guess and list your top 10-time consuming activities before you do anything else.  These are things that you believe you spend most of your time doing.  They can be things that you choose to do or things that you must do for work or family.

2.)  Confirm your suspicions.  Spend one week tracking your time.  Track your personal and your professional time.  Your goal is to create a clear picture of all areas of your life.  I suggest doing both personal and professional because whether we like it or not they have an impact on each other.

  • It is most accurate to keep a running tab as your day progresses to keep from spacing out on what you really did between your morning meeting and lunch.  E.g. 9:00-10:00am emails, 10:00-10:15am answer questions from colleague, 10:15-10:30am phone conference with team lead.
  • Be as specific as possible for this first process.
  • Track down to at least 15-minute intervals.
  • If you spend less than five minutes on a task, make an effort to group it with something else within what you consider to be the same category. Try not to spend less than 30 minutes on an activity.  Avoid distractions and interruptions!
  • If you forget a day, don’t freak out!  Move on to the next and pick up where you left off.  You will want enough days to review for an accurate picture of your time expenditures.
  • If you are worried this will take too much time….remind yourself that you are investing in your quality of life!  If you let outside factors influence your schedule more than you plan to make things happen you are not winning whether it is within your personal or business world! Take 15 minutes per day to track activities.  You deserve it!
  • For every lost block of 15 minutes think clearly about whether you were procrastinating, doing busy work or engaging in a negative action like gossiping or complaining.
  • Once you have several days worth of activities think ahead to how you would group these together.  If cleaning the bathroom will be lumped with cleaning the kitchen and laundry perhaps you want to call that time block “household” or “cleaning”.  Establish how you want to group items ahead of time to save time on the next step.
  • If you have specific projects at work consider grouping them by client or project.
  • I like to use a spreadsheet and create equations to easily track clients and big chunks of time that are meaningful to my business like networking.  Inquire with me about it and I will happily share.

3.) Review your activity log and look for your top 10 activities.  Write these down. This step allows you to review and gain insight from your daily and weekly time consumption.  Look for patterns and draw conclusions on good uses of your time, bad uses of your time and places that you can save time by improving your efficiency of the task.

If you haven’t thought about your goals in a while this is the perfect time to revisit them.  It is easy to get caught up in the everyday tasks of adulting and forget all about achieving your goals.  Or to focus too much on work and too little on the family.  Think about what is important to you right now and what roles in your life are you prioritizing this quarter.  Maybe you want to be a better leader, a better friend, or a better salesperson.  Are your activities supporting these?

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4.) Now that your data has been collected, scrubbed, and organized you are ready to review and make some decisions.     

Did the activities that you tracked in your log match your initial suspicions?  This step is valuable to clearly define if your time is being consumed by things unintentionally.

5.) Create a plan for the future

Once you have determined the areas where you spend your time, how valuable each activity is to your long term and short term goals and make an active decision on what to do next, you need to begin putting a plan into practice.  

  • Are there any activities that you would like to (and have the ability to) remove from your schedule?  Some people find that it is easier to create a “not to-do list” than a “to-do list” especially when in a state of being overwhelmed.
  • Were there tasks that you started in one 15-minute interval but were continued and completed in broken time segments throughout the day?  Focus is often taken away by interruptions all day long.  This leads to wasted time trying to regain concentration and momentum.  [Want to geek out on the importance of focus and minimizing distractions?  Check out deep work and digital minimalism from my favorite blog writers at ProcessStreet. ]
  • Determine for each of these activities if it is an activity that is helping you to achieve your goals within your personal, professional and relationship categories.
  • Organize and plan your day into either 30 minute or 1 hr time blocks.
  • At the end of the week do a quick review by moving time blocks you didn’t complete to the next week’s schedule.   I like to spend 30 minutes at the end of my work week wrapping up my projects and ensuring that I don’t leave anything half done or without proper documentation to be able to pick up the next time. Help your future-self!  
  • Want some support?  Tell people around you what you are doing and how it’s helping you.  Or better yet, get a friend to go through the process with you!

For most people, doing this task once will bring insight and attention to areas that can easily and immediately be improved.  I equate it to calorie counting for those who get off-track on their diet.  Tracking calories everyday is not what most people want to do but every once in a while, it’s a good reminder that one IPA is 200-300 calories!

Time Tracking Resources

Get the free template for time tracking here.

Watch a video about how to best use the template.

Let's brainstorm!

Want help brainstorming?  Testing and measuring metrics is an area I particularly love to geek out on!  It is what saved the business I was at during the recession and has helped countless others to redirect time and attention to increase profitability. 

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