I was recently reviewing the classic book on management, The Effective Executive, by Peter Drucker, and once again I was reminded of one important practical aspect of becoming effective – tracking my time. Making some sort of audit once in awhile of how I spend my days and weeks, helps me have a better  understanding of where the time goes, in reality.

Doing this from time to time helps me have a fresh perspective about how the time is really spent and to see if enough time is being spent on the most important things.

For those of you taking the first steps on the path to effectiveness, doing an audit of your days will be among the first things you start with. It works the way it does in healthcare –  before you prescribe a solution, you need to do some diagnostics to understand what’s happening.

You may be surprised to learn that where your time really went today or last week was very different from where YOU THOUGHT it did.  I was 🙂

Last week I decided once again to track every day, to see what I was actually doing during the day. I was prompted to do this for two reasons: One, I was helping a colleague optimize her own busy schedule so I wanted to refresh my memory of this practical tool in order to help her use it; and two, to see how much time I was personally spending on two specific projects, where time spent is crucial.

My case – tracking time

This time I simply used a piece of paper and a pen. That’s all. Before, I have used Excel or Numbers. Many people also use time-tracking apps like Toggl, RescueTime, ATracker, etc. The tool you use doesn’t matter as much as the end result. Use what’s good for you.

So, I wrote down every activity and the time I spent on it. My goal was not 100% precision, but I probably had at least 90% accuracy. Things like coffee breaks and wasted time also went on the list.

Interesting things I observed:

  • some activities took more time than I planned due to the complexity of the issue
  • those activities I devoted large amounts of uninterrupted time to (1.5 to 2 hrs), were the most successful in terms of outcome and “being on time”
  • psychologically I became even more aware of my time and whether it was being spent on the most important activities
  • I noticed how much time was “stolen”, when otherwise I would not have noticed
  • one day was completely messed up 🙂 since I did not plan it well

Even though I’ve learned important principles of effectiveness over the years, and strive to apply them well, there is always room for improvement, and always will be. That’s life. I’m glad I can still learn new ways.

What you can do now

Ok, you have gotten your days documented and measured down to the minute. Now you even know how much time you spend in the WC or drinking coffee 🙂 What’s next?

I suggest you do “tracking” for at least 2 weeks to see the trends in your time spent, and then do three things with the information:

1. Evaluate what activities take most of your time now

  • Determine why you’re spending your time there
  • Do those activities help you move closer to your goals at work and in life?  or . . .
  • What needs to be changed?

2. Evaluate the things you planned, but did not accomplish on time, or did not have time for at all

  • Why did it happen?
  • Were these activities important?
  • What needs to be changed?

3. What do you need to be spending your time on during a normal day or week? What are your top priorities in life and at work?

Plan and move on

Plan your tomorrow and next week in light of your answers and see how it impacts your results and your sense of well being. For a solid evaluation, you may want to continue to track your time for several weeks, completing steps 1-2-3 at the end of the day or week.

You won’t have to write down your days all the time, although it helps develop a subconscious awareness of how you’re spending your time. As you do this, your natural awareness of time grows, and the question “Am I focusing on the most important and meaningful things right now?” will become part of your daily thinking, and who you are.

I would be interested to learn how tracking time has helped you.

Have a meaningful week! 🙂

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