I don’t know if it’s possible to say anything truly new about time management. The problem for me has always been figuring out what’ll work for me. There must be a zillion books out there on the subject, but who has time to read ’em?
After I got laid off from my day job and decided not to get another job, I thought I’d have all the time in the world. Think again! The To Do List expands to fill up all available time, and then some.
But here is something that I learned a long time ago: You can’t improve what you can’t measure. Or if you do improve it, you might not know it. And if you know it, you won’t know how MUCH you’ve improved it.
So this is something I started doing about a year and a half ago: I track my time.
When I walk into my office in the morning, I start a new time log for the day. I have a pad of paper and I tear off the sheet from yesterday and start with a clean sheet.
At the top, I write something that looks like this: “Time Log: M, 8/20/2007”.
Below that, I write the starting and stopping times for every major task throughout the day. By “major task” I mean things that take more than a couple of minutes. I don’t track my time spent eating (unless I’m doing something “productive” while eating, which I try not to do, because mealtimes should be fun times).
When I finish working on a task, I calculate how much time I spent on it. I do that all day and then record the total time spent on various tasks in my planner. (I don’t actually use my planner for planning. I use it for keeping track of where my time went.)
You may be asking what good it does to track your time? Well, how many times have you asked yourself where all your time went this week? If you track your time, then you know. And that will often suggest things you need to do more of. Or less of. It will also teach you how much work you can expect out of yourself. We all have limitations. When I see that I’ve been working 12 hours a day all week, I know that I’m working too hard and I’m going to soon get sick of it and start wasting time. I can’t and shouldn’t work 12 hours a day, week in and week out.
Looking at my time log for today, I see that I worked on two important projects for about the amount of time I had planned. I also got sideswiped by an emergency project that had to be done TODAY, right away. That took an unplanned hour and forty minutes, which is why I didn’t get everything on my list done today. Oh well, it had to be done. Crises happen.
I also see that I had a block of time mapped out for a fun project. I changed my mind when that time block came up and used the time to watch a movie instead. The movie was fun, but it was just different from what I had planned.
Despite the changes to my schedule, it was a good day. That raises an important question. What makes a “good day?” How do you measure whether it was “good” or not? And how do you make sure that most days are good days? I’ll talk about that tomorrow.
Carrie Neuman says
Time Management, my arch-rival. I’m to the point where I want to get a kitchen timer and set a limit for how long I can waste on the internet in the evening. Anyone else play Griddlers? Wonderful little box puzzles. I once gave myself carpal tunnel I was on there so long.
I think I’m having a good day if I get something done I needed to, something I wanted to, and I don’t feel the need to collapse on the couch and eat ice cream from the box afterwards.
About three months ago, I decided to start tracking my “derrière-in-the-chair” writing hours so I could see how much time I spent on each writing project or area of the writing process.
I set up a spreadsheet where I log my time when I start a writing related task and log out when I’m done. I type in a quick description, and then I break down the time by the project and/or the type of work I do (editing, research, first draft, et.) At a glance I can see my total monthly hours, how much time I’ve spent on a project, and what types of tasks I’ve focused on.
Though writing has always be a part-time endeavor for me, I sometimes feel like I spend too much time on it. Once I started keeping track of my hours, I discovered I didn’t spend as much time on it as I thought…a couple of months I could barely call myself a part-time writer based on my logged hours–certainly, no employer would.
So, I do think keeping some sort of log is helpful if you’re struggling with time management. It can help you be more realistic about how you truly spend your time.
Karla Akins says
When you have children with disabilities it is almost impossible to plan anything. So I really like this idea of tracking my time. It doesn’t seem to work for me at this season of my life to actually plan out my time specifically. I have to try to keep it open-ended and flexible. If I don’t, I become stressed and resentful.
As a creative person, I am a bit of a drama queen, and what I think is taking me “hours and hours” is probably only taking me minutes. For example, I hate unloading the dishwasher or switching the laundry. In my mind I’m thinking it takes “forever.” But really, those are only about five minute jobs!
Tracking time will really help me see the true picture and not what I have conjured up in my mind to overwhelm me. Thanks for the tip and reminder, Randy!
ML Eqatin says
I can second the time-tracking effort, but with the comment that like anything, you only have to do it for so long before you have your patterns down. Then it only needs updates when things change. That’s what made me drop our wilderness-packing business: time tracking. I tracked one trip I did for Boy Scouts, and the set-up and knock-down time meant that I would have made more at minimum wage. Now, I love taking people in the wilderness, I’d do that for nothing. But I HATE set-up and knock-down, I’d have to be starving to do that for regular employment.
As long as I am writing what I like, I’ll do that for nothing. Writing advertising copy? You’d have to pay me a lot. Writing grant letters: free if I believe in the non-profit. But for others (as I was once asked to do)? I’d rather have a root canal.
It sure helps to know how much time you are spending at what when you figure out what has to go.
Monday, August 20:
8:00 a.m.–began organizing time-management spreadsheet and log.
5:00 p.m.–finished setting up time-management spreadsheet.
Sorry, I couldn’t resist.
This IS a great idea, Randy. Though I’m a bit scared to find out what’s eating all of my time. Funny (actually it’s not funny, it’s a God thing), but I had already planned today to make out my schedule on my calendar of what I HAVE to do each day and what time I have for filler like writing and fun.
You’ve motivated me to quit procrastinating this morning and do it. *gulp*
Peg Phifer says
This is timely (Ha!) for me. I’m a big-time procrastinator/time-waster. In fact, sometimes I hate that word “time”. I like the idea of tracking what I do during each day. The problem there is – I’m a multi-tasker. I quite often have more than one thing going at a time. Sometimes one, or the other, doesn’t get done that day. To start a log of when I start and stop a project sounds great, and I tried it a while back, but I forgot to go back and write in when I ended something. Too frustrating.
When I was in the working world, I took a course on time-management. When all was said and done, the analyist said my problem was that I allowed the Urgent to overshadow the Important. I tend to give the Urgent all my attention, resulting in the Important slipping down the list. Yes, the Urgent must be dealt with, but when it’s tended to, I need to immediately get back to the Important. And quite often I don’t. Which means one of those Important items has now become Urgent.
Does that make any sense? Maybe it is too early for me to be trying to explain myself. I’m not a morning person, but insomnia makes for weird hours.
Okay, I’m done.
Story Hack (Bryce Beattie) says
Anybody really interested in hardcore time management should rush out and get a copy of David Allen’s “Getting Things Done.”
It’s different than most productivity systems in that you do not start by prioritizing the things you need to do. You start by deciding where they can be done. At the office, on the phone, at the computer, while you’re running errands. If you’re at work, it doesn’t matter that giving the cat a bath is a high priority item. You can’t do anything about it there, so there’s no reason to think about it.
Anyway, if you google for GTD, you’ll find all sorts of great info about it.
There are also a number of free software programs that help you follow the methodology. My favorite is called thinking rock, and can be found at www.thinkingrock.com.au
When I write I feel guilty that I’m not doing other things. When I’m doing the other things I feel guilty that I’m not writing. Perhaps keeping a log will help, since I’ll see the amount of time invested in each activity, and either adjust or be able to justify what I’m doing. Methinks Sodoku will be curtailed.
Randy, what a great idea!
My “baby” started kindergarten yesterday so I now have a little less than 3 uninterrupted hours to work in the morning. After that I know that I’ll be working around a chatty 5-year-old. I’m having to rework my routine a bit. For now I’m starting with using those kidless hours to finish tasks and projects that I can’t do (or do as well) with distractions.
Yikes! Linda, you hit a nerve with your “Sodoku” comment. Curtailing is not enough for me. That game holds me like a spell, and I wasted a lot of time on it earlier this year. My only true recourse is to abstain all together. It’s as bad as playing Solitare or other card games on my computer. I seem to HAVE to play one more game.
For those of you who mentioned time tracking, I can recommend a really nice online resource for that. It’s designed for freelancers to track their billable hours, but there’s no reason that you couldn’t use it for anything. And it’s FREE! http://toggl.com/
I empathize with the Sodoku and Solitaire players. I could easily spend all of my free computer time on them. Forums are another huge time black hole for me. I get to the point where I have to restrict myself from visiting them, because I always want to jump in, and the writer in me just doesn’t let me dash of a quick reply, but read over and edit it several times before I can post it.
Organizing for the Creative Person by Lehmkuhl and Lamping a Crown Trade Paperback, is the best book I have found on getting organized. I discovered that I am a visual organizer. I need stuff where I can see it and have quick access to it. I don’t have a filing cabinet. I have a file stand on my desk and 4 open file boxes in the bookshelves behind. This helps me to file stuff easily. Same goes for guarentees, they are filed in a folder with plastic sleeves.
But, like I said before – getting organized for me is a creative process – stay9ing organized is a drag. This book says devote 5 minutes/hour to filing.
I too use the kitchen timer. On a good day…. I will work on my writing for 45 minutes, do housework/house related phone calls for 15 and file/clear my desk for 5. It sounds anal, and I suppose it is, but it works for me… on a good day. 🙂
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It scares me a bit to think of tracking all my time. I know I waste a lot of time and am trying to get organized, though it’s been slow going so far, especially with my work/sleep schedule. I hate to take stock into how much time isn’t being productive but it’s something I’ll have to get into the habit of. Hopefully it’ll get a little easier now that the kids are back in school.
Carly Brown says
I have so many projects working that my desk was looking like one of the hurricaines hit it. Before this blog I had made the decision to organize myself. I have a 3 drawer organizer in my closet and I am using each drawer to hold elements of the projects that I am working on, and then when I am done with the first project I have a place to put it and with ease get out the other one that I plan on working on. I am rather proud of myself working that out all by myself. (HA) Now the idea of keeping track of the time that I use on each project is a great idea, because it is hard to plan before I really know just how much time it will take to do what I feel needs to be done. So thank you Randy for the information, and to the rest of you I value your input.
Oh, look at that! Somehow I posted without realizing it.
This is a great idea — until I try to write mini-essays about what I did/what I’m going to do with my time in the itty bitty spaces in my planner. I also keep putting the planner down and have to go on a search.
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