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.