5 Ingenious Ways Time Tracking Can Skyrocket Your Productivity
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“Time waits for no man.”
“Time is money.”
We know all about the importance of time, and we’re all familiar with its fleeting nature. We’re also quick to bemoan the shortage of it in our everyday lives: 61% of working Americans report insufficient time to do what they want.
There’s even a psychological term for this phenomenon: “time poverty.” It goes hand in hand with the notion that if we’re not busy, we’re wasting our time.
But here’s the ironic part:
The result of this constant pressure is usually burnout, which costs you sleep, productivity, and more.
And it’s especially stressful for women: Worldwide, the brunt of housework and chores consume most of what extra time would be available to the female population. It’s a struggle to which anyone juggling work demands, carpool duty, hobbies, and her own personal needs can relate.
Most days, those 24 hours can feel as limiting as they do packed. Luckily, these five simple tweaks and organization hacks will help you rearrange your daily structure to optimize the time you do have:
1) Audit your time
According to productivity guru Laura Vanderkam, logging your time in 15-minute increments is the surest way to objectively understand how you spend your day.
She compares it to budgeting or dieting – if you want to save money or lose weight, your best bet is to actively log what you’re spending or eating. The same logic applies to learning how to effectively structure your time.
To get started, use any of these time-tracking spreadsheets that Vanderkam developed and herself uses. Or log your hours with an online tool. Hours is one time-tracking service and iOS app, and its 30-day trial is the perfect opportunity to see how you’re spending 730 hours of your life. Forbes has a fantastic roundup of time-tracking tools that cater to business-specific goals, too.
When you’ve tracked your hours for one week, break down your logged activity into categories and assess whether you you use your time strategically. You might find you need to change your schedule to focus more on goals, or what matters most to you.
2) Speaking of what matters to you…
In Escaping the Time-Scarcity Trap, marketer Janet Choi advises clarifying your priorities out loud.
Doing so can give you the due motivation and foresight to give priority to “good” tasks (such as long-term business strategy, or your physical and mental health) over menial “urgent” tasks (such as emails or phone calls, tasks on which you can work more efficiently by batching your time).
And remember, busyness is not the same as progress. Zeroing in on addressing what’s important to your life and business is infinitely more effective than spreading yourself thin with a zillion different tasks.
3) Look to the week ahead
Anna Runyan of Classy Career Girl uses her Sunday evenings to get a head start on the upcoming week. She takes just 15 minutes to plan out her upcoming workweek, and schedules everything into a master calendar to make sure items are addressed as need be.
Need more motivation to use a master calendar?
Make it the focal point of your kitchen’s command center. Here are 15 command center ideas you can build at home, courtesy of One Crazy House.
You can take Runyan’s week-planning method one step further by cementing some extra logistics. Studies have shown that people who decide when and where they’ll be getting a task done are far likelier to actually complete it.
And you’ve probably heard this before, but it’s worth repeating:
Do your most-dreaded tasks first thing in the morning. This will make the rest of the day much easier.
4) When it doubt, try these small tweaks
Analyzing and reconstructing your schedule can be something of an intimidating task. A few simple swaps can help you ease into it.
If you value time to yourself, whether it’s for downtime or tackling long-term issues, take a page from Princeton psychologist and scarcity researcher Eldar Shafir’s book, Scarcity: The New Science of Having Less and How It Defines Our Lives. Shafir schedules blocks of time on his personal calendar with himself. Doing so on especially busy days will help you tune out the external noise, and focus on your most pressing priorities.
Or apply a time constraint on to-dos that you can’t seem to improve, despite your best time-tracking efforts. Jordan Bates of The Creativity Post suggests imposing a specific time limit per task, so you’re productively pressured to stay focused (even if you end up having to come back later to finish the task).
And above anything, honor your productivity cycle. The average brain needs to rest and reboot every 90 minutes for maximum efficiency. Also remember that as humans, we’re not exactly wired to multitask. – switching gears actually slows you down.
5) Make literal space for your time
It’s estimated that we spend 2.5 days a year looking for lost items.
Imagine what you could do if you had over two entire days each year to spend productively, rather than digging through your purse for your keys or wading through your children’s closet for that missing sock.
You might find freedom from clutter (here’s how it decreases your productivity) by putting out-of-season gear into storage. Or perhaps enlisting the help of a professional organizer will enlighten you on what you do and don’t need.
Either way, by clearing up your extraneous belongings, you’re granting yourself the gift of extra time.
What you choose to do with all that time is up to you.