5 Ways Time Tracking Can Skyrocket Productivity



Today’s post is written by MakeSpace, a full-service New York storage company that also serves Washington, DC, Chicago, and Los Angeles. They pick up, store, and deliver your stuff back so you never have to rent a truck or visit a self-storage unit.

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.

61% of working Americans report insufficient time to do what they want. Click To Tweet

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.

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Janet Schiesl

Janet has been organizing since 2005. She is a Certified Professional Organizer and the owner of Basic Organization. She loves using her background as a space planner to challenge her clients to look at their space differently. She leads the team in large projects and works one-on-one with clients to help the process move quickly and comfortably. Call her crazy, but she loves to work with paper, to purge what is not needed and to create filing systems that work for each individual client. Janet is a Past President of the Washington DC Chapter of the National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) and was voted 2016 Organizer of the Year by the Washington DC Chapter of NAPO.


  1. Janet Barclay on May 25, 2020 at 6:26 am

    I started using Toggl a few months ago to keep track of where I am spending my time. So far I’ve only looked at it to see how much I need to bill a client – I’m afraid to see how much time I’m spending on email and other tasks!

    • Janet Schiesl on May 25, 2020 at 1:47 pm

      I agree Janet. When apple started reporting to me how much time I spent on my phone it was scary! But the information has caused me to use my phone less, I think.

  2. Seana Turner on May 25, 2020 at 10:13 am

    Wow, I love all of these tips. This is great advice!! I was just talking with a client who was looking ahead to commitments for next year. She had been invited to take on a part-time teaching role, which would alleviate financial pressure. However, her schedule was very full before the additional job. I said it was important to prioritize her needs, and to remember the value of “white space” in her day. If we program ourselves to be productive every single minute, we set ourselves up for failure. Unexpected things always arise: illness, flat tires, technical problems, power outages, traffic, broken appliances, etc. It is important to try and keep some white space in the day or at least the week so we can flex and deal when these things happen. When we have no margin for error, we are likely to find ourselves feeling stressed and unproductive. Terrific post!

  3. Anna on May 25, 2020 at 1:44 pm

    These are great tips! Thanks for sharing

  4. Janet Schiesl on May 25, 2020 at 1:51 pm

    Yes, completely stressed. I try to have down time every afternoon. I usually read (business or pleasure) during this time. To me, it’s relaxing. And you are right. Lots of days I don’t get the time because I haven’t finished something else or I got stuck in traffic, whatever, but it’s good to have that cushion in my day.

  5. Ronni Eisenberg on May 25, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    I’ve always found that tracking time is such an eye-opener. When clients come to me with time management issues, explaining they don’t know where their time goes, this is one sure way to find out.
    I didn’t know that the brain needs relief/rest every 90 minutes to reboot. That makes so much sense.

    Thank you for sharing important information.

  6. Janet Schiesl on May 26, 2020 at 7:01 am

    Thanks Ronni. I think time tracking is the best place to start when working on your time management. I have done that with clients as well.

  7. Lucy Kelly on May 26, 2020 at 1:37 pm

    Time tracking is key – I’ve learned to set the timer for pretty much everything I do. And if it’s set for a while, I leave a sticky note by it telling me why it’s ringing. LOL.

    • Janet Schiesl on May 26, 2020 at 3:53 pm

      Great idea Lucy. I’m glad a timer works for you.

  8. Linda Samuels on May 26, 2020 at 7:34 pm

    “Busyness is not the same as progress.” I’ve experienced this when. There have been days where I felt like I was busy doing things (lots of stuff) yet didn’t feel the sense of satisfaction or progress. It’s not the norm for me, but it has happened. I know others have experienced that too.

    • Janet Schiesl on May 27, 2020 at 6:25 am

      Yes Linda. I have experienced this too. Keeping busy with very unimportant things.

  9. Amy Slenker-Smith on May 30, 2020 at 9:19 am

    I love the Sunday night planning session. it doesn’t take long and doesn’t interfere with my weekend. And it allows me to hit the ground running on Monday morning with a plan. I can tackle, eat the frog items first thing too. Sunday night is the perfect time because my husband and son are typically at church or online for youth group. I plan my master calendar and do my meal plan to coincide with our busy nights vs easy nights. And map out when I’ll cook or bake extra things because I like to do as much as possible from scratch. I batch cook to save time throughout the week. I also shop my pantry and fridge before writing the meal plan and grocery list. This limits our purchases and reduces waste because we eat things before they go bad or expire.

    • Janet Schiesl on May 30, 2020 at 10:32 am

      I do my business planning on Sunday’s as well and it certain helps my mindset to be prepared for the coming week. I used to plan my cooking and shopping list on Friday or Saturday and my husband did the shopping on Sunday. We save so much time and money planning ahead. More extra trips to the store. We’ve relaxed that system since our kids are grown and we cook less or more simply now.

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