If, like me, you look around after the dust settles at the beginning of a new semester, and wonder now how am I going to find time for X? this tip is for you. It’s an exercise I repeat at least once a year, sometimes more frequently depending on what changes have been taking place in my work, in my life, or in my goals.
Despite our conventional usage of the words, there’s really no such thing as time management — only decision management. You can change your decisions about how to use your time. But in order to do that effectively, you first have to know how you are currently using your time. Who hasn’t dreamt up an incredibly ambitious writing schedule or exercise routine only to discover that it doesn’t have any anchor in reality?
So, for this week, if you’d like to play along with me, I recommend two steps.
(1) Track how you spend your time for a week
For one full week (weekdays and weekend), keep track of how you spend your time. You can be as loose or as precise about this as you wish, although stopping throughout the day to make a couple of notes helps avoid your memory creatively filling in for the hours you don’t remember. At the very least, you should fill in your notes at the end of each day.
- Depending on your current setup, you might be able to make notes about actual time spent in the same calendar system in which you record intentions about spending your time. But many people find it easier to keep the two separate.
- On paper: creating a simple table in your word processor or spreadsheet package will quickly let you track each day in 1/2 hour or 1 hour increments. Some word processors come with built in templates that will create this for you. Douglas Johnston’s DIY planner kits (printable on a variety of page sizes) include several time tracking forms. Or you can just make notes in a notebook.
- At the computer: you can track your time in a variety of ways, from extremely simple to very complex (if, for instance, you do work on projects billable to different grants and need to track your time very precisely). Some options include: TimeEdition (open source, Windows and Mac); TimePanic (Windows software), Harvest (online service); 14Dayz (online service); MyHours (online service); and Slife (online service). Several of these also have phone/PDA options. And your particular mobile device probably has time tracking software available for it as well.
- You may discover that the act of recording your activities brings you more awareness of them, and possibly different decisions about them. Just as keeping a food journal has been shown to positively influence healthy choices, keeping track of your time tends to reinforce positive choices. But don’t get so wrapped up in finding a full bells and whistles tracking system that you don’t actually do anything else…
(2) Think about the areas of your life that matter to you
Think about which big categories seem important to you as a component of the life you’d like to have. These are areas in which you have (or would like to have) priorities and goals. For example, you might consider such general categories as: Work, Health, Relationships, Family, Finances, Knowledge, Home, Spirituality, Fun, or Self-Care. You might have other categories that seem better suited to your life. Take some time this week to brainstorm or journal about what you would like your priorities to be in these areas.
Next week, I’ll talk about what to do with the results of this week’s time tracking exercise.
For fuller discussion about creating priorities for your life and tracking your time, I recommend Cheryl Richardson, Take Time for Your Life and Julie Morgenstern, Time Management From the Inside Out.
Are you surprised by what you see as your track your time? Do you have another favorite method for time tracking? Let us know in the comments!
(Image by flickr user mandiberg /CC-licensed)