Do you know how you spend your time through the week? Do you really know? If I would ask you, could you tell me how much of your time you have spent on each of the different topics you care about?
Most people have a general guesstimate but don’t know for sure. Most people are also dead wrong with their guesses.
If you don’t track your time you cannot manage it.
“You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” – Peter Drucker
If you want to become more proactive and deliberate with how you spend your time and attention, you need to be intentional about it. You need to decide what your time should be spent on, measure how you actually spend time, and then take corrective action if those two measures don’t align.
Decide how you should spend your time. Track how you actually spend it. Adjust where needed. Rinse and repeat.
It’s actually fairly easy to be more intentional about our time:
1. Make a plan. The first step to more intentional time control is to decide how you should spend your time. What are the different categories that you care about, and what percentage of time should you spend on each? For example, some of my categories are ‘people management’, ‘planning’, ‘execution’, ‘hiring’, and so on.
2. Measure your actual time allocation. Once you have a plan, you need to gather data. Measure how you actually spend your time. You can do this in a dedicated time log or use categories in a calendar that you already use. It requires almost zero effort to categorize meetings that are already on your calendar. Same for times that you had already blocked to focus on your priorities. Now all you need to do is to fill in the time in between, for example when you caught up on email. I would guess for a typical knowledge worker 80% of your time is already on your calendar anyway. Take an inventory for everything, including the times when you procrastinate, otherwise your time log is useless.
3. Don’t stop at measuring. Block time for the things that are important for you. When you see that the times that are scheduled by others run out of boundaries, block some work time off before others block the time for you.
4. Check daily and adjust as you go. Do a quick visual check every day. Look more thoroughly back and forward once a week. Adjust as you need it. If you use color coding for your categories, it will be easy to get a good sense with just a quick glance.
5. Report out and hold yourself accountable. Once a month run a report. If you use Outlook all you need to do is to export your calendar into a CSV file and then copy the data into Excel. Below is a link to a template that you can use to run some reports and graphical analysis on your raw data. Track your time allocation over time. Are you trending in the right direction?
Time allocation TEMPLATE
6. Update your categories. Don’t be stuck with the categories you picked a while ago. Adjust what you track as your priorities change. Update your categories as you want to drive new and different behaviors. You should do this at least once a quarter. For example I recently added the category ‘deep work’ when I realized that I got drawn into too many tactical directions.
Here are some pointers that can help you find the right categories:
- Your job description
- What you need to improve and your growth opportunities
- What you are passionate about
- How your mentors or role models think about their time
Time management is actually fun! It takes only little energy if you align it with the tools you already use and it will teach you a lot about how you spend your days and energy.
The key is to pick categories that make sense for the outcomes that you want to achieve. Pick categories that will teach you interesting insights about your days and your subconscious preferences. My categories won’t work for you, you need to find your own!