Tracking your time, even if just for a few days, can make you aware of whether you’re spending time on what’s actually important to you.
Time tracking sounds like a hassle, but it takes less time and attention than you might think. Plus, doing so lets you discover how many hours you really work, gain perspective on the time stories you tell yourself, makes your time feel richer, and may end up being the push you need to change how you spend your time.
Awareness of your time is the first step to managing your time.
To improve time management, you need to be aware of exactly how you’re spending your minutes hours of the day. Even though we all have the same amount of time, we use time differently.
Maybe you’re thinking you need to get more done or that you don’t have enough time for everything. But when you become aware that you’re spending an hour a day scrolling and swiping, you can start making adjustments to how you spend your time each day.
Take the 3-day time tracking challenge.
Tracking your time is a simple practice. Every half-hour, make a note to yourself in your Informant about what you did the half an hour before that.
You don’t necessarily have to account for everything—but it’s only for 3 days, and you’ll want to determine if you’re spending your time intentionally, in ways that are important to you.
What’s more, tracking your time takes less time and attention than you might think. It only takes a few seconds to jot down what you worked on during each half-hour chunk of time, and once you settle into the practice, you can update your time tracking sheet every hour or two, recalling what you just did.
We’ll show you why, how, and where to track your time in just a moment, but first, let’s cover some ground rules.
The 4 rules of time tracking.
Be Consistent: Promise yourself every day, every hour, for three days. If needed, set an alarm to remind you every hour.
Be Honest: If you procrastinate a task, jot that down. (No judgement here. I went and played with my dog before I even finished this sentence!)
Make it fun: Add emojis and different colors to your tracking to match your style and make it something you want to do each day.
No Shame: Be nice to yourself. The fact that you’re tracking time shows that you’re taking personal responsibility for how you use your time.
Why You Should Be Time Tracking.
You see how many hours you really work. We tend to overestimate how many hours we work by a significant margin. A time log lets you see immediately how many hours you truly spend doing productive work and how much time is used up by interruptions and distractions.
You gain some perspective about the time stories you tell yourself. We tell ourselves things such as that we have no free time, that we spend very little time with our family, and that we work far too many hours. Tracking your time lets you verify if these stories are true.
You discover what your priorities actually are. It’s one thing to believe that something is important to you; it’s another to invest time in what you consider to be important. Keeping a time log lets you see how many hours you’re spending on things you deeply value, and how many hours you spend on tasks that are convenient and easy to do.
Time feels richer. Much like how keeping a food log leads you to eat less, keeping a time log lets you bring greater awareness to how you’re spending your time. In practice, this feels great: meaningful activities like spending time with family feel more meaningful, because you’re able to reflect on their value to you. You feel more productive working on important tasks at work because you notice how much time you spend on them.
Time tracking can lead to real change. Noticing that you spend 10 hours each week commuting may lead you to work from home more often or find a job closer to you. Noticing that you spend just a few hours a week with friends may lead you to reach out to them more often. Noticing that you have more leisure time than you think you do may lead you to spend your leisure hours more productively.
How and where to start.
It might help if you had a reminder, like an alarm on your phone or watch that sounds every hour and half hour. It’s ideal if you can track your time twice an hour—at the top of the hour, and then again at the 30-minute mark. But that’s up to you.
After 3 days, it’s time to evaluate and make adjustments.
Without becoming aware of how you currently spend your time, it’s hard to reflect on whether you’re acting in ways that match up with what your values and highest-impact tasks are. Tracking time is a great way to find your starting point, your base level. If your base level is ultra procrastination, this will help you see where you need the most work. Or maybe you’ll find that you don’t give yourself enough free time during the day to relax.
- What do you like about how you spent your time? Make sure you celebrate your wins, and the things you’re doing right already, instead of just picking apart all of the ways that you could do better.
- What do you want to do more of?
- What do you want to do less of?
When you can look back at your calendar and see a full, productive day, you’ll feel an immense pride and that you truly earned your relaxation and sleep. Time tracking will not only change how you spend your minutes and hours—but how you look at your life. Make sure you’re spending time on the things that really matter. Time tracking will change your life.