How I Learned To Get The Most Out Of Every Week's 168 Hours

Would you rather flip through a Pottery Barn catalog or train for and run a half-marathon? The secret to time management is all about priorities.

I’ve always loved the phrase "the truth will set you free."

While I’ll admit that objectivity is hard to achieve, when you face reality as head on as possible, you can make better decisions than if you buy into various stories that people tell you, or that you tell yourself.

At least that’s what I discovered when I started writing about time management a few years ago. The first thing I did was keep an honest accounting of a week (168 hours) of my time. As if I were a dieter logging every morsel, I wrote down every activity: every email check, every work distraction, every unnecessary errand. I used a notebook for this, though some time trackers use spreadsheets or apps such as aTimeLogger and TimeTracker.

When I looked over the log, I saw a lot of activity, of course, but I also saw surprising amounts of space. Turns out 168 is a lot of hours. I worked a lower proportion of those hours than I thought. I slept more than I thought, despite the very active toddler I had at the time.

There were hours that disappeared into puttering and web surfing and flipping through magazines I’d already flipped through before. Sometimes I wasn’t even flipping through something as exciting as a magazine. I was flipping through the Pottery Barn catalog when I definitely did not need a sofa.

When I saw that, I realized that if there was anything important I wasn’t doing, it probably wasn’t because I didn’t have time.

It was because it wasn’t a priority.

While that was a jarring realization, ultimately, it was a liberating one as well. I did have time to read the novels I was putting off. I just had to stop reading all those catalogs and swear off political websites. I had time to train for and run a half-marathon if I took my first phone calls a little later one morning per week. I had time for adventures with my kids while logging full-time work hours, too.

When people think about time management, they often think about ways to save a few minutes here and there. Indeed, that’s a question I’m often asked in interviews. How can our readers find 15 extra minutes in their days?

I answer that if they keep track of exactly how they’re spending their time, 15 minutes will seem like nothing. They’ll likely find hours in their weeks—hours lost to activities that aren’t meaningful or enjoyable in any sense. Over the years since I tried tracking my time, I’ve seen hundreds of time logs from people from all walks of life. Everyone has time that could be repurposed. Hours pass whether or not we are aware of where they go. Best to figure out where they go, so time—the ultimate limited resource—can be allocated to what matters, rather than what doesn’t.

Do you keep track of your time? If so, what's your best trick for doing it?

[Image: Flickr user Ant & Carrie Coleman]

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