If you want to spend your time better, you need to know how you’re spending it now. I’m a big fan of time logs; I use a spreadsheet, and there are plenty of time-tracking apps that can help you figure out where the time goes. You can tally up the categories and understand what the 168 hours we all have each week look like for you.
But once you’ve got that data, what should you do with it? How can you use it to make changes?
As with a food journal, some things may be obvious. A day where you eat nothing but French fries is problematic for weight-loss purposes. Likewise, if you spend four hours daily surfing the web, and then wonder why you can never get done with your work before 7 p.m., this suggests an answer.
But other things require a bit more digging. Here are the best three questions to ask when looking at where your time goes.
This is the life you’ve chosen to live, so presumably something’s working for you. What makes you smile? What strategies do you want to share because they’re just so amazing? I love that even during the busiest weeks, I make time to exercise. I like that my schedule affords me the flexibility to eat lunch with my kids. Celebrate what’s working for you, because knowing that some good stuff is happening makes even the busiest person feel in control of her life.
Before you start hunting down the little time wasters, focus instead on what would make life more enjoyable and meaningful to you and the people you care about. Make a good long list. What projects would you like to spend more time on at work? What about in your personal life? I’d like to spend more time getting together with friends; knowing that helps me look for opportunities to make it happen.
We all have our foibles. I spend too much time surfing the web under the guise of it being “research.” Look at your schedule and see what makes you embarrassed or unhappy. Is there a reason these tasks are there, or could you find a way to minimize them, or skip them completely? At what time of day are you most likely to lose control of your time? Plan ahead and block out that time for something better. Coffee with a colleague beats meaningless web surfing any day.