When it comes to getting stuff done, many of us have go-to time management tools, such as time blocking, Pomodoro timers, or tried-and-true to-do lists. While these traditional methods can help you focus on your priorities, there’s a step you should be taking beforehand, says Raj Narayanaswamy, cofounder and co-CEO of the project and time management software platform Replicon.
Instead of creating a list of priorities and then scheduling them into your week, Narayanaswamy suggests reversing the process to maximize how much time you have to spend.
“Just like a Fitbit measures your movement and shows you where you are so you can make improvements, you need to perform a quantified self-measurement of time,” he says.
Measuring is the most important step and the biggest hurdle, says Narayanaswamy. It can be as simple as jotting down tasks on a piece of paper, in a spreadsheet, or with a time-tracking tool like Toggl or Hours. You can also use apps such as Replicon or Hubstaff that include GPS and AI to record information automatically. Whichever method you choose, it should be something you will use.
Once you track your time for a week, you create “time intelligence” that provides you with a starting point. “Next comes learning, and then, hopefully, improvement,” says Narayanaswamy. “You can better understand how to use time in the future when it’s quantified.”
What To Look For
Just as tracking eating, exercise, and sleep can give an athlete or dieter a snapshot of their progress and challenges for maximizing health, time reports will reveal areas to modify and improve for better productivity. Look for activities that consume a lot of time with little payoff.
After tracking his own activities for six months, for example, Narayanaswamy realized he was spending 25% of his workday driving. That much driving time was more than what he thought it should be, so Narayanaswamy consulted Google maps to find faster routes. He regained 5% of his day by looking at his driving patterns, and testing alternate routes and drive times. In addition, he started using an Uber or taxi when traveling to take advantage of that time.
“Minor adjustments allow me to optimize the time I have,” says Narayanaswamy. “Spending time with my daughter is more valuable than spending time at stoplights or in traffic.”
Narayanaswamy looks for ways to make improvements with how he uses his time by measuring minutes against his five Fs: finance, family, fitness, friends, and faith. Once he understands how he’s spending time in each category, he decides if he needs to make adjustments. “For example, I was spending a lot of time with friends, so I cut that back to increase time with family,” he says. “The concept is broader than time management; it’s a measure, learn, and improve cycle.”
Time Tracking For Companies
While tracking time as a basis for your own time management can help you become more productive, Narayanaswamy says companies should better track the time of their employees. “A company with 1,000 employees has 2 million working hours every year at its disposal,” he says. “Do they know where it’s going?”
Quantifying and measuring how employees spend their time can identify areas for maximizing productivity as an organization. Encourage individual improvement by having employees keep track of their time, and it’s as simple as starting with a blank sheet of paper, says Narayanaswamy.
AI and GPS-based apps automatically track employees, giving managers more insight, but is it Big Brother? “Google and Facebook already know more about you than you realize, and privacy is a big concern,” says Narayanaswamy. “Time intelligence will happen whether we do it or not. Information exists in the digital world and IoT devices can easily put together a time map of what you did, as a group or as an enterprise. For time-harvesting technology, the user needs to be in the middle of everything.”
Time tracking can reveal team efficiency as well as productivity on specific projects or tasks. Tracking can also identify areas where efforts are duplicated or where productivity jams occur.
It’s helpful to share company or project goals, and then connect how everyone participates in the achievement of the goals through the best use of their time. “Have a target in mind,” he says. “Whether it’s personal or business, it helps to measure time against high-level goals. Everybody–from Bill Gates to Donald Trump and everybody in between–gets the same 24 hours in a day. How you utilize and choose to spend those 24 hours decides what impact you have.”