Everyone has 24 hours in their day. So why do some people seem to get so much more accomplished than others? You may think you need to “burn the midnight oil” to get things done, but from a health perspective that’s an unsustainable plan that decreases your quality of life. A better and healthier way to boost productivity is to do intentional time tracking. Time tracking gives you the data to examine what you are spending your time on, it helps you create work-life balance, and it increases your productivity during the times you are actually working.
Time Tracking To Gather Data
Before you can implement any change, you first need to examine your baseline. For one week, write down the activities you are spending time doing, then time yourself to see how much time you are spending on those activities.
In this step, you are not setting timers or reminders to help you transition from one activity to the next, you are simply timing yourself to see if you have an accurate perception of how you spend your time. When you get up in the morning, set a stopwatch to see how long it takes you to get ready for the day. When you sit down at your desk to work, start a timer to see how long you work before becoming distracted by another task or co-worker. And when you start making your evening meal, time yourself to see how long it takes to get dinner on the table.
For example, Sally needs more sleep. She is not sure why she can’t seem to get to bed on time. Part of Sally’s evening routine is watching TV on her computer. She believes she spends about 30 minutes before bed watching TV. Sally decided to try time tracking to help her evaluate how she spends her time. On Friday evening, when she sat down with her computer, she set a timer to see how long she was actually spending watching TV. Sally was surprised to find out she spent a full 15 minutes on browsing and selecting a documentary she wanted to watch, and then another 45 minutes viewing the documentary. Sally was spending almost twice as much time watching TV as she thought!
Time Tracking To Create A Healthy Work-Life Balance
Once you have the data from your time tracking experiment, you can examine it. Some people like to use colored pencils or symbols to mark how much time they spent on tasks in different areas of their life.
During this process, you will want to choose your categories. Some people may separate activities into work, family, and friends. Whatever categories you choose, they should reflect your lifestyle. Exercise might be an entire category if you are trying to make exercising a larger part of your life. Too many categories will make things complicated, but three to six should be a manageable number. Once you’ve established your categories, on your tracking sheet color or mark the activities you tracked, so it is easy to visualize how much time is being spent in each area. If you would prefer a graph, then transfer the information and graph it. At this time you should also prioritize those categories and decide how much time you want to be spending on each one.
Rita knew she needed to start eating healthy, but cooking took more time than she felt she had. After tracking her time and looking at her categories, she realized she was spending an extra half-hour more at work every day than was necessary. She often stayed late to talk to friends in the parking lot or grab a coffee before going home. Rita realized her life balance was out of whack and that she needed to be spending that “work” time on her health instead. Rita started leaving work on time and going home. She then had plenty of time to cook a healthy meal and eat it by a reasonable hour.
Time Tracking To Increase Productivity
Once you have your categories balance, you can then increase productivity within each category. You may have to spend a certain number of hours at work every day. But at work, you can notice how much time you spent talking to coworkers, eating lunch, answering the phone, or working on a project. Within that block of work time, are you accomplishing everything that you can?
One method that people like to use when working, cleaning house, exercising, or doing other tasks, is called the Pomodoro Technique. The Pomodoro Technique “is a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s. The technique uses a timer to break down work into intervals, traditionally 25 minutes in length, separated by short breaks. These intervals are named pomodoros, the plural in English of the Italian word pomodoro (tomato), after the tomato-shaped kitchen timer that Cirillo used as a university student.”
The Pomodoro Technique helps you concentrate on your task for an ideal amount of time without becoming burned out. For example, if you sit down to write a newsletter, spend at least 25 minutes on the task before stopping to answer a text, go to the bathroom, speak to someone, or eat a snack. Then, once the time is up, take a short, five-minute break. Short breaks will keep you refreshed without allowing you to be distracted for too long. And scheduling breaks at certain intervals gives you the peace of mind to let things like texts wait, knowing you will still be able to check them in a reasonable amount of time.
Robert felt he could never get his projects finished at work. He did a time tracking exercise and gathered data on how he was spending his time. He was surprised to see how many times he was stopping to answer emails throughout the day. After checking, it would then take him another five minutes or so to get back on task and return to the project he was working on. Robert knew he had to check his emails, but his daily projects were more time sensitive. Robert decided to prioritize his work projects by only writing answers to non-urgent emails once in the morning and once in the afternoon. He also decided to use the Pomodoro Technique to balance work time with checking for urgent email requests. Robert gained at least an hour a day by decreasing the transition time back and forth from projects to emails.
If you want to increase your productivity, then start with time tracking today! Gather the data to examine your baseline, decide how much time to spend on different categories to optimize work-life balance, and then start using time tracking on individual tasks to increase productivity. ILA offers many time tracking devices, such as the Color and Sound Coded Timer, so that even those who have visual or hearing impairments can still stay on task and get the most out of their day.