How to Use A Time Tracker to Boost Your Productivity
I am so excited to have Emily from Small Stuff Counts to share her productivity boosting secrets with you. I discovered her blog just a few weeks ago and as soon as I landed on it, I was hooked! She loves organizing, productivity, and she also has the cutest craft studio! When I saw the before picture of the unfinished basement space that she turned into her studio, I could hardly believe it!
Hello! My name is Emily Counts and I like to describe myself as a cheerleader for all things creative. I enjoy teaching others how to fuel their creativity, decorate their homes and organize their lives over on my blog, The Small Stuff Counts. And I'm also the creator of a free course, CrushYour Week, that helps participants maximize their time and live life on purpose. I am thrilled that Laura invited me to chat today!
Since we all read Laura's blog, I'll assume we share a common love for organization and planning, or a desire to improve in those areas. I could nerd out about organizing all day long! I have a knack for developing systems that keep things organized for the long run, and friends often turn to me for advice and tips on creating schedules, establishing routines and managing calendars. The good news is that I truly believe anyone can be more organized and intentional with their time.
Would you love to have a more organized schedule? One that allows you to take strides toward those big goals in life? We tend to fall into the trap of going with the flow, constantly reacting to the world around us instead of intentionally planning our days. Do you know the feeling?
After years of juggling a multitude of responsibilities in both my personal and professional life, I've developed a simple system for keeping my calendar organized week after week. And I thought we'd spend today diving into one of the most crucial (but often overlooked) steps to take when organizing your time and designing your ideal week: getting a clear picture of how you currently spend your time.
Where is your time going?
When organizing your time, the first step is understanding how you're currently using it. Before you jump ahead to planning out a new schedule and routine, it's important to step back and assess how you currently spend your time.
The best way to find out how you are actually using your time (versus how you think you're using it) is to document your days using a time tracker. Time tracking, also called a time journal or time diary, is a way to document how you spend your time during a series of days. Activities are recorded as they happen and later analyzed for trends. It's a great way to audit where your time is being spent.
About once a quarter or so, I track my time for five to seven consecutive days and analyze the results afterward. This exercise is super helpful in assessing my current routine. It helps me see what things are working really well and pinpoint things that are getting in the way of my productivity. This exercise is also a fabulous reality check. For example, I always seem to overestimate the amount of time I spend working out each week. When I add up the fitness activities in my time tracker, it's usually much less than I thought. It's human nature to lose track of precisely how much time we spend on certain things, so tracking time is a great way to check in and see how you are really doing.
How To Use A Time Tracker To Increase Your Productivity
Now, let's get to the good stuff and walk through how to actually go about tracking your time. Simply put, your goal is to record the amount of time you spend on each activity in your day. You'll be updating a log throughout the day as you switch between tasks.
1 | Choose A Time Tracking System
A time log can be jotted down in a simple notebook, entered in a spreadsheet or recorded using a mobile app or website. It's up to you what tool you use to track your time.
If you prefer digital tools, I often use Toggl.com. It is a free website and app that has a built-in timer so you can time your activities as you complete them, which works great if you spend much of your day at a computer. It generates color-coded charts that give you a great picture of how much time was devoted to various projects. In addition to Toggl, there are plenty of other digital tools out there that you could try.
If the idea of learning another tool stresses you out, don't worry. I actually find it easiest to track my time on paper, so don't try to over-complicate this exercise. You can record your time in a notebook, or you could set up a spreadsheet with 15-minute increments and print out a copy to fill in each day. Here's an example of a very basic time tracker I did recently:
If you want a template to help you track your time, you can get access to both a printable and digital time tracker template by enrolling in my free five-day CrushYour Weekcourse.
2 | Log Your Time For 5-7 Days
I recommend documenting your time for 5-7 days so you can get a true picture of where your time goes during the week, because tracking it for a single day just isn't enough data to be able to notice trends. Look at your calendar and choose a series of days that you are going to track your time.
Make sure you fill in your time tracker as you do each task during your day. It may sound daunting at first, but you'll quickly get into the habit of adding to it as you switch between activities. It won't do you any good to get to the end of the day and then try to remember what you did at 7:15 that morning, so do your best to keep your time tracker handy and fill it in as you go about the day.
3 | Review Results & Look For Trends
Once you've tracked your time for 5-7 days, set aside 30 minutes to analyze the results. This part is always intriguing to me. It's human nature to misjudge how much time we spend on things, and there's often a large gap between perception and reality. Take an honest look at where your time went.
Your goal here is to look for trends, spot things that are working really well and find distractions that are getting in the way. Add up how much time you spent on various tasks during the course of your time study and look for patterns. Here are some questions to ask yourself as you assess your time diary:
How much time did I spend on my largest priorities/goals? Is this enough?
Am I spending time on the most important things in my life?
Do I have goals for this year that I didn't spend any time working on this week?
How much of my day was busyness versus disciplined, purposeful use of time?
What distractions took up the most time?
How much time am I spending on work versus personal tasks? Is this what I expected?
What times of day was I most productive?
Did my bedtime affect how productive I was in the morning?
4 | Make Adjustments & Design Your Ideal Week
When it comes to time, there's definitely a difference between perception and reality for me, and I'm always surprised at the results. How about you? Understanding where your time is going and how much time various tasks require are key pieces of information you can use to take control of your schedule and make adjustments that will have a big impact on your productivity.
I use observations from this time tracker exercise to adjust my routine and set myself up for a productive week. Being aware of what distracts me, knowing what time of day I'm most productive and understanding how long I need to spend on tasks helps me create a realistic weekly schedule.
I hope today's tips help you understand where all of your time is going. Select a few upcoming days to track your time, and use the results to assess the current state of your schedule and modify it as needed.
If you are interested in learning more about the system I use to design a productive and purposeful week, I invite you to join me for my free CrushYour Week course. By the end of this free five-day training, you will have a weekly schedule that makes time for all of your responsibilities and big priorities. Designing your week will give you peace of mind that nothing is falling through the cracks and that you're making progress toward your biggest goals. Course participants receive both digital and printable time tracker templates, which are helpful for completing the time tracking exercise.
Are you ready to stop reacting to the world around you and start dominating your days? Let's all work to live life on purpose and make each minute count.
Have you used a time tracker before? Are you going to give it a try? Let me know in the comments below!
Emily Counts is the blogger behind The Small Stuff Counts, where she teaches her readers how to fuel their creativity, decorate their homes and organize their lives. She is the creator of the free Crush Your Week course that helps participants maximize their time and live life on purpose. Emily lives in central Iowa with her husband and works in tourism marketing. You can find her on Pinterest, Instagram and Facebook.
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