From The Blog

Tips for Adulthood: Five Things I Learned From Keeping Track of My Time

On occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood. Like many of us, I wake up most days feeling like there’s more to do in the...

keeping track of timeOn occasional Wednesdays, I offer tips for adulthood.

Like many of us, I wake up most days feeling like there’s more to do in the day/week/month than I can possibly accomplish. So I pile my To Do list high with a list of impossible goals, accomplish a few, and then – instead of feeling great about what I *did* get done  – feel lousy about what I failed to achieve. Sound familiar?

I resolved to do better this year. But there’s knowing and then there’s doing. How to actually execute this goal?

In her book, Entrepreneurial You, marketing and career development expert Dorie Clark suggests that when you find yourself overwhelmed by an impossibly long list of goals, try taking an inventory of your time. The idea is simple:  keep a log of everything you do in a workday that takes more than 15 minutes. Do this for two weeks, and then step back and examine the results.

I’ve been doing this for the past month, and it’s been highly illuminating.  The best thing about this method is that you don’t judge yourself. Instead, you go into data-collection mode and observe. That’s hard for a “do-er” like myself, but boy, is it useful.

Here’s what I learned when I studied my use of my time:

a. My writing is suffering. A while back, I committed to spending an hour every morning writing before I do anything else. I may not always be able to hit an hour, but most mornings, I am able to achieve this goal. That’s the good news. The bad news is that there is a trade-off in what I write. While I’m able to produce my target of one blog a week, my other writing – my book, my fiction, and any opinion pieces or personal essays I may wish to write – fall largely by the wayside. Which means that I’m really only achieving about half of my writing goals right now, possibly a third. And that’s not good enough. Of all the things I do in a day, writing is the one I enjoy most. It’s where I feel most authentic and most relaxed. Don’t get me wrong. I love blogging and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world. But this experiment has shown me that I need to find a way to create more writing time in the day.

b. I need to clear time for “Admin time.”  Another thing that gets short shrift in my current life is “admin time.” On the personal end of things, admin time encompasses everything from scheduling my daughter’s 10,000 activities, to planning social events with friends, to collecting  interesting items for my monthly newsletter. On the work end, it involves things like answering emails, booking travel and keeping track of my finances. The latter is particularly vital for we self-employed types, because we’re always in a constant cycle of invoicing clients, chasing them for payments and keeping track of expenses. And yet, “admin time” is usually the first thing to drop when you hit a busy week. After a few weeks of ignoring all those niggling “to do’s,” you can easily find yourself doing nothing but answering emails for a day. My big revelation from doing this exercise was that I need to set aside two separate blocks of time for both types of admin:  the stuff that keeps my personal life going, as well as the stuff that keeps my business going.

c.  The time/money trade-off. In light of the above, it was also really useful to examine how I spend time with clients. Because my business has been in a growth mode over the past two years, I’ve never really stopped  to think about whether or not certain clients/activities were worth spending time on. I just kept saying “yes” to work. Now that I’m tracking my time carefully, however, I can clearly see that I need to be choosier in terms of how I spend time with clients. For instance, while I love writing coaching, I’ve come to the conclusion that most of that work needs to happen virtually, rather than face-to-face. Otherwise, I can easily spend half a day reading  a client’s work, coaching them in person, and commuting back and forth to that meeting. That simply isn’t an efficient use of my time from a cost-benefit standpoint. In other cases, if I really want to prioritise writing *and* make ends meet, I’m going to need to let go of certain clients unless they can pay more.

d. Prepare less. When I told my husband that I’m still struggling to work a normal, five- day work week, he immediately commented: “You need to prepare less.” I do tend to prepare a lot before I deliver a workshop. That’s partly so that I’ll go in knowing the material so well that I can relax and be myself. But it’s also driven by a crippling fear that I won’t wow the audience/be letter perfect/and or – egads! – only deliver a B+. So much like reducing the time I spend commuting to see coaching clients, I need also to reduce the time I prepare. For me, that’s like asking myself to deliver a workshop blindfolded. But I need to get more comfortable with it.

e. Make a change. It’s been extraordinarily useful to keep this log for the past month. I could happily study my schedule for the rest of my life. But I don’t want to get trapped in the paralysis of analysis. I need now to do the hard part, which is to make the changes in my schedule that will enable me to write a bit more and work a bit less, all while maintaining my target income. That’s going to be difficult for  me. Among other things, it will threaten my addiction to being busy. But it’s time to act.

How about you? Have you ever kept a log of your time? What did you learn?

Image:  212-365 (Year 7) by George Redgrave via Flickr

Be Sociable, Share!

Tags: 

  1. Rachel Boylan February 13, 2020 at 12:24 pm #

    Never kept a log of my time (I fear it will confirm my suspicion that I waste an awful lot of it) but seriously considering now!

  2. Anna March 21, 2020 at 9:41 pm #

    Hey, just came across your Blog via Gretchen Rubin. Chapeau for your Analysis and findings from time tracking. Have you tried “monday hour One”? I’m self-employed with three Little Kids and struggle a lot with time Management…. Best, Anna

    • delialloyd March 22, 2020 at 5:51 pm #

      No I haven’t Anna but will look for it now! thanks so much Delia

Leave a Reply