Time has been on my mind a lot lately. My last post Getting Things Done focused on strategies to relax your mind so you can be more productive. This post provides some great advice I received when I was in graduate school that changed the way I manage and organize my time.
Early in my graduate career, one of my professors noticed that I had trouble completing my tasks on time. He called me into his office and asked me, “Annette, where is your time going?” I had no idea where my time was going – all I knew was that I had more on my plate than I could handle and felt overwhelmed. Many of my clients have expressed a similar sentiment – they feel that there is not enough time in a day to get everything done! The advice I am about to share will not make all your tasks go away, but it will help you be more efficient with your time.
The advice I received on Time Management
So, what advice did this professor give me? He told me to create an Excel spreadsheet and track my time. He suggested I monitor my time for work, school, and personal life. He advised me to track this data for at least three weeks and focus on what I learned from this experience.
At first, the very thought of tracking my time made me feel uneasy. Did I really need to itemize my time? Would I be able to track my time consistently? Would my information even be accurate? It was a bit challenging to develop the habit of tracking my time at first. I began by listing all of my projects, courses, chores, weekly engagements, and anything else that came to mind. I decided I would monitor my time in 15-minute increments.
I tracked the total amount of time I spent on my tasks every day and regularly updated the total amount throughout the day. For example, if I spent an hour at one of my classes and then devoted 45 minutes to homework for this same class, I would enter 1.75 in my Excel spreadsheet (1 + .75 = 1.75). The time I spent traveling to and from specific locations was also tracked. To understand the trends from the data, I created simple formulas in Excel that summed the total number of hours a week that I devoted to specific activities. I added and deleted rows (i.e., tasks) as my weekly schedule changed.
As the days and weeks passed by, I began to make some observations about how I managed and organized my time. I found this activity so useful that I continued to track my time beyond the three weeks.
Here are a few of the things I learned about myself through this process.
• I was more productive at specific times of day
• Tracking my time made me more productive
• I avoided tasks and activities that I enjoyed least
• Projects took longer to complete than I anticipated
Looking back now, I realize that this experience helped me learn firsthand the value of data tracking and monitoring. The data I collected provided me with the insight I needed to make better decisions. For instance, I now tend to work on my most challenging cognitive tasks in the morning, because this is the time of day I have the most mental focus. By tracking my time, I held myself more accountable to my time. In addition, knowing what tasks I enjoyed and disliked helped me determine where to invest my energy.
I also developed more realistic estimates of how long things took me to complete and this helped me determine whether I had the time to take on new tasks and responsibilities. I encourage my readers to try this activity and see how helps you manage and save time! Here is a link that provides some other ways that Excel can help organize your life.
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