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.
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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