09/29/2015 04:45 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Time-Management Tool That Takes Away the Guesswork


If you feel like you've worked all day but have nothing to show for it, time tracking can uncover some very interesting clues. It provides you with actual data about what you prioritize on a day-to-day basis, versus just guessing where your time is going. And once you notice gaps in your productivity you can either fill those gaps with important work or use that time for self-care.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that time tracking can be useful. Compare Watson's crime-solving abilities to Sherlock's. Sherlock doesn't just listen to the distressed client and then give it a good think, he gathers detailed evidence.

There are a few ways to track time -- I provide a paper time-tracker to the students taking my productivity course, but there are also computer-based trackers such as My Hours, Toggle, and Freckle.

No matter which system you use, here are a few time-tracking tips so you can take control of your productivity:

  • Set a timer. If you're not used to time tracking it can be a challenge to remember to write everything down (or to do the required steps on the computer program). I suggest setting a timer to go off every half hour.
  • Don't omit zoning out or "killing time" on your tracker, noting these lapses may lead you to some interesting realizations. For instance, maybe you zone out for 20 minutes at 3 pm each day, which means you should save your quick and simple tasks for that time of day.
  • Add just enough detail for you to see patterns. Instead of writing "Email," write "Sent three work emails." Using this example you may find it useful to know that you typically only send three emails each half an hour, whereas you may have guessed you send ten.
  • If you can, track your mental and physical energy as well. You may find that a certain time of day is best for physical exercise, but worse for tasks that require a lot of concentration.
  • At the end of the day, while the day's events are still fresh in your mind, look through your tracker and record any thoughts about how you used your time.
  • Note what's going to change. It's not enough to simply see that it typically takes you ten minutes to write each email. How is that information going to make your day more productive? For instance, if you'd like emails to take up less time, then your plan might be to use a timer when writing emails, limiting each email response to five minutes only.
  • You don't even have to track time for a long period of time. You may come to interesting realizations after only two or three days of tracking!

I hope I've convinced you how useful time tracking can be. Whether you use an app or paper system you can start gathering evidence today about how you can improve your productivity. Deer stalker and pipe optional.