Have you ever had the experience of looking back on your week with the sinking feeling that you didn’t get as much done as you’d hoped? When building a successful career or a business of your own, your time is perhaps your most valuable asset, and your income is a direct result of how you spend your time. You cannot buy any more time than you’re given, and the clock is always ticking. A few years ago, I discovered a simple system that allowed me to nearly triple my productivity, and in this article I’ll share some very practical ideas you can apply right away to increase your effectiveness without working any harder than you do now.
Keep a detailed time log.
The first step to better managing your time is to find out how you’re currently spending your time. Keeping a time log is a very effective way to do this, and after trying it for just one day, you’ll immediately gain tremendous insight into where your time is actually going. The very act of measuring is often enough to raise your unconscious habits into your consciousness, where you then have a chance to scrutinize and change them.
Here’s how to keep a time log. Throughout your day record the time whenever you start or stop any activity. Consider using a stopwatch to just record time intervals for each activity. You can do this during only your working time or throughout your entire day. At the end of the day, sort all the time chunks into general categories, and find out what percentage of your time is being spent on each type of activity. If you want to be thorough, do this for a week, and calculate the percentage of your total time that you spent on each type of activity. Be as detailed as possible. Note how much time you spend on email, reading newsgroups, web surfing, phone calls, eating, going to the bathroom, etc. If you get up out of your chair, it probably means you need to make an entry in your time log. I typically end up with 50-100 log
entries per day.
You may be surprised to discover you’re spending only a small fraction of your working time doing what you’d consider to be actual work. Studies have shown that the average office worker does only 1.5 hours of actual work per day. The rest of the time is spent socializing, taking coffee breaks, eating, engaging in non-business communication, shuffling papers, and doing lots of other non-work tasks. The average full-time office worker doesn’t even start doing real work until 11:00am and begins to wind down around 3:30pm.
Analyze your results.
The first time I kept a time log, I only finished 15 hours worth of real work in a week where I spent about 60 hours in my office. Even though I was technically about twice as productive as the average office worker, I was still disturbed by the results. Where did those other 45 hours go? My time log laid it all out for me, showing me all the time drains I wasn’t consciously aware of – checking email too often, excessive perfectionism doing tasks that didn’t need to be done, over-reading the news, taking too much time for meals, succumbing to preventable interruptions, etc.
Calculate your personal efficiency ratio.
When I realized that I spent 60 hours at the office but only completed 15 hours of actual work within that time, I started asking myself some interesting questions. My income and my sense of accomplishment depended only on those 15 hours, not on the total amount of time I spent at the office.