I climbed into bed Sunday night, discouraged before the week even started. The upcoming days were ripe with potential, but I was afraid of squandering them on unproductive activities. For the previous seven weeks, I had diligently chipped away at a college dual enrollment math course. The assignment deadlines had forced me to copiously manage my time. Now that the course was over, I was scared of falling back into my poor time management habits.
In my dejection, I suddenly remembered the lesson from Do Hard Things University about time management and listened to it with eagerness. Brett’s first suggestion for managing time was to write down what you do every fifteen minutes, every day, for at least a week. In the past, I had avoided doing this because it sounded hard, but this time I was desperate enough to accept the challenge.
Starting the next morning, I would track every fifteen minutes for the next seven days. This activity was more revealing and beneficial than I had dared to imagine. Here are six reasons why you should consider tracking your time.
1. Tracking your time allows you to create realistic goals
Many of us are visionaries. We wake up in the morning thinking we have an endless amount of time to accomplish our lofty goals. We write to do lists that are extremely ambitious, and then become discouraged at the end of the day when only half the boxes are checked.
Tracking your time eliminates the guesswork of what you are actually able to accomplish. Seeing the day mapped out in fifteen minute increments will give you realistic expectations. At a glance, you can see how many fifteen minute time blocks remain, which allows you to plan the day more effectively. That way, you can create a reasonably sized to do list rather than a mile long list that is only half complete by bedtime.
2. Tracking your time allows you to evaluate patterns
Tracking your day highlights the strongest and weakest time periods. For me personally, wasting time online is less of a struggle in the morning. My mind is fresh and I am enthusiastic about my work.
However, during lunch time (12:00pm) I must carefully avoid bunny trails because the early afternoon is still super productive if I use it wisely. During the late afternoon, my energy wanes and work becomes arduous and tedious. If I was out of bed by 6:30am, then I am completely exhausted by nightfall. I can almost guarantee no productivity after 9:30pm.
Seeing these patterns allows me to plan my day more effectively, and also be aware of less productive time slots.
3. Turn in earlier
As I mentioned before, one of my weakest time frames is after 9:30 at night. On the average day, my brain has completely shut down by this time. Since I am too tired to work, my weary brain naturally wanders to mindless entertainment. The most productive route would be to shut down all technology and give myself maximum sleep time. Going to bed sooner allows me to wake up earlier, thus taking full advantage of my most productive time slot in the morning.
4. Tracking your time provides urgency
We hustle to check off scheduled activities and appointments, but at home we fail to face our tasks with any urgency. There is no reason for hurry if you can simply start and stop your work at any time. However, tracking your time creates dozens of fifteen minute appointments throughout the day that you must rush to meet.
Without time tracking, my YouTube marathons will run uncontrolled— video after video. With time tracking, I have to cut the video short because I need to do school within the next fifteen minute block. You will automatically begin to set goals for what time you would like to start working on a certain activity. This urgency about your work will limit time wasting activities.
5. Time tracking will focus your energy on one project
Time tracking and multitasking make horrible companions, because multitasking forces you to write down numerous tasks in one fifteen minute time block.
Tracking time has encouraged me to work on one project until it is completely done. For example, the first day of tracking, I plugged away at my Algebra 2 workbook for six hours. I was thoroughly sick of math by the end of the day, but staying focused allowed me to gain momentum.
This momentum allowed me to accomplish more in those concentrated six hours than I probably could have done in double the time spread all throughout the day.
6. You can review the day afterwards
Have you ever reached the end of the day only to wonder where the day went?
Tracking your time allows you to look back and see exactly what you did, and when, throughout the day. “Where did the time go?” is no longer a valid question. You have a detailed list of the activities you spent, or sometimes wasted, your time on.
Just as a coach breakdowns what was good and bad after a game for his players, analyzing the day illuminates your strengths and weaknesses.
After the first seven days, I decided to continue tracking my time as much as possible. For simplicity’s sake, I use an Excel spreadsheet, listing the fifteen minute increments in the first column and the activities in the second, but you could also do this on paper. Even though it requires some dedication, keeping track of every fifteen minute increment has been easier than I originally predicted.
The benefit of realizing your strengths and weaknesses is well worth the effort.
The ability to create realistic goals and see exactly how much time is left in the day relieves mass amounts of frustration and gives you a sense of urgency about your work.
Finally, keeping a detailed record will force you to be honest about your time use, which will in turn revolutionize the day.