Learn to Track Your Time

by Francisco Saez

This chapter is a free excerpt from The Pursuit of Mastery.

November 12, 2012

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

—Steve Jobs

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November 12, 2012

“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.”

—Steve Jobs

Do you feel you are not being productive? Does your time go by and you don’t know exactly why? Whatever personal productivity system you are using—and even if you’re not using one at all—the most simple and direct method to increase your productivity is to write down the time you spend getting different things done throughout your day.

Of course, this can be done in many ways. I would suggest you to do it in such a simple way that does not involve any time consumption or create any friction with your work (otherwise you will not do it). Writing down how long it takes you to get things done allows you to have a clear vision of how you are spending your day. Your brain is naturally not that good at calibrating how productive you are. It is likely that, at the end of the day, it will transmit you a fake feeling of productivity just because you had a very busy day. However, your feeling will be different and more in line with reality, if at the end of the day you can see something like this in your notebook:

A simple approach

You do not need to write down the time you spend on each and every task of your day, only the time you spend doing things that are important, since they make your projects progress and bring you closer to your goals. Normally, you should not include the time you spend to relax, have fun, or just live your life. There are exceptions, though. For instance, if you spend so little time with your family that one of your goals is to spend more time with them, you should also follow up on your family time by recording and reviewing it.

You do not need to write down the time spent on every detailed task. It is easier—and also sufficient—to record the time you spend in each of your primary areas of responsibility. It is also not necessary to write down the exact time spent doing things down to the very minute; approximations in 30-minute increments will do the trick. Keeping track of your time should be a very simple task that, despite the redundancy, should not in itself become a burden on your time.

For example, everyday I jot down in my notebook the time I spend doing the following five types of tasks: programming, designing, researching, marketing, and other business tasks. If a task takes me 25 minutes, I record it as a half hour, and if it takes me an hour and 10 minutes, I write simply one hour. As I said, it is not about knowing where every single minute has gone, but is about getting a real sense of whether you’re allocating your time effectively or not.

Here’s another example of one of my records:

What you are gaining

Keeping track of your time will provide you the following benefits:

  • Recording your time creates an internal commitment that makes you more responsible for using it effectively.
  • Knowing that you are going to note the time at the end of the task makes you less likely to get distracted until you are done.
  • At the end of the day you will have a real view on how you spent your time, and your brain will unconsciously begin to make decisions to correct the defects this practice reveals.
  • It will help you direct your focus where it is really needed.
  • You will gain awareness of what it actually takes to execute your tasks, which will allow you to better plan your next projects.

Do you keep track of your time? And if you do, to what extent?

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