New projects come at us all the time, don’t they? With already full workloads, this understandably causes some stress… how can we carve any more time from our day to get it all done? I recently tracked my daily activities to identify behavior patterns that don’t serve me well and discovered some surprises, including mismanagement of my environment (a.k.a., interruptions), as well as a few items that took longer to accomplish than expected.
The first step in taking back control of your time is to track your activities and the time spent on them:
- Place a lined pad on your desk, within easy reach.
- Make two columns on the pad – one labeled Start Time and one labeled Activity.
- Upon starting any activity, write the start time in the first column, and a brief description of the activity in the second. Write all tasks, including
phone calls as they occur. (Don’t get fancy with the form, or you’ll waste time, rather than creating a simple tool to help you analyze it. Don’t worry about logging End Times – new Start Times will indicate when you ended the previous task.)
- At the end of the day, you will see how many times you began a task and how long you spent on it before (either voluntarily or involuntarily) beginning a new one.
- Tracking this for just 2-3 days will allow you to see emerging patterns.
Analyze the form for:
- Heaviest and lightest phone times
- Physical interruptions by your boss, and by others; it’s important to note whether interruptions come from your boss (more difficult to change or control) or from others (easier to do so)
- Big chunks of time spent on dedicated activities (this identifies naturally-occurring chunks of “uninterrupted time”)
- Tasks that took longer than anticipated
- Tasks that can be broken into smaller pieces and spread over a longer time period
- Tasks that are small and can be done in one “chunk”
Once you’ve discovered patterns that can be changed or corrected, you can develop a plan to make the necessary changes and effectively communicate them (in order to allow others to help you by respecting those changes).