4 Things I Learned From Tracking My Time

A couple of years ago, I came across RescueTime, an application that tracks (in the background) your time spent on various daily activities. The app then gives you an assessment based on how you allocate your time.

Curious to learn how it worked and to see how productive I was, I installed it on my computer and mobile device. Given that I spend a good chunk of my time working on both, it was a good fit for me.

At first, I didn’t expect to gain a lot of insight; I was convinced I had good control of my time. But the experiment opened my eyes to the benefits of tracking my time more diligently (including activities that weren’t performed on my computer).

If you’ve never done this exercise—a.k.a., tracking your time—I highly recommend it, even if you’re convinced that your work ethic is unequaled. And, if you aspire to better manage your schedule, it’s a must.

Here are four reasons why I recommend you try it out:

1. It Gives You a Clear Picture

There will always be time spans that elude you, and you’re only going to capture them when you track your time diligently.

One of the most important things it helps you do is expose time-wasters: activities that eat up your time but make no real contribution to your life. You may be surprised at how much of your schedule is consumed by unproductive activities, such as social media or videos. Once you identify these activities, you’re in a better position to purge them out of your life.

2. It Holds You Accountable

Humans are good at fooling others and themselves. For example, if you’re standing in the cold waiting for the bus and it’s late by two minutes, you’ll feel like the bus was late by at least five minutes. But when you look at your watch, the data won’t lie; it will tell you it was two minutes, not five.

We’re not as good as we think at tracking time mentally. Thus, using a tracking system is more reliable.

This will keep you accountable—you can no longer bluff and lie to others or to yourself. The data will be there, staring you in the face and speaking its truth.

3. It Gives You a Record of Your Activities

I bet you can’t tell me what you did two days ago at 10:30 AM.

Let’s try another question: How much time did you spend actually doing productive work last week?

When you track your time, you can answer both these questions fairly easily because you have a record of all the activities you’ve performed.

This can be valuable information. For instance, if you want to know how much time you spent performing a particular activity, say in a week, you can add up all the times you worked on it to get your total. Then, you can show your boss how much (or little) time that activity costs you and others.

4. It Helps You Make Gains

When I began tracking my activities, it became clear that some weeks I wasn’t spending as much time as I wanted writing. When I dug a little deeper, I realized what was happening.

In most cases, I was spending my time on things surrounding writing (reading, researching, listening to podcasts and YouTube clips), but not writing per se.

The truth is that I didn’t really need to do all those things. Because of my analysis, I was able to “transform” some of this time into “writing time.” This was a huge gain for my professional and personal growth.

If you’re like me and spend a lot of time working on the computer, I recommend trying RescueTime for at least one month. Although I don’t review my report in detail all the time, the application is still installed on my devices and I get weekly emails, which give me a general sense of my activity.

If you don’t want to use an application, you can track your time yourself. The simplest method is a good ol’ sheet of paper divided into three columns:

  • One to write the activity you’re performing
  • One to write the time at which you start the activity
  • And one to write the time at which you end the activity

Every time you start a new project, log it onto your sheet.

You’re using your time, but do you know how much of it is spent on certain things? If you don’t, there’s a good chance you’re squandering many hours of your week. Once you start tracking it, you’ll know how to stop the bad habits and start making smarter decisions in your schedule.

This article was originally published on Resultsempowerment.com. It has been republished here with permission.

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About Richard Moy

Richard Moy
Richard Moy is a Content Marketing Writer at Stack Overflow. He has spent the majority of his career in talent management, including a stint as a full-cycle recruiter and hiring manager. In addition to the career advice he contributes to The Muse, he also writes test prep and higher education marketing content for The Economist. Say hi on Twitter @rich_moy.

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