Where Did Your Day Go?

Ever sit down at the end of the day and wonder where all the time went? Time seemed to whittle away and you don’t feel you’ve accomplished anything meaningful. Chances are you probably don’t even feel like you got a chance to relax or enjoy yourself. Don’t just sit there wondering about where your time is going and find out.

Conducting a timelog is probably one of the best ways to improve your productivity. A timelog is simply a precise record of everything you did in one day. Often I am amazed at where my time is really going. That time you just sat down to watch television for a few minutes turns into an hour. You realize you’ve checked your e-mail and RSS feeds far more than new entries are being added. Don’t just guess at where your time is going, know exactly!

To run your own timelog you will need a few things:

  1. A watch. Use your watch to write down the time, as clocks may vary by a few minutes or so, which will distort your results.
  2. A small pocket notepad and pen. You need to be with your notepad constantly. If you have your timelog on a computer program or on a large sheet of paper you won’t be able to easily carry it around with you to fill in entries.
  3. A spreadsheet program. The timelog I conducted on Saturday had 52 entries in it. Unless you want to manually calculate and sort through those numbers, a spreadsheet program for your computer is necessary. Don’t worry if you don’t have Excel (I don’t either), just google “free spreadsheet program” and you will get some entries for some small but free spreadsheet programs. If you don’t know how to use a spreadsheet program, you might need to manually calculate it, this can make things more tedious but it is still worth it.

Next, run your timelog. Here are some tips:

  • Your timelog should start from the moment you wake up to the moment you go to bed. Some people might decide just to analyze their work hours, but productivity doesn’t just apply to work. Being productive doesn’t mean being busy. In many ways, doing things intelligently can mean you can do less work to get more, so I would suggest a complete day timelog.
  • Don’t place entries in your timelog as being from start to finish. Example “4:00 – 4:43 // Ate Supper”. This may end up leaving gaps of time as you switch activities. Force yourself only to write the time you started that activity, and using the start time of the next activity as your end time. Example “4:00 – Ate Supper // 4:43 – Cleaned Dishes”. This forces you to decide what you are going to do next right after you’ve finished. Otherwise it is too easy to just sit around as you debate about what to do now.
  • Write down as many entries as possible. Write down when you went to the bathroom, when you started a new task at work or when you got up to get a snack. Most of your optimizing will come from eliminating small bits of time, so the more precise your data is the easier that will be to do.

On the next day, start analyzing your timelog data:

  • Start by scanning your list. Where do most the entries seem to focus on? If you notice a lot of small two minute tasks, perhaps you could find a way to do them all at once instead of interruptions throughout your day.
  • Calculate the amount of time you spent on common activities. Things like web-browsing, phone calls, television, eating, and reading should be totaled up. An objective analysis of our time usage often surprises us when we actually spent more time on a task then we thought.
  • Ask yourself how much value your tasks provided. Use the 80/20 rule here. Look for that 20% of all of your tasks that contributed to 80% of the value of your day. By looking carefully at the data you have gathered you should be able to draw some ideas about where it is giving enough value.
  • Ask yourself if you can multitask some of the mindless tasks that take up time. Multitasking can be dangerous if the task you are trying to do requires a lot of thought, but mindless tasks can generally be multitasked. What about placing some articles to read in your bathroom, or playing audio tapes as you drive you car. Doubling up unimportant tasks can increase their value.
  • Is there any predominate habit that is stealing your time? If you need to go out to smoke every few hours that can steal a lot of your time. Television and excessive web browsing can also be big time stealers. If you feel that a certain task is taking too much of your time, then why not consider removing it entirely?
  • Were your daily expectations reasonable? Sometimes we set our expectations too high for the day. Even if we are very productive, if we expect more than is possible, it is easy to feel like we didn’t accomplish anything. In these cases, reevaluating what is most important and lightening our workload is necessary.

Timelogs may give you some insight into where you are losing time, but I think that doing just one timelog will probably not give sufficient information. Conducting timelogs regularly will likely give you a greater insight into what behaviors were simply uncommon for that day and what behaviors occur consistently. I did a timelog yesterday and I plan to run another one in ten days, they may require a bit of work, but they should ultimately save you time.

Go ahead, try a timelog tomorrow. And whatever you say, don’t tell me that you are too busy! 😉

  • Mel

    Hi Scott, I’ve only just discovered your blog but it’s a mine of interesting info. One productivity book I read recommended keeping a log of how you spend every 15 minutes during the day over the course of a week. I haven’t got around to trying this yet, though. It feels like a big commitment!