Do you feel busy? If you’re like most people in the United States, you do—and you probably feel busier than you’ve felt in the past. But why is this the case?
When pressed, most people can tell you the general responsibilities that are taking up their time, such as work, parenting, and social responsibilities, but probably can’t tell you how long each of these activities takes. On the surface, this may not seem like a problem, but if you don’t really know how you’re spending your time each day, it could negatively affect you in some surprising ways.
The Problem of Time Ignorance
If you don’t know how you’re spending your time, you’re much more likely to face the following problems:
- Misplaced priorities. First, it’s exceptionally easy for you to misplace your priorities, or view some things as obligations while they’re really electives. For example, meeting a friend for coffee may seem like a necessary line item to add to your schedule, making you feel busier, but in reality, it’s an optional engagement you’re choosing in your leisure time. Inaccurately describing these leisure expenditures is frequently a problem associated with busy bragging, but it’s more rooted in a lack of acknowledgment of how your time is spent on a macro level.
- Extra time consumption. If you aren’t paying attention, some tasks are going to take up way more time than they need to. For example, you may not realize that your meeting is running long because you didn’t set a timer. Or you might spend two hours on a house cleaning project that you intended to take only one, putting a time crunch on the rest of your day.
- Speculation and inaction. Having no objective evidence about how you’re spending your time also means all your thoughts about time management are mere speculation. Accordingly, you’re less likely to take meaningful action to correct your bad habits and improve that management.
How to Take Charge of Your Time
So now the problem becomes, how can you become more aware of how you’re spending your time?
These are a few good first steps:
- Start tracking your time. Perhaps most obviously, you can start tracking your time, both in your personal and professional life. Tools like ClickTime allow you to conveniently track how you’re spending your time throughout the day, on desktop and mobile devices, and generate reports so you can see which tasks, projects, and responsibilities are taking up your time. You’ll have to do this consistently, however; tracking only some of your tasks, or tracking during only some days of the week will leave you with a void of information that may lead you to some false conclusions.
- Run daily, weekly, and monthly analyses. While tracking, your attention will likely fall to some ground-level issues. For example, you might discover that one of your daily tasks takes 30 minutes longer than you expected. However, the juiciest insights are going to come from a higher-level perspective; accordingly, you’ll need to run daily, weekly, and even monthly analyses to see how you’re spending your time overall.
- Ask critical questions. Challenge your assumptions and ask critical questions about the ways you’re spending your time. For example, was that trip to the store really an obligation, or was it an improvised choice? Do your meetings really need to be scheduled for an hour, or could they fit into a 30-minute slot? Where are your biggest areas of time expenditure, and likely, biggest areas of time waste?
- Turn your insights into action. Data is only useful if you’re able to turn it into an actionable insight. Otherwise, it’s just numbers on a page. Use all the information and conclusions you’ve gathered up to this point to set goals for yourself, such as opting to spend less time on a certain category of tasks or reorganizing your priorities. Then, break those goals up into smaller components, so you can take measurable steps toward progress in each area.
Once you gain an objective understanding of how you spend your time each day, you’ll have a much better chance of reorganizing your life to adeptly fit your priorities. Tracking and analyzing your time usage will, in a twist of irony, take some additional time away from you, but it’s well worth the investment if it means securing a more efficient—and potentially less busy—future.