Where does your time REALLY go?

It’s both my experience and observation that most of us don’t really have much idea where our time REALLY goes. We know we’re busy, having to act fast and get heaps of stuff done. But the end of the working day, no matter how late it seems to come, arrives with a ‘whoosh’ and an alarming sense of “where did the time go?”

I think there are several reasons for this, many of which are self-inflicted. Of course, if we’re the victim of a transport snarl-up, or totally inefficient tech, then that’s not our fault – it’s more a case of doing the best we can with what we’ve got.

Even so, one, some or all of these time traps may apply to you:

We waste time on unimportant stuff, rather than focusing on priorities.
We have no idea what our priorities actually are.
We get side-tracked by shiny distractions on the web, social media and in emails.
We spend much too long doing emails.
We underestimate how long it takes us to get even the most routine tasks done.
We take too long to do the jobs we like, polishing something that is already perfectly good.
We don’t ask for others’ input and/or help until it’s too late.
We delude ourselves about the hours we’re actually working (as opposed to queuing for coffee, chatting with people about non-work stuff, checking social media).

What can we do? The first step is to get a completely clear picture of where our time REALLY does go. Try these suggestions:

Keep a timesheet. Yes really. It can be written on paper, or logged on to a spreadsheet (just put ‘timesheet template’ into your search engine and you’ll get heaps of different formats to choose from).

Or you can use an app. Laura Vanderkam offers her suggestions in Inc. The app I use is Hours Tracker, which Lifehacker reviews here.

Be honest with yourself about where your time really does go. Lucy Kellaway of the Financial Times delivers her sardonic take on this for BBC’s Business Daily in this podcast. (Lucy’s piece is about 13 minutes into the podcast if you want to skip straight to it).

Do this for at least three days – a week is good. And then what? I suggest you look back at where your time has really been going and reflect on these questions:

What strikes you about where your time really goes at work?

What, if anything, do you want to change?

Who and what will best help you?

Let me know how you get on.

You may also find these blog posts useful:

Productivity tip: notice how long it takes to do stuff.

Have a ‘NOT To-Do List’.

Dawn is the author of How to be Zoomly at work, available on Amazon.

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