Learn how to time track in four easy steps. Plus a bonus list of all the tools you need to time track effectively.
Imagine being able to accurately predict how long it will take you to complete a task and being able to allocate those tasks into dedicated blocks of time every day.
What do you think would happen?
Well, for one, you wouldn’t be too overambitious with your to-do list or your daily schedule.
You wouldn’t put two high priority, labour-intensive tasks for completion in a single day when you only have three hours of work time available.
This, in turn, would save you from feelings of doubt and insecurity which always occurs when people overload their to-do list with impossible-to-do tasks.
I know this from experience.
Until I learned how to time track, which I admit happened fairly recently, I would consistently underestimate how long it takes me to complete a future task.
This would often result in an overloaded to-do list, deep disappointment when I don’t complete even half of the tasks on that list and a snappy, grit-her-teeth mom/wife at the end of the day who goes to bed with a sense of inadequacy.
It’s not pretty.
And I wouldn’t want you to experience the same.
So, let me share time tracking with you and if it helps you even for just a little bit, I’ll consider it a job well done.
How To Get More Free Time – Written specifically for multitasking, creative free spirits like myself, this post will give you 3 actionable tips you need to get more free time.
Plus: A list of 4 personal time management systems that will help you accomplish your tasks in as little time as possible – resulting in more free time for all the other things you want to do.
How To Time Block – A step-by-step guide that will help you effectively time block and get the most from your daily schedule.
How to time track – Tip 1: What is time tracking (plus the basics)
Time tracking, like keeping a food diary, simply means making careful note of the things you do during the day and when you do them.
It’s an excellent way of becoming accountable to yourself if you’ve never done this before.
If you’re like most people, you’re probably going through the day feeling harried and harassed. You have a to-do list…sort of.
You’ve got everything filed in your head. And you can’t quite shake off the feeling that there’s something important you just have to do.
Eventually, you do shake it off and say, “I’ve done this, this and this. I’ve done ‘em all.”
At the end of the day, you drag your weary self back to bed and as you drop off, it happens.
“Shit!” That important thing that you assumed you did comes back to you. And not only did you NOT do it. You also missed the deadline for it.
We almost always think there isn’t enough time to accomplish all we need to do whereas other people are more productive than us simply because they have more “free” time than us.
But we all only ever have 24 hours in a day and 7 days a week.
So, how can that CEO living in that 5M mansion possibly have more free time than us when we each have the same number of hours in a day and the same number of days in a week?
Answer: He doesn’t. He’s simply better at time management, which has been described as the best well-kept secret of the rich.
And to be better at time management, you first need to know where your time is going.
Again, like a food diary, you need to be consistent, accurate and honest.
Don’t bother lying to yourself: you’re the only one who’ll know and the only who’ll suffer.
You also need to take some time doing the exercise.
Jeremy Anderberg recommends time tracking for a minimum of two weeks so you can really reap the benefits (he’s listed six really good benefits you can enjoy).
Finally, you need to write things down. You’ll never remember exactly what you did 2 hours ago so it’s essential that you put the information on paper so you can review it in two weeks’ time.
I highly recommend keeping a journal, where you can store such vital information.
How To Use A Journal – Learn why you absolutely need to start a journal habit, how to start so you actually make it into a habit and what you need to pay attention to when you’re journaling.
How to time track – Tip 2: Why time track?
Believe it or not, time tracking actually has a lot of benefits.
One of the most important benefits is that when you’re time tracking, you begin to realise just how much time you spend on pointless activities that you do mindlessly, mostly because you’re bored. Or just don’t have a plan for the day. Or procrastinating.
I finally realised just how much time I spend playing games on my phone or scrolling (without even reading) up and down my Facebook newsfeed.
One time, I even spent 6 hours doing nothing but reading Twitter rants about a certain action star’s story of revenge (yes, I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson).
And I didn’t even know I was doing it until I looked at my time tracking sheet.
6 hours! I could’ve written a 6,000-word blog post in that time.
It’s so easy to get sucked into the rabbit hole that is social media.
You really need to be completely aware of what you’re doing when you’re on it or you’ll end up like me.
In fact, I know that I need to do a social media detox (really, I do need it). The problem I face is that I don’t have an assistant and my outreach and promotion depend heavily on social media (young blog, you know).
There’s just no way I can escape it right now.
So, how did I end up managing it?
How to time track – Step 1: Choose when to start.
You can start time tracking anytime you choose.
I just have one tip: Start tracking your time during normal periods of your life. And not when you’ve just landed in Maui for a five-day hen party.
You want to get an accurate picture of what daily life is like for you and starting to track your time when you’re on holiday is not going to give you that accuracy.
Especially, if you add the fact that your alcohol-infused brain probably won’t remember to time track in the first place anyway.
How to time track – Step 2: Choose which framework works best for you.
There are two basic frameworks to tracking time, doing it by task or doing it by the time of day.
Choose the one that best fits you.
I prefer going for time of day but that’s simply because if I go the other way, I end up with a long list that makes my head spin.
Again, I’m a multitasker who hates routine so unless I’m Pomodoro-ing, I switch from task to task just a tad slower than the speed of light.
Time track framework #1: By task
When you’re time tracking by task, all you have to do is spend your day as normal and then simply write down what time your tasks change.
This is probably easier if you’re new to tracking your time but especially, when you can focus on one task.
Time track framework #2: By time of day
This is, by far, my preference.
All you need is a timer (this kitchen timer is what I use), which you need to set in small increments. I went with 15 minutes at most in the beginning.
Every time the timer rings, you write down what you’ve been doing.
I shake my head sometimes at how many tasks I’ve managed to squeeze in one 15-minute increment. And I actually feel better because now I know the truth, I actually do a lot. J
How to time track step 3: Go over your results.
Take some time at the end of the day (or at the very least, at the end of each week) to go over what you’ve written.
See what you’ve accomplished in the previous period and decide if there’s anything you need to stop doing or keep repeating.
Mark them so that you can get back to them when necessary.
How to time track step 4: Implement any changes you need to make.
Once you can see what you’ve been up to, it’s a lot easier to change them.
Are you compulsively checking your phone for emails or social media notifications when you’re supposed to be typing out an article for publication? Put your phone in a separate room.
Playing a game when you’re supposed to be studying for a test? Turn off the WiFi.
If you notice tasks that drain your time – your most valuable, completely irreplaceable resource – see if you can completely stop doing them. Or at the very least, minimise them.
If you notice that there are some tasks that help you become even more productive, keep doing them or increase them.
Time tracking can only help you improve your productivity if you learn from it and implement it what you learn.
My top tools to help you time track effectively
Time tracking, like most anything else, can often be more successful when you have the right tools to start with.
The tools in this section are the ones that I found the most success with. But that’s because I’m a free-spirited creative who also happens to be a full-time mom who also works from home as a blogger.
I need to multitask.
And I need to make provisions for those times that I do need to do so.
Plus, I hate routine. The very word makes me cringe.
It took me a while to accept this because I’ve always thought successful people are detail-oriented, analytical and thrive best when they have set routines.
I know better now.
Creatives can do the same and there’s no sense in me trying desperately to fit my star-shaped self into a square hole just because I believed squares to be more successful.
So, if you’re like me, leave the square holes to the square-shaped people and let your star shine! J
Time tracking tool #1: Toggl (with Pomodoro Timer Integration)
I don’t know how we survived for so long without Toggl (with Pomodoro Timer Integration).
We have it installed on our laptop as a Google Chrome Extension and on our phones as an app. Now, when we’re doing anything work-related, we usually just click on the Toggl icon at the upper right corner of the browser, add in a description for whatever task we’re doing and then start working.
Toggl has a lot of different features but what we find especially useful is its integration with the Pomodoro technique (more on that below).
Another benefit for us is the fact that we know we’re actually accomplishing the task we’ve set out to do and usually in the least amount of time it takes to complete it.
No more over- or underestimating how much time we need for a specific task.
We can actually look back and say that it takes us approximately 1.
5 hours to write a lengthy post so, in the future, we can plan our time a lot more effectively.
Time tracking tool #2: Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique isn’t so much a time-tracking tool as a complete time-management system. It says it’s a life-changing system and for us, it really is.
Not only is it effective (especially when integrated with Toggl) but it’s also very easy to implement.
There are only six steps involved in the Pomodoro Technique:
Step 1: Choose your poison. Select the task you want to focus on. Preferably, this is that high priority, labour-intensive task we talked about earlier.
Step 2: Set your timer to 25 minutes and work till the timer runs. One 25-minute stretch = 1 Pomodoro. Yep, it’s a new unit of time. Learn it and love it because you’ll be using it. A lot.
Step 3: After one Pomodoro, take a short 5-minute break (and no more than 5 minutes!) to step away from your work for rest.
I personally have a hard time with this when I’m writing so I have to force myself to get up and leave my laptop.
Repeat three more times.
Step 4: After 4 Pomodoros, take a longer break. I go with 30 minutes most days but sometimes can only squeeze in 15 minutes or even 10.
Go with the flow and do what works with you.
Time tracking tool #3: 168 Hours Time Management Worksheet
You just need a pen to write down your tasks, which are divided into 30 minute-intervals and you’re good to go.
This is a great way to ease into time tracking if you’re easily distracted by electronic notifications or if you’re working somewhere with no WiFi or data available.
For more information on how this fits into a larger system, you can read her book called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think.
Time tracking tool #4: Google Calendar
When you want to set reminders for important dates, Google Calendar is very useful and quite easy to use. You simply key in the event name, date and time, set the reminder you need (all day or for a set number of hours) and you’re ready to go.
Because it’s just the two of us involved at Live A Blissful Life, we only really use Google Calendar for reminders but actually, it’s got a lot of features that can work for individuals as well as teams.
For a list of 18 powerful Google Calendar Features and how to use them, take a look at this hugely informative Hubspot article.
Time tracking tool #5: Startamomblog’s Weekly Schedule System
Probably the simplest weekly scheduling system we’ve ever seen, it’s a wonder that not everybody is using it. You just need a pen, a ruler, super sticky Post-It Notes and a white background to make the post-its stand out.
The actual system itself is simple enough. On Sunday night, you write down all of the tasks and appointments you have for the week in different coloured post-its.
Once you have all the “ingredients” (see the list below), you can start implementing the system.
This is how I do it:
Step 1: Write down events with set times that you can’t change on WHITE post-its and then place them on the board.
Step 2: Big tasks that take at least 2 hours go on PINK post-its and then onto the board. BLUE post-its are for medium tasks that take about an hour or two to complete.
Step 3: Get the really quick tasks that you tend to put off but that you actually need to do (like sorting out the bills) and put them on YELLOW post-its.
Rinse and repeat every week.
Side Note: Obviously, you can choose whatever colour you want. For the original post, hop on over to Startamomblog.
Time tracking tool #6. Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal
The premise for the Bullet Journal (Bujo) is quite simple. More than a time management system, Bujo is a methodology, “a mindfulness practice disguised as a productivity system”.
Because the bujo system is flexible, you can pretty much do whatever you want with it, as long as it has an Index Page, a Future Log, a Monthly Log and a Daily Log.
And, the system is in the name because you’ll be writing everything down in bullet form.
I tried this for over a year and didn’t get on with it at all (which I’ll have to write about in another post) but a lot of people do so I’m including this here.
That said, if you are interested in viewing how it’s done, take a look at the below video:
Final thoughts on how to time track
Learning how to time track is one of the best skills to learn if you want to increase your productivity and efficiency.
Once you can accomplish your tasks quickly, you can also free up time for other things in your life.
Time tracking isn’t very difficult.
You simply start tracking on an ordinary day and choose to make note of the different tasks that you do as you do them or set a timer to ring every few minutes (I recommend 15 minutes in the beginning) and then write down whatever you’ve been doing right before it rings.
Every day or every week (it’s really up to you), check your time tracker and see what you’ve been doing with your time.
Is there anything worth repeating?
Is there anything you should probably be better off minimising or stopping altogether?
Implement whatever change you think is best to get you the goal you want.
If you need help, there are tools available that you can use.
Have you tried time tracking? How did it help you? Let me know in the comments below.
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