10. Time Management Step #3: FOLLOW the Schedule and TRACK Your Time Use

You’ve created a Time Budget, and a Weekly Schedule based on that Time Budget. Now, you need to try to follow that Weekly Schedule for a week. While you’re doing that, you should track your time use so that you can tell, at the end of the week, how closely you came to sticking to the schedule.

The way I track my time use is with the Time Tracking Form on the next page. Every time I work on a goal or task for a specific length of time—which I’ll share with you in a moment—I put a checkmark in the box next to that goal or task. Alternately, I simply record the amount of time spent on the goal. At the end of the week, I tally the checkmarks and times in the various boxes so that I can tell how much time I actually spent on each goal or task.

Once, I was describing this system to a class and a woman raised her hand and asked, in a highly skeptical voice, “Are you telling us to interrupt our work every hour to record our time use?” Clearly, she thought that was asking too much.

“No,” I said. “I want you to interrupt your work and record your time use every fifteen minutes.”

This caught everyone off-guard, but I went on to explain my reasons:

• Most busy people, believe it or not, have trouble remembering everything they did in the past hour. (Try it.) However, most people can remember everything they did in the past fifteen minutes. Since it’s essential to keep an accurate record of how you spend your time, it’s worth interrupting your work for a few seconds every fifteen minutes to keep an accurate log of what you’ve been doing.

• Recording every fifteen minutes helps keep you on track. Every time you record, you’ll feel either a little bit of pride that you spent the past fifteen minutes doing what you were supposed to be doing, or a little bit of regret that you didn’t—and that pride or regret might help you utilize the next fifteen minutes according to your plan.

• Recording time in fifteen-minute intervals encourages you to value small amounts of time. As discussed in Chapter 8, people who are bad at time management tend to see fifteen minutes as a short amount of time that might as well be wasted, whereas people who are good at time management tend to see it as a lot of time that can be put to good use. Recording your time usage every fifteen minutes helps reinforce the latter view.

Tracking your time may seem like a pain at first, but keep doing it and soon you’ll be able to do it automatically, almost without thinking. If you do a lot of your work on a computer, as I do, you can do it in a spreadsheet. (I also downloaded a shareware (try first, pay later) stopwatch program to help me track my time.) If you’re frequently away from your computer, you can do it with an ordinary notebook, pen and “real” stopwatch.

Two more tips:

• You will note that the Time Tracking Form offers a space where you can record the time you wake up and the time you go to sleep each day. This is very useful information to track. For maximum productivity, you want to wake up and go to bed at about the same time most days.

• As you will see from the Time Tracking Form, it is important to not just record the time you spend on your Mission’s goals and tasks, but the time you spend on non-Mission activities, including (especially) television, video games and other forms of time wasting. You need to know precisely how much time you are spending on these activities so that you will be motivated to cut back, if necessary.

On the next page is a Sample Time Tracking Form based on the Sample Time Budget from Chapter 8. After that is a blank Time Tracking Form you can fill in based on your own Time Budget.

Lots of Notes on this one:

• This tracking is based on Chapter 8’s Time Budget and Chapter 9’s Weekly Schedule, but the actual time spent often doesn’t correspond to the time allocated. (Our activist skipped her Sunday exercise, for instance, and she also did a bit of activism on Sunday that she hadn’t scheduled.) That’s because the activist isn’t sticking to her schedule! As she continues to do her time management, she’ll probably get better at this.

• Time is recorded either in checkmarks (each one representing 15 minutes) or hours (not minutes). “4” = 4 hours, and “.75” doesn’t equal 75 minutes but 3/4 of an hour, or 45 minutes.

• Note that the activist records her awake and asleep time—this is very valuable information. If you get up two hours late, like she did on Saturday, this will obviously affect your productivity for that day. The solution, if the situation continues, is to either get up on time or adjust the Time Budget and Weekly Schedule to reflect the reality that she gets up at 9 on Saturdays.

• The form tallies not just the time spent each day on each area of her Mission, but also the time spent each week. The weekly tally, in particular, helps ensure that she makes at least a little progress in each area every week. When I track my time, I get very nervous, toward the end of the week, if I see some Goals and Sub-Goals that I haven’t worked on at all. The little “0’s” in the far-right column are a strong incentive for me to do at least a little work on those goals before the week closes!

• At the bottom of each column is the total hours she recorded for the entire day. If the activist gets 8 hours of sleep, that number should always be 16. It’s often lower, however, because sometimes we get distracted and forget to record all our time. It could also be higher, if we’re not getting enough sleep.

• The big Miscellaneous section down toward the bottom of the form (television, Web surfing, etc.) is really about time wasting, and she should work to bring those numbers down as close as possible to “0.” If there are important television shows or websites she needs to follow, then she should build that time into one of her Mission areas.

sample Time Tracking Form

(Partially Filled In. Every check mark equals 15 minutes)

Time Tracking Form

(Fill in Goals and Tasks and Budgeted Times based on your Time Budget.

Editable forms may be downloaded at www.lifelongactivist.com)

Download a sample time budgeting/tracking form here