So, you suck at time management. Don’t worry, most of us do. But before you sacrifice an hour to read that 200-page book with the ugly block typeface, understand one basic time management truth:
You can’t manage time effectively if you don’t know how you actually spend it.
Mind-blowing? No, just overlooked common sense. Easy in practice? Hell yes. And this is exactly how understanding your time leads to better time management.
Get a whole picture of your commitments
Some things in your week are static: the school run, health appointments, walking the dog, calling mom, the weekly shop, clubs and classes, forcing your ass to the gym.
The same goes for working life – weekly seminars, client meetings, lectures, volunteering shifts, essay deadlines, invoice dates, and company reporting are all concrete commitments that can’t be supplanted.
You need to be able to identify and track these “protected tasks” to improve your time management. They inform the basic time frame other tasks need to work around, and dictate your daily capacity. They also tend to be pretty important, so tracking them helps you keep your priorities in-check.
Plan time effectively
Planning is great. Structure! Discipline! Progress! But it's completely pointless when it doesn’t reflect the way you naturally work.
Without knowing how you spend your time, you can’t plan for the hours when you’re most focused or for the durations which compliment your attention span. The result? You may sit with a task for 3 hours in the morning – just as planned – without achieving anything productive.
Plans like these will eventually fall apart, meaning you’re no closer to actually managing time effectively. It’s a sham activity, you fooled yourself again, it was Earth all along.
Understanding how you spend time also reveals where you waste it. This can bring some hard truths – that website you checked like twice today? Yeah, that actually amounted to an hour of wasted life.
But this is actually a huge opportunity. Understanding how you disrupt your own time lets you manage your behaviours and make adjustments to accommodate your own biological uselessness.
Say you discover that the 40-minute period after lunch is just one big, distracted post-food coma – identifying this pattern allows you to plan ‘lighter’ tasks for this time, making sure you’re ready to re-engage with hard-core productive work when your brain is ready.
Identifying your time habits and behaviours naturally leads to uncovering empty hours. We’re talking travel, pointless phone activity, addictive websites, and whatever the hell you actually did last night.
Once you've found your dead time, you can breathe new life into it. You might discover that the existential numbness your 30-minute commute is lessened by introducing a positive productive habit, or that you actually have enough time on Tuesday evenings to take up a new class.
It all adds up to getting more from your time, and hopefully valuing it a bit more.
Knowing how you spend your time also reveals whether you're distributing it effectively. You may find that one project swamps the rest, and it’s time to rebalance your workload.
This is super important if you charge per project or manage a retainer. Knowing your most time-consuming tasks lets you price more honestly, and get a better idea of capacity and turnaround.
Knowing this, you can make more accurate project plans and set realistic deadlines. Happy workload, happy client.
Track your hours
All the above sounds great. But to actually get that level of oversight you'll need to invest in a solid time tracker.
There are a bunch of time tracking apps that let you integrate different calendars and tools, so you get an accurate picture of how you spend your time. Just make sure it's effortless to use – you really don’t want to waste time tracking time.
We’re super proud of Timely for this reason, since it tracks your time completely automatically. You can track pretty much anything, from location, web and phone activity, meetings, project durations and emails sent, to what documents worked on. Just head to your “Reports” section for a detailed breakdown of how you spend your time.