[Time Management #3] Analyzing How You Currently Use Your Time


This article is the third in a series of four articles that presents the basics of diagnosing how you tend to spend your time and how you can develop the discipline of spending your time on what really matters to you.

  1. The first article established that effective time management is truly not about managing time as such; rather, it is about managing priorities. See full article here.
  2. Yesterday’s article outlined a simple exercise to help you track how you use your hours and minutes during a suitably long period of time, ideally a whole week. See full article here. Here is what your log should look like.

Log where time actually goes -- Time Log Example

This article describes three simple steps to tally up your time logs, analyze how you actually use your time, and recognize non-productive tasks and activities.

Step 1: Tally up Time-Use by Purpose or Project

Following an entire week of logging your time in 10- or 15-minute intervals, spend an hour at the end of the week to compile your logs.

The third column in your time log chart had identified the purpose and project of each 10- or 15-minute interval. Consolidate these projects and purposes into meaningful categories, ideally 10-15 categories. Review each day’s time log chart and add the time spent in each category, calculate percent of total time, and tabulate the results as illustrated in the following two examples.

Example 1: Time Analysis for Linda, a Housewife & Part-time Worker

Below is the time analysis for an entire week (168 hours) for Linda, a housewife who works part-time as an accountant at a law firm. Linda feels that she does not spend enough time with her friends and family.

Time Analysis Example -- Mother, Part-time Worker

Example 2: Time Analysis for Kumar, a Middle-Level Manager

Kumar, a middle-level manager at an aerospace company, feels he spends too much time at work and yet cannot “get it all done.” Below is the time analysis of his work week (67 hours.) Kumar aspires to reorganize his time, adopt productive means to get his work completed by working no more than 45-48 hours per week.

Time Analysis Example -- Middle-Level Manager

Step 2: Examine Wastefulness

As you tally your time by categories, ascertain the time you spent unproductively. Understand all your non-productive, wasteful activities. Identify,

  1. Time spent doing things that do not directly contribute to your short- and long-term goals and, hence, should not be done at all.
  2. Time spent on activities that need a lot of work, but have very little return in comparison to other necessities. These are activities that may not make any difference if you eliminate them.
  3. Time spent doing others’ work — time spent doing things that could have been and should be done by someone else. For instance, the 1.5 hours that Kumar spent on booking tickets and accommodation for an upcoming trip could have been done by an administrative assistant.
  4. Time wasted in transitions — for instance, time wasted when waiting for an appointment with your dentist, time wasted for a meeting to start, time lost due to a computer crash.
  5. Time spent doing things that you could more productively by using the right tools, learning a new skill, changing a process (developing a standard system,) seeking somebody’s help, or using a new software program.
  6. Time wasted from being disorganized. Time wasted in figuring out what to work on, or time wasted by not collecting all the resources when they could have been collected earlier, for instance.
  7. Time spent handling interruptions and distractions, such as when colleagues stop-by your desk to discuss their weekends.
  8. Time spent fighting fires caused by your earlier inaction or careless work. And, time spent doing things that could have been avoided had you taken the appropriate actions earlier.
  9. Time spent doing things that were probably better suited for other parts of the day. For example, checking email first thing in the mornings when you, like the majority of people, tend to be most efficient.

After taking into account time wasted, the remainder of time on your time logs should be time actually spent doing something useful or meaningful at the right time — as defined by your priorities in life or your role in your organization. Contemplate habits you can develop to avoid wasting time. (Future blog articles will discuss such habits in detail.)

Analyzing How You Currently Use Your Time

Step 3: Investigate Time Demands to Seek Better Habits

“Many executives know all about these unproductive and unnecessary time demands; yet they are afraid to prune them. They are afraid to cut out something important by mistake. But this mistake, if made, can be speedily corrected. If one prunes too harshly, one usually finds out fast enough.”
-Peter Drucker in ‘The Effective Executive’

For each task in your time log, ask the following three themes of questions to assess the nature of everything you spend time on.

  • Theme 1: Questions to examine the necessity. Ask, “Should I do this at all? Does this relate to my priorities? Does this help me achieve my goals or my organization’s objectives?”
  • Theme 2: Questions to examine the ownership. Ask, “Is this required of me? Am I the right person to do this? Do I have the right tools to do this? Can I delegate? Can I seek help?”
  • Theme 3: Questions to examine the prioritization. Ask, “Can I spend less time on this? Should I do this during the part of the day when I can focus/concentrate better? Can I do this during some other part of the day or week?”

Concluding Thoughts

Asking the above questions helps you identify the nature of your activities and prepares you to discover to spend a significant portion of your time more effectively.

Tomorrow’s article will help you reflect on your life and career and catalog the principal values that you hold dear. These values define your priorities — what is really important to you in the context of your professional and personal life. You can then prepare a ‘Time Budget’ which prescribes how you should spend your time on things that are congruent with your priorities in life or at work.

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