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Everyone is always “too busy” and believes they don’t have enough time. Wrong.
You have the same amount of time as everyone else, you just don’t know how to manage it.
Warren Buffett, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Albert Einstein and many other wildly successful people are able to fit in all their most important tasks in those 24 hours we all share.
And the only reason they can is because they have superior time management.
To help manage your time, it’s easiest when you use some tools to help you. But with so many options, what is the best time management tool?
For beginners, the most simple solution is using passive time tracking apps. They offer you lots of useful information about your habits to see where they can be improved.
For experienced productivity hackers, these might not provide enough information. Below I’ll detail how I created my own time management tool and learned to maximise my productivity.
The Evolution of My Personal Time Management Tool
I’ve used a variety of methods to manage my time, first starting off like many people with a simple pen and paper journal. Every night I’d write down some things I did and my thoughts.
This worked great for a while, until I realised that it was ridiculously difficult to find out what exactly I had been doing at a certain time in my endless stream of chicken scratch handwriting.
I decided to upgrade to digital journalling and creating new time entries whenever I did a new activity. Now I could easily use the search function to find out what activity I was doing at any time of the day.
This also worked great for a while, until I tried to reflect on all this data. I was time-consuming as there was still intimidating mountains of text, with most of it being just non-actionable random tidbits.
I then decided to create a spreadsheet template for my daily journal to help me focus on the right things. In the 13 months I’ve used it I made hundreds of improvements, so I’ll explain what I learned about my time management method:
Pros of Spreadsheet Time Tracking
1) Tonnes of Visualisation Options
Tables, line graphs, histograms, pie charts, any form of visualising your data can be used. This makes gaining insights on how you spend your time both quick and easy.
2) Endless Ways of Analysing and Reporting Insights
If you want to master time management, you’ll need to analyse your habits. Data in a spreadsheet can be easily analysed to find many interesting trends.
For example, this graph shows when I was most likely to start procrastinating during November 2013. I found that from 15:00 (3pm) I procrastinated way more than at any other time.
I realised I’d developed a habit of surfing YouTube after work. So I decided to use a website blocker which blocked YouTube in the afternoon and stopped blocking in the evening, to give me time to finish important tasks first.
There are lots of different habits you can explore. Other than finding out when an activity is mostly likely to happen, you can find out average durations of an activity e.g. how long do I tend to socialise, work or walk?
How long do I spend each month reading, working, eating? How much as a daily average? How much do I want to be spending?
And the most powerfully of you can compare your time tracking with any other data. For example, analysing the effect of time slept on calories eaten, time spent socialising vs steps walked, how exercise affects productivity, etc.
This is incredibly useful for self-understanding and will allow you to further improve your life.
Cons of Spreadsheet Time Tracking
Despite the great insights you can gain from using a spreadsheet as your time management tool, I found a few major problems:
1) It’s hard to build as a habit
With passive time tracking apps all you have to do is download the app. With a spreadsheet, you have to manually type in the start and stop time of each activity. This is a hassle.
I used spreadsheets to time track for a long time but I eventually thought that there must be a better way. Thanks to motivational apps I use I was very disciplined in doing it, but I wouldn’t recommend to most people now that there are alternatives.
Another problem is that it doesn’t impact your behaviour much in the moment.
On a white spreadsheet is a few numbers written for how your spent your time. This is not visually impactful and therefore limits how likely you continue it as a habit.
2) Lacks mobility
This may or may not be a necessity to you, but it’s worth mentioning that it’s difficult to time track when you’re away from your computer.
There are a few workarounds. You can simply jot down what you did on a notepad. Or you can use Google sheets or do some IFTTT magic.
But still it’s not quick and easy to record away from your computer and that is a problem.
There is a way around this
I stopped using a spreadsheet as my time management tool and now use active time tracking apps.
With apps I can still export my time tracking data into a spreadsheet. This gives you the best of both worlds – it removes all the cons and you still the pros.
Although you still have to manually mark when events occur, you don’t have to type it down. Just one click and you’ll create a new time entry.
This is ideal for an experienced productivity hacker because it gives you brilliant insights without consuming much time. By only taking a few minutes a day to time track, this makes it easier to keep as a lifelong habit .
How do you stay productive?
Everyone has their own system for staying productive – a big part of mine definitely involves using a time management tool.
It took me a long time to settle on a system that works for me but I’m glad I put in the effort.
What’s your system? Any tips and tricks you’ve learned for staying productive, please share below. And if you time track, what things did you learn?