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Where Does My Time Go?
What Did You Do All Day?
Do you wake in the morning to a lengthy to-do list? And while you may spend the entire day busily working to carve away at the tasks, are you still falling into bed at the end of the day wondering what you really accomplished?
You may have tried different time management tips but without much success. Doing more stuff faster isn’t making a difference to your productivity and you’re left feeling scattered and disorganized.
You may be busily unproductive. Busy with tasks but lacking in productivity. In a factory, figuring out how to get things done faster is useful. But you aren’t pumping out the same widget over and over. You engage in a variety of tasks throughout your day.
Instead, productivity is about doing the right things at the right time. The following exercises can make you more aware of what you are trying to accomplish.
Never Have Enough Time?
Track Your Day
Before identifying if you’re doing the right things at the right time, it’s useful to bring awareness to how you’re using your days. Chances are that the only time you look at a clock during the day is when you’re bored, wondering if it’s time for lunch, or if you have a meeting or appointment scheduled.
You probably go from task-to-task without really noticing how long it takes you to answer emails first thing in the morning, fold laundry, shower and dress in the morning, etc. While some tasks may seem insignificant from a larger view, if you busily attend to a lot of small tasks that meet short term goals, you are still giving your time to those actions.
How much time is going to tasks that “just take a minute” versus those that will have long term effects for your career, relationships, and health?
Review this time tracker at the end of the day. Are you allowing yourself to be distracted by unimportant tasks? Do you spend more time than you thought on busywork? Are you using simple tasks as a distraction and excuse from more important projects?
Bring Awareness to Your Day
Bring awareness to your day by setting a timer to go off every fifteen minutes (unless you're involved in deep work and are in a situation that already limits distractions). Whenever the alarm goes off, write down what you’ve been doing and reset the timer. At the end of the day, you'll see how you use your time.
Watch the Clock
Identify Your Priorities
One of the issues with tending to small tasks that demand our immediate attention is that they take time away from projects and goals that affect our future. Because ‘now’ is more tangible than the future, it’s easier to become interested in the actions that will result in an immediate result than something that we might not see the result of for months.
(For example, you won’t see the results of a single workout. You’ll need to exercise consistently, and for months, before you see the effects of your efforts.)
So, what are your priorities when you’re looking at a list of so many things that need to get done? Imagine a year from now. What do you want to have done by then?
Remember, a lot of things that you do during the day are maintenance tasks – laundry, shopping and cooking, grooming – even though they need to get done, these aren’t priorities. (Unless you have nothing but ketchup and crackers in your refrigerator and pantry; or, no clean clothing that fits – then these tasks become priorities.)
When Everything Seems Important
Plan Your Day
Productivity expert and author Brian Tracy adopted a phrase from Mark Twain about eating a frog first thing in the morning, meaning that you should get the most difficult task out of the way before tending to less important tasks.
Identify three tasks from your to-do list that aren’t run-of-the-mill maintenance tasks. These will by actions that a year from now you’ll look back and be happy that you did. If thinking a year out is too abstract for you, focus on the actions that align with a dream – to start a business, write a novel, travel to Australia, lose 50 pounds.
Dreams don’t usually involve taking a single step.
After you go through your morning routine, turn your attention to your priorities. If you were only able to work toward one important project today, what would it be. If you can’t decide between your three tasks, they’re likely of equal importance. Pick any one and start.
At the end of the day, you’ll feel a greater sense of accomplishment because you worked toward something important to you.
Break Your Project into Smaller Pieces
Question Why You’re Doing a Task
If you’ve tracked your time and have started limiting distractions and time wasters, while devoting more time to priorities, but still end the day feeling that you got nothing done, it’s time to question if you’re working on the right tasks.
Are you doing things important to you or are they tasks that you’re doing for someone else? If the person is a priority in your life, then doing things for them may also be a priority for you. However, if you’re still feeling unsatisfied at the end of the day, question why you are doing a task.
Are you giving your time to something someone else could do? This could mean anything from having the kids make their own beds and clear the dinner table to hiring a service to grocery shop for you.
Are you doing something that’s no longer important to you, but you're doing it out of habit or out of an obligation to complete in? It may be time to cut your losses and shift your time and attention to something that’s important to you now.
Create an Intention for Your Day
When you get into bed at night (or just before you do) and reflect on your day, consider what one thing you could do better the next day.
Remember, the feeling of dissatisfaction that you got nothing done during the day is an indication that you’re not happy with how you have spent your day. Pay attention to what you do during the day, how long it takes, and why you engage your time the way you do. Ultimately, you are the one who chooses what you do with your days.