How to use time tracking to increase your productivity

Why should you track your time ?

“How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives,” wrote author Annie Dillard.

UK research found that office staff were productive for just 2hrs and 53 minutes of the working day.

In this video I’m going to take you through:

– how to track your time

– paper and app based versions of time tracking

Then we’ll look at :

– What this exercise will tell you

– .. and what you can do to be more conscious about planning your time


Hi there welcome back to the channel. If you’re new here my name is Chris Wray and I’m a technology consultant and today i’ll be talking about how to track your time and what you’ll discover about your productivity.

Today i’m going to take you through:
– how to track your time
some paper and some app based solutions
and then we’ll look at what this exercise will tell you
and then of course what you can do to be more conscious about planning your time.

So when i do this with my clients i like to use a paper based exercise basically just to track what you’re doing every 15 minutes of the day over a period, initially of a week and then a further three weeks to make up a month’s worth of data.
I like to use a paper-based system and just write down what i’ve been doing or just scribble a little dot in the 15-minute periods since i last tracked an activity. You can set a timer, you can use a counter on your phone, even a simple kitchen timer will work also. Whatever method that you use try and remember to keep track of every 15 minute slot.

I use this cool template which i’ll show you in detail later but you can print this out from a designer called David Seah David also talks about productivity on his blog.
After a week or so you will have completed one of these (mine is still in work in progress) and I’ll show you one of the sheets I’ve filled in already and after a month you’ll have four of them. Really I try to recommend doing this for at least a month because our weeks vary but a month of work is relatively static.

There’s a great app called Daily on the mac that basically it just sits in your dock at the top of the screen and then just prompts you every 15 minutes to put in “this is what i’m doing” it’ll simply ask what are you doing and you’ll select from the list or it will take your what you were doing previously and it’s generally one or two clicks in order to track your time.
So it’s a great app if you’re a mac user I’m not sure if there’s a PC version. At the end of that month you can export a spreadsheet which will essentially give you the same as the pieces of paper that I’ve just spoken about broken down into the chunks of where your time goes.
A lot of people like to use the app toggl. I’ve not used it but I hear a lot of good things about it so there’s a link for you to check out.

As an extra you could also track your sleep there are many apps now that will allow you to track your sleep through the Apple Watch through your phone through the Aura ring and so on and so forth. There are so many of these now and you could extend this process to work out how much sleep you’re getting and you again may be surprised at the results in terms of just the amount of sleep that you’re getting, or how restless you are during your sleep. As we all know good sleep is good for productivity in general. Not to mention all of the other health benefits.

Overall i prefer the paper-based system because being a visual person it gives you a coloured representation of where your time is going this is where the coloured pencils come in for those of us who are visuals.

So what will this time tracking show you. Well the first thing to do is to go through all of your time. Everything that you’ve logged and try and categorise it. I think in my most recent version of this I counted 23 different categories of where my time is spent. When i sit with clients there are sometimes more there are sometimes less. Sometimes we get confused about the categories of where our time is spent so it’s good to try and stick to those particular areas to try and understand what you’re doing within your day, your week, your month.

If we use the 80/20 rule you’ll probably discover that there’s a whole lot of time that you can’t really attribute to your key goals. The 80/20 rule implies that we’re only spending 20% of our time on those tasks that are most important to us and sadly that 80% of time may be tasks that need to be done, but they’re not necessarily contributing to really where you want to go.
So that means 20 of the things that you’re doing, in terms of achieving your goals, you’re really not getting high leverage results out of that time.

There’s also going to be a whole load of time that is simply lost. By that I mean; sat in front of the tv, scrolling on the phone, all of those tasks that you know we simply can’t attribute anything productive. That might be okay in terms of; we all need a break from time to time, but it’s when those periods start to expand that really we want to start looking at what is this telling us in terms of where we put our time. Either way, you’ll probably be surprised about what it shows you.
For example if you’re getting eight hours at work, eight hours sleep, which is what we probably all should have and then theoretically eight hours play; an idea formulated by a Welshman called Robert Owen in the early 19th century. This is not a new idea, but perhaps these days, particularly with the whole COVID situation and this blend between work and home life. We potentially may have slipped back into the pre-industrial revolution days with so many people now commonly working 12 hours or potentially more over their day.

So now you can start to seriously question where you’re allocating your time and how you would like your day or your week or your month, whatever period you you choose to measure this, and and where your time really goes. Does it go towards those things that are actually important to you ? Most important; we talk about the big rocks. This is not a new concept the idea that the big rocks should go in place first. So these are those actions that I talked about that do make a big conscious contribution to the big things that you have planned. As an approximation you know that is around 80/20 so that 20% really needs to go in first.
At the end of the week day month you can say I’ve made some conscious contribution to those most important things. Then we start to fit in the 80% that goes around. So things like meetings and chores and actions and all of the other work that needs to get fitted in around those big rocks. Then theoretically the the analogy is you know the rocks the small pebbles and then the sand everything else fits in around that.
When you start to look at planning your day, week, month, going forward: so for example I try not to work on Fridays but often do. So you would think – well hang on a minute if I made a conscious effort in planning the first four days of the week and squeezing in these most important things. Then theory says that i shouldn’t really need to work on a Friday.

I’ve also started to push myself perhaps a little bit more than I would normally. So instead of breaking down tasks into smaller pieces. Then doing a small piece and then stopping. Then doing another small piece. I’ve started consciously forcing myself to do the bigger tasks in one go. Such that they’re done that’s it. They are out of the way. I don’t have to come back to them. They’re just finished. There is such a good feeling that’s associated with that it’s wiped off my list of things to do. It’s done. It’s out of the way.

Some days you just don’t get anything done and that’s okay. No one’s perfect. I refer to them as write-off days. It’s like it’s written-off. We started with good intentions it didn’t work out. Nothing seems to be working out some days you just want to give up. You kind of feel that the world is conspiring against you. Nothing seems to be happening. Sometimes you get this kind of feeling as if you want to turn the sign around on the window and put a ‘Shop Closed’. Just go and take a break.
For me when this sort of thing happens. My preferred route is to go swimming. Do a bit of exercise. Just get out the house. Read, whatever it may be. Whatever that kind of break activity it is.

What often happens then. Because you’ve made this conscious decision; I’m not going to get anything done today and that’s okay. I’m just going to spend it doing something completely different. Something a bit more enjoyable.
Once you’ve taken that break, it almost gives your brain permission to just put things behind you and not worry about them. Strangely as a consequence of that. Sometimes when I do sit back down at the desk, I’m actually in a better frame of mind to get that work done. I don’t know why that is. Maybe it’s this this conscious ability to then say “it’s okay I don’t need to achieve anything today”. You give yourself permission to go ahead and achieve something without the pressure that’s associated with it.

One of the other things that you might want to consider is something called batching and that is taking a whole load of tasks that have a very similar category or style and put them all together. So for me most of my Tuesdays are taken up by creating content. Shooting videos like this. Creating blog content, writing, putting images together. Putting stuff together for social media. It’s all relatively similar. It’s like; if you’re opening the lid on something, you may as well get it all done before you close the lid again.
Batching is an idea that I never really took up initially, but now I do a lot. so in terms of you know just looking at that day or friday that i take friday is now my day for taking all of the things that are not completed in the beginning of the week and then this closing them off for the end of the week and setting a plan for the following week and again i was never a proponent of of this style but it does now start to work for me whereby you take certain days of the week for me i take it a little bit longer and take certain days of the month and try and build this i hate to say routine but it is a routine uh just putting those batches of tasks together and it essentially just allows you to get more stuff done in a shorter period because you’re not constantly you know switching between tasks so you might want to consider batching taking this a little bit of a step further i also split my days into three sections there is the morning where i generally will do tasks related to working on my business and then there is this kind of middle of the day when i will start to work on client work i will do calls

i will do meetings in the afternoon because of the time zones that i work in it’s sometimes helpful for me to to schedule all of my calls in the afternoon so this afternoon for example i have calls that start at 4 pm and actually they move all the way until 9 00 pm in the evening again that’s time zone related but i know this is always the case on a tuesday and so i can work around using this i call it batching but actually you’re defining your days by the actions that you will get completed in those days there are generally just a few exceptions to this and i think as long as those exceptions you know sort of fit in with the other structure of your day i think that’s okay so i know i will always have early calls and i will always have late calls because of the time zone differences i think it’s all a case of testing this out my own schedule has taken me a few months to kind of nail down in terms of its structure but but i feel better as a consequence of having done this so i encourage you to experiment in terms of what works for you especially if you’re you know a nighttime person or you know an early morning person is you may need to just switch around your schedule to fit that process in so that was a summary of time tracking time blocking uh time sectors i’ve heard it called so many things um and and again you know we never want ourselves to feel that we’re being squeezed into a into into a process or a structure that doesn’t work for us but actually i i fought against this for quite a long time i have now accepted that actually it does work slightly better for me in terms of putting these structures around i do ensure that there’s a good portion of free time in the middle the unexpected will always happen and so we just need to be aware of that.

How to use time tracking to increase your productivity

Take a look at the Personal Productivity Framework

Take a look at my Airtable Consulting page.  For more about Airtable see here.

Take a look at my Asana Consulting page.  For more about Asana see here.