Where Does Your Time Go?

“This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Where Does Your Time Go?

By Andrea Novakowski

Marilyn, a real estate agent, had the nagging suspicion that she was spinning her wheels. “I spend hours and hours doing marketing tasks, and still my business isn’t growing the way I want,” she confided to me. “I’m always busy, but the payoff isn’t coming. I have a feeling I’m wasting my time!”

She had a feeling, but she didn’t really know. Because she had no real data.

If you don’t have a clear picture of where you are, it’s hard to create a plan to get where you want to go.

As I have with many clients, I introduced Marilyn to my three-step process for managing time. I really like this method because it allows you to gain clarity and focus so you can use your time in the most efficient way possible.

Here’s the process:

  1. Track. Gather data by recording your activities over several days or weeks.
  1. Assess. Review how you spend your working hours. Which activities produce results for you? Which don’t?
  1. Strategize. Create a plan to focus on what’s most important.

The first step, tracking, is critical because it helps you gain awareness. It answers the key question: Where does your time go? I recommend measuring your workday in 15-minute increments. There are online tools available, or you may prefer the traditional paper-and-pen method. If you’re constantly on the computer, a quick Excel sheet may do the trick. Or you may already have a company tool that can keep track of how you use your time.

Don’t change your work habits. Just record what you normally do all day. Observe yourself without judgment. As you capture data, it may confirm what you already suspect, or it may provide new information. You’re making what’s invisible (that vague sense of time disappearing down the drain) visible, so you can assess it.

Right away, you’ll spot habits that interfere with your success, like checking your email multiple times a day, jumping from one activity to another, and not blocking out time for important tasks. You’ll also recognize your more productive efforts — like reaching out to past clients and new prospects — that help your business grow.

When you start tracking your time, surprising things happen.

Marilyn chose to record her activities by hand in 15-minute increments, using a timesheet. A week later, she reported back on how it went.

“It was kind of funny,” she said. “Even though you told me not to do anything differently and just observe, I found that my behavior changed. I didn’t want to record that I was wasting time, so rather than checking email first thing in the day, I focused on my priorities. Just the act of writing down how I spent my time forced me to choose activities that would most benefit my business.”

What Marilyn experienced was the Hawthorn effect — when a person modifies an aspect of their behavior in response to their awareness of being observed.

That’s why it’s so helpful to have someone or something to be accountable to. You can start small, with a timesheet, which is a low-cost way to bring accountability to your day. Ready to become even more accountable? Share your results with a friend, a colleague, or a professional coach.

In next month’s Tip: Step 2: Assess, we’ll discuss how to analyze your data and figure out which activities give you the biggest payoff for time spent. Until then, have fun observing!


Ready to learn how to be more productive? Pull out your timesheet and start recording. Don’t be surprised if you begin making better use of your time by doing just this first step. If you’d like to share your findings, write them below.

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