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Why Track Your Time?
If you charge clients for your services, then you must track your time. But, if you don't have to send out any bills, does time-keeping really increase productivity? Should you ask employees to track their time? Julie Morgenstern, an organization and time management guru, would answer a resounding "yes!" Understanding how you spend time is the first step in creating a plan to achieve your goals and increase productivity. Time-keeping is even more important for the home-office worker that is visually bombarded with personal distractions.
There are many good reasons to track your time:
- It allows you to accurately charge for services. Are you taking into account time spent on research and follow-up when you price a job or charge a client?
- It allows you to evaluate how you are spending time so you can change things if necessary. Did you realize that you spent two hours on Facebook last week? Are you checking email when you are most energetic? Do you have very little time to exercise or spend time with your family?
- It brings productivity into your consciousness. The mere fact that you are monitoring your behavior may help you spend time wisely.
- It focuses attention on important activities. Are you spending time achieving your goals or just doing what is most urgent?
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But...Track it Wisely
There is a downside to tracking time. It takes time. Before committing to an elaborate tracking process, review these tips:
- Find a system that meets your needs and is easy to use. An elaborate time-keeping system may be needed for billing services or large projects. A paper-based time management activity log may suffice for periodic analysis. Inexpensive applications now exist for smart phones too.
- Start with a simple time-keeping process and move to a system with more advanced options when your needs are clear. Significant time and expense can be expended in purchasing software and learning how to use it. See if a trial period is available for more expensive systems before you buy the full package.
- Develop a habit to keep up with the system. Make it part of your routine. It will become increasingly difficult to accurately record what you did with each passing day.
- If you aren't required to track your time for an employer or to bill clients, then log your activities for a typical week every three to four months or whenever your routine changes. By tracking for seven days, you can see patterns and average your results for the week. The quarterly interval allows you to see the impact of changes you make.
- If you are required to track your time, then consider tracking your activities in more detail every so often. For example, identify what type of activities (i.e., research, follow-up emails and phone calls) you are performing for a client or job. This will allow you to identify efficiencies and new ways to handle certain tasks.
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And...Use the Information Gathered
To analyze how you spend your time:
- Add up time spent on various tasks. If you track time by project or client, then also capture detailed activities performed for the project or client. Some categories might include checking email, research, lunch and answering phone calls.
- Calculate time spent in each category as a percent of total work time. For example, if you were at your home-office desk for eight hours and you spent two hours checking email, then 25% of your time was spent on that activity.
- Review the types of activities performed for various projects or clients. For example, is half your time spent answering questions for a client and the other half providing a work product?
- Consider how much time you spent working on important goals?
- Compare time spent on personal tasks versus work-related tasks.
- Does anything unusual stand out?
- What type of work did you do during your peak or most energetic times?
- Did you jump around doing different types of activities (i.e., answering the phone, responding to an email and then returning to writing) for short periods of time?
- Do you have entries where you did two things simultaneously?
As you reflect on how to improve your productivity, ask yourself these questions:
- Can you re-schedule activities to coincide with times when you are most creative or energetic?
- Are there activities or clients that are not worthwhile and can be eliminated?
- Should any activities be delegated or outsourced?
- Can similar activities be scheduled for the same time block?
- Would additional training in an area be helpful?
- Would a change in procedure streamline a task?
Armed with a wealth of information from your time-keeping and analysis, change your habits, plan your week and watch your productivity soar!
Image Credit: http://www.sxc.hu/photo/324802