Time tracking is the process of creating a detailed record of what you spend your time on. Whereas a daily schedule reflects your plan for the day, time tracking shows what you actually did.
People track their time for a variety of reasons, including:
To invoice clients for billable work when billing on a time basis.
To provide the details of what you are working on to someone else, for their tracking or analysis.
To discover insights into how you use your time to improve your time management.
To create moments of mindfulness that allow you to make better decisions with your time.
Time tracking is definitely not for everyone, but almost everyone can benefit from occasional time tracking.
Methods of Time Tracking
Some of the common methods of time tracking include:
Set a timer when you start a task and record the elapsed duration when you complete it. This can provide awareness of the elapsed time during the task, which can be helpful for pacing yourself.
- Start/Stop Times
Record the start and end time of each task, then calculate the duration from these. The times of each task allow you to understand your rhythm throughout your day better.
- Screen Time
Automatically record where you are spending your time on your digital devices using its built-in time tracking or a separate app. Some software allows you to provide context for why you were using a specific application or visiting a specific web site.
Record your time continuously by recording whenever you switch tasks. The end time of the previous task is set to the start time of your next task.
You may use multiple methods to serve different purposes. Screen time tracking can help you understand how you use your digital devices, while duration or start/stop times track billable time effectively. Use 24/7 time tracking when doing a time audit, or to create an ongoing mindfulness of how you use your time.
Doing a Time Audit
A time audit is when you track your time for a limited period of time, usually 1-2 weeks, to gain an understanding of where your time is going. If you’ve never tracked your time, a time audit provides valuable insights.
If you have a clearly delineated workday, you can track only the hours you are at work; otherwise, it’s best to track all of your waking hours.
To perform a time audit, download a time tracking app or take out a sheet of paper and make four columns: Start Time, End Time, Category and Activity.
Time audits work best using the 24/7 time tracking method, since you’ll be tracking all of your time within a given period (e.g., 168 hours in a week). By only needing to record the start of each activity, and not have to worry about ending them, you reduce the effort required to track your time.
Though if tracking your time continuously feels like too much, Chris Baily from A Life of Productivity recommends tracking only your important tasks. While this approach doesn’t give you insight into where you’re wasting your time, it’s easier to implement and can help you understand how much of your time you’re spending on things that match your priorities.
Categorizing Your Time
To make it easier to analyze your time, add a category to each time record describing the type of activity you were doing during that time, or record only the category when you record your time and not the specific activity.
Use a hierarchy of categories to be able to analyze your time at different levels of granularity.
An example hierarchy you might use for 24/7 time tracking is:
- Product / Service
- Sales / Marketing / Networking
- Customer / Client Support
- Strategy & Planning
- Administration / Management
- Friends & Family
- Food: Prep, Eating, Cleanup
- Systems & Strategy
- Social Media
- Travel / Commuting