Using a Daily Time Log

It is very common for people to attribute certain kinds of results to themselves, usually their successes, and certain kinds of results to other people, usually their failures.

This often leads people to be unclear about the relationship between cause and effect, which is particularly important when it comes to time management. For example, whilst there are occasions when other people are responsible for our time loss, we may find it difficult to admit that we could have done more to minimize the effect.

This can manifest itself in the language we use to analyze time loss and the consequent avoidance of our own responsibility. For example:

    “Where has the time gone?” can be rephrased as “How did I use the time?”
    “It was such a waste of time …” can be rephrased as “I wasted so much time”
    “The time flew past …” can be rephrased as “I failed to keep a track of the time”
    “He took up too much of my time …” can be rephrased as “I let him take up too much of my time”

You should always make a conscious effort when analyzing lost time and begin to take appropriate responsibility for it.

If you want to learn to manage your time better, the first step is to document how you are currently spending it. Surprisingly, most of us do not have an accurate picture of how we spend our time. We may think that we know how long we spend on each task, but these impressions usually turn out to be inaccurate when compared to a detailed time log.

It is useful to carry out an objective review of how you currently spend your time by keeping a daily time log which details which tasks you did, when and for how long. This time log shouldn’t take more than 10 minutes a day to complete and you will probably need a further 20 minutes or so at the end of the week to analyze the results.

How long you need to keep the log for will depend on the nature of your work. If you work on a monthly cycle, then keep the log for a couple of months. If you work on a weekly cycle, then two or three weeks should provide an accurate picture.

Formatting Your Daily Time Log

Draw up a log that reflects the way in which you work, dividing your day into representative blocks of time – for example 15 minute or half-hour divisions. Complete the log in real time, as remembering what you did several hours earlier can be very difficult.

At the end of each day, conduct a simple analysis of the activities you have performed under four simple headings: Priorities, Delegation, Time Wasters and finally Operations and Management.

Priorities are those activities which represent genuine priorities for that working period. This should include only those activities that make a significant contribution to what you are trying to achieve. Be disciplined in only identifying real priorities, they are by definition the few rather than the many tasks.

Delegation indicates those tasks that you could or should have given to someone else to complete, including priority activities where appropriate. On consideration you may identify priority tasks that you could have delegated a significant part of, even if you needed to tackle part of the work personally.

Time Wasters include the things that distracted you from your main objectives, such as interruptions, as well as those activities which, on reflection, you should have said no to. Time wasters are often insidious and yet when totaled up will often represent a significant part of the working day. Again, be disciplined when identifying time wasters – they are an essential component in regaining control over your working day.

You may find the Operations and Management category to be slightly more difficult to classify. Here use two letters: an O for operations and an M for management. Operating tasks encompass the technical or professional part of your job as well as the routine work much of which could be delegated. Management tasks relate to achieving results through other people and include activities such as planning, delegating work and reviewing results.

Analyzing Your Daily Time Log

As you look at your time log at the end of each day, it may draw your attention to some activities that you wish to record in more detail.

For example, if you have identified that much of the time you spend on the telephone was non-essential; then you should analyze this area in more detail. Keep records of whether the call was incoming or outgoing, who it was from or to, and estimate how much of the time spent was actually productive.

If you feel that you are spending too much time in meetings or in conversation then record details like whether attendance at the meeting was mandatory and whether the conversation was the result of an interruption.
When you are happy with your classification of the day’s activities, add up the number of time divisions you spent on each of the categories and factor it over the total divisions in the day. Draw a bar chart with appropriate columns and add each entry from the log into the appropriate column.

This analysis should provide you with two important pieces of information. Firstly, are you investing enough of your time in areas that are essential to achieving your goals? Secondly, in which areas, that are not essential to your goals, are you spending significant time?

You may also find it helpful to write a short critique of the day in response to asking yourself questions like:

1. What kind of day was it: effective or just busy?
2. What was good or disappointing about the way your time was spent?
3. How typical was it of a working day?
4. What is the data telling you, how could you use your time better?

Keeping a log over a working week is always revealing, sometimes reassuring but, more frequently, disturbing. When you perform this exercise you are likely to be surprised by how little time you actually spend on your real priorities.

It may also highlight how many of the activities you perform could be delegated to others. Finally, don’t be surprised if your log shows that a significant part of your working day is lost to distractions. Typically around 20% of time is identified as being lost in this way.

Your Work Diary

A permanent record of where your time has been committed is your working diary. Depending on your job you may keep this yourself or it may be delegated to secretarial staff.

Look at your diary over the preceding three month period and see how your time was spent – are there recognizable patterns with regard to meetings, visits, presentations, travel and professional training?

See if you can identify the tasks that take up the majority of your time, do you need to reduce these commitments or find more time for them?

Look at your diary and ask yourself how you can start to gain more control over your working day.

When designing a daily time log, make sure that it reflects the way in which you work, dividing your day into representative blocks of time. Try to complete the log in real time, as recalling what you did several hours earlier can be very difficult.

It is useful to maintain a log of the activities you have performed under four simple headings: Priorities, Delegation, Time Wasters and finally Operations and Management.

If you are serious about improving your time management strategies then download these free eBooks, checklists and templates for your PC, Mac, laptop, tablet, Kindle, eBook reader or Smartphone.

Goal Setting eBook
This eBook explains how to use the theory of goal setting to set practical targets for you and your team members.

Successful Delegation eBook
This eBook explains the ten rules of successful delegation that will motivate and empower your team.

Managing Interruptions eBook
This eBook explains how to protect yourself from interruptions and still maintain a good relationship with your colleagues.

Overcoming Procrastination eBook
This eBook explains how to overcome the obstacles that prevent you from starting difficult high-priority tasks.

Negotiating Workload Limits eBook
This eBook explains how to negotiate your workload to a manageable level and avoid becoming snowed under.

Productivity Tools eBook
This eBook explains how to choose the best productivity tools and describes how to use them to get more work done.

Key Points

  • You will find it useful to document how you are currently spending your time.
  • Record the details of which tasks you did, when and for how long.
  • The nature of your work will determine how long you need to record this log.
  • Look at your diary over the preceding three month period.
  • Can you identify the tasks that take up the majority of your time?
  • How can you gain more control over your working day?

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