Want to give yourself a raise?
I can’t think of a faster, simpler way to get more done and make more money than to do this:
Track your time.
Yeah, that’s it.
It’s one of those no-brainer so-simple-nobody-does-it strategies to get more done in the day. Every single day.
It works because, well, we tell ourselves lies about our productivity. We think we’re being productive but we’re rarely as productive as we think we are. (I’m not suggesting we need to run at 100% capacity, 100% of the time. Actually, I think that’s a recipe for burnout… that said, I think most of us have a lot more capacity than we realize because we convince ourselves that we’re maxed out when we’re really not.)
I love time tracking and I try to do it every week. It’s always valuable.
Let me show you how I do it…
(spoiler alert: I’m old school; I realize there is software or mobile apps for this stuff but I find it too easy to minimize them on my desktop or forget to run them (and some tracking software I’ve used in the past has been an absolute resource hog). I like pen and paper and a couple of highlighters. Keep it simple and it’s always in my face.)
On Sunday I draw out my week in 15 minute increments…
Whenever I recommend this practice to other people, I always recommend that they do it in 15 minute increments. Believe me, I’ve tried 30… and 60… but they suck. They just aren’t as good at giving you a very clear picture of how you spend your time. It’s far easier to look back at an hour-long segment of time and think “I was productive this hour” when in reality you were productive for just a few minutes. But 15 minutes? It’s a good balance between being laser-focused on a small segment of time while still keeping this system manageable. (Hey, I’m not suggesting that you assess every minute, right?)
You’ll notice that I track from 7:00 AM to 3:00 PM. You can track any time you want but that’s what I like to track.
I prefer to get up early and, ideally, finish all my work before noon. (I used to be a nightowl but you can check out this blog post about how I mastered my sleep to wake up early and become more productive and this series of posts when I challenged myself to wake up at 5:00 AM to get into the habit of waking up early).
My absolute best time for maximum productivity is 7:00 AM through about 10:30 AM. I get a lot of great work done then. I keep tracking past noon because I enjoy the process and the early afternoon is still good productive time to work on my biz.
I measure my time in terms of simple green for revenue-generating work and red for non-revenue-generating work. Yeah, it’s not a perfect system since prospect calls or marketing of my own business might be colored red but still be important to do. But you have to pick something and right now I’m focused on building a business that generates more revenue so that’s what I’ve chosen. In a different situation I may measure in some other way. (There was a time, for example, when I would have colored green only for when I was typing words but now that I also bill for other things like consulting, I needed to adjust what I measured.)
Time Tracking — April 16-20
Monday, April 16
So, on Monday I woke up and jumped into my work. It was a pretty good day! I’d give myself a grade of “A” for Monday’s level of focus and productivity. There were a couple of times when I paused for some fun/mental-break/social diversions but that’s okay because those little breaks were like breathers that could keep me focused the rest of the time. My goal isn’t to get rid of all stuff marked in red; it’s just to be aware of it and make sure it doesn’t take over.
Disclaimer: don’t bother trying to read my handwriting. It’s messy. I basically just jot down a quick note about what I do so I can look back and what I did during various blocks of time.
Tuesday, April 17
Tuesday was a completely different story than Monday. I’ll give it a grade of “C”. The day was a gong-show right from the very first moment. I was in reactive mode, dealing with challenges and trying to solve problems. There were some technical issues. And on top of that I had a few things I felt that I needed to work on that weren’t revenue-generating but still needed to be done.
Fortunately, I feel like I turned the ship around by 11:00 AM and was able to get in some revenue-generating writing for the last few measured hours of my day.
Wednesday, April 18
Wednesday was better than Tuesday but not as good as Monday. I’d give it a grade of “B”. I got some work done and although I did have a non-revenue-generating meeting (actually, it was a few short back-to-back calls that were all related) I still got some good work done overall.
Thursday, April 19
Forgot to take a picture after Thursday was done, so you’re seeing a bit of Friday in there too.
Thursday was decent too. I’d give it the grade of “B-” as it was close to Wednesday but not quite there. I did move a bunch of projects forward although I didn’t get to cross as many off as I would have liked.
Friday, April 20
Friday was another day I’d grade as “A”; a strong finish to the week. I was focused and productive and got a lot of good work done before a quick lunch, and that meant I could enjoy the afternoon at a local book sale. So, a good day, overall!
Tracking tracking is a good practice to do but it’s even better when you pause at the end of the week to learn some lessons.
Here are some lessons I learned this week, along with a few reminders that you might find interesting if this is new to you…
1. There is value in the simplicity of the only-2-colors format. However, some of the red-colored spots are still critical to running my business (such as the meeting on Wednesday morning). So red doesn’t mean bad… I just want to be aware and control it.
3. It’s all in how I start: If I start strong, I can usually keep going and bounce back from interruptions easily. If I start from a reactive trouble-shooting mode, as was the case on Tuesday, it takes a ton of effort to get on track.
4. It’s hard to predict when things go off the rails. And since I can’t always anticipate when that will happen, I need to become better at deciding what is worth my attention when it does. In retrospect, I could have saved some of that problem-solving stuff for after 3pm (when I stop tracking my time for the day).
5. When my mornings are mostly green (what I’d grade as “A” or “B” days) I can usually finish everything I wanted to do by lunch… and then everything I do after that is extra income (if I choose to work) or free time (if I choose). Therefore, I have more freedom and choice after lunch if I can create stronger starts and maintain more consistent focus in the morning.
6. I try to do this tracking every week, which is a great practice but I’ve observed htat the level of accountability that comes from sharing this on Facebook was remarkably good at keeping me even more focused and productive! Not sure I want to share all these details of my life so publicly every week but I think there is value in sharing this a bit more regularly. Will think more on this!
If you bill for your time or based on a certain amount or type of productivity (such as word count), time tracking is the most effective way to become more productive (and give yourself a raise). It cuts through the lies that you tell yourself about productivity and reveals what you truly do at any given moment of your day.
There are always ways to become more productive and efficient, and a million books have been written about every method and strategy out there. But I haven’t found anything more effective than simply using time tracking to get a handle on what you do each day…
… and then taking a few moments at the end of the week to assess how you did, to learn some lessons, and to aim for something better next week.