The joke’s on us: Technology was supposed to simplify our life, but it’s clearly making our life more complex!
A million things demand our daily attention (most of which add no real value to our lives). We don’t know which direction to turn our focus.
We even created a brand new word to reflect our need to direct our attention to multiple important things: priorities. Seriously, we pluralized the word ‘priority’ as a way to justify our inability to focus on one singular task.
“The word priority came into the English language in the 1400s. It was singular. It meant the very first or prior thing. It stayed singular for the next five hundred years,” author Greg McKeown explains in his book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.
Now that our priority lists are 30 items long, it’s no wonder we’re struggling to allocate our focus to all of them!
This inability to truly prioritize is happening across the professional spectrum. Top level executives are only spending about 12% of their time on their top priorities, according to a Harvard Business Review study. That means they are spending a whopping 88% of their time doing everything else! Ping-ponging emails, putting out fires, giving the green light to the company’s Christmas party menu – these lower-level tasks are sucking up the majority of the day.
How can we flip the script, and start spending 80% (the majority) of our time on our highest priorities?
The roadmap to 80% focus isn’t complicated, but it does require you to swim against the current of today’s “distraction culture”.
STEP 1 IS TAKING EXTREME ACCOUNTING OF YOUR TIME.
Think about it: time is our only finite resource. We audit our money to figure out where it’s going, so why not audit our TIME to understand where it’s going as well? Then we can create a “time budget” based on reality, not fantasy.
Thankfully, you can time track quickly and easily with just a pen and paper. Laura Vanderkam is the time management wizard and author of 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. She spent 3 years collecting hour-by-hour time logs from the busiest people on planet earth. The results were earth-shattering: we DO have enough time to get it all done, if we use it wisely!
Here are our 3 favorite tools for tracking time*:
- The humble spreadsheet: Spreadsheets are great for time tracking, and they allow you to add up categories, like time spent with family, cooking, or in transit.
- Harvest: This is what we use for our own company! We especially love it because it seamlessly integrates with Asana – the task manager we use to manage our business.
- Toggl: This is a crazy simple option for tracking your time that can be especially helpful for freelancers with multiple clients or managers looking to track employees’ time.
*For an even bigger list, click here.
STEP 2 IS GETTING STARTED TODAY (EVEN IF IT’S THE WEEKEND).
We suggest starting by tracking one week, in 30 minute increments. That’s 168 hours of your time. Simply make note of what you spend your time on. In our experience this takes a paltry 10 minutes a day. Pro tip: set a recurring alarm for 3-4 times a day to remind yourself to keep track.
STEP 3 IS USING YOUR “TIME AUDIT” TO CREATE A “TIME BUDGET”.
At the end week 1, take 2 hours to analyze your results. Decide on some buckets to add up larger categories. Then ask yourself: What categories pop out? Studies indicate that we OVER-estimate our time spent really working, and UNDER-estimate time spent to ourselves. With real data in hand, it’ll be easy to discern what needs more of your time, and what gets the cut.
Studies indicate that we OVER-estimate our time spent really working, and UNDER-estimate time spent to ourselves.
STEP 4 IS TO TRUE UP YOUR TIME AUDIT TO YOUR TIME BUDGET ON A WEEKLY OR MONTHLY BASIS.
Just like with our financial budget, there’s what you SAY you’ll spend, and what you ACTUALLY spend. Keeping a close eye on these gaps will help you close them over time, and get real time back.
In the end, it’s is all about paying attention: studies show that people who are trying to diet lose twice as much weight if they keep daily food tracking diaries. Once you start tracking your time, you’re going to have a much clearer picture on your top priorities, and you can double (or even triple) the amount of time you’re spending on them!
FINALLY, USE WHAT YOU’VE LEARNED TO GET ON OFFENSE AND OFF OF DEFENSE.
Once you’ve gotten radical clarity on where your time is going – and how much time it really takes you to do tasks – it’s a lot easier to start allocating it better.
This is when you start pre-planning your weeks and managing your to-do lists on Asana (or your online task manager of choice). When you start to take back control of your time. Remember – it’s not about getting every single thing on your list done in a week… It’s about getting the RIGHT things done!
Let us know down below – have you tracked your time before?