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« Time Freedom: The Black Cloud Hunt | Main | Action versus Activity »

Where is your time going?

Have you ever got to the end of a frantic day and wondered what you have actually achieved at the end of it all? In spite of the fact that you have rushed around all day you still haven’t done half the things you meant to. And you are hideously conscious of all the multitude of tasks that still remain to be done.

One good way of finding out where the time is going and at the same time gaining more control over it is a variation of the familiar time log recommended in most time management books.

Usually the time log is seen as a record of what you have done or are doing. So typically you might be asked to keep a record of everything you do for several days running or you might be asked to write down what you were doing every 15 minutes throughout the day. The results are then used for analysing how your time is being used.

The problem with these methods is that they are records of what you have already done, rather than being statements about what you are going to do. They therefore fail to address a basic problem — that poor time management is usually the result of acting on impulse rather than acting on decision.

One simple change can make the time log a much more powerful tool — instead of writing down what you have done, write down what you are about to do. In other words each time you complete one action, consciously choose what your next action is going to be and write it down.

It is very easy to keep this type of time log. The first step is to write down the time now, and then write down what you intend to do next, e.g.

09.32 Answer John’s email

When you have finished doing this item, write down the time and the next thing you are going to do, e.g.

09.32 Answer John’s email
09.46 Tidy desk

If you get any interruptions, put them in the log with a start and finish time and indent them, e.g.

09.32 Answer John’s email
         (09.40 Phone call from Linda 09.51)
09.57 Tidy desk

Keeping a log this way will go a long way towards helping you to act out of decision rather than impulse. Because you are writing down what you are going to do before you do it, you have to ask yourself the question — conciously or unconciously — “what am I going to do next?”. This is a major step forward in gaining control of your life. Remember time management is not really about managing time at all — it is about managing your attention.


Try keeping a log like this for an entire day, starting from the time you get up, and review it just before you go to bed. Look to see how well you used your time during the day. Did you do the things that were of most value to you? How much were you interrupted? What lessons have you learned that you could put to use tomorrow? Did the day run better than it does when you don’t use a time log?

Reader Comments (10)

I've been trying this over the last week using a relatively new service called Harvest [ ]. It certainly wouldn't work for everyone, but for those of us who are almost always on our computers, it's great.

It makes it easy to switch between tasks (for those unavoidable interruptions) and have an accurate log. It also incorporates the "intention" part of the equation because you have to tell the program what you'll be working on before it can start timing you.

I'm still in the free trial but I'm learning all kinds of things about how I'm using my time, and I'm definitely planning on subscribing to the service after my trial.
April 18, 2007 at 14:49 | Unregistered CommenterSarah Lewis
Hi Mark
I learned a variation of this in my congnitive reconstruction therapy. It addresses my short term memory loss. I have my closed list with my estimated time to do each task either to complete it or to time box it at the top of the sheet and an appointment strip broken down into 15minute increments with four boxes large enough to write in for each fifteen minutes running horizontally. In red I write my office opening hour and proceed to fill in the squares. If I complete my work early I can either decide to close shop or pull out a project and do extra. Some weeks I do enough extra to actually earn an extra day off. It both keeps me focused and challenged. I also use a timer because my sense of time isn't so great. On bad days I use the timer as an impetus to keep myself propelled an on point. I always felt sort of stupid having to use my various cognitive "patches" and "work arounds", but seeing it here as one of your recommended tools makes me feel LOTS better about using it. I also use it on my anti-procrastination day (every Wednesday) and it helps me to complete projects, errands and other onerous tasks. My carrot is to either finish up early to "play" or to choose a project that I actually enjoy.
April 19, 2007 at 3:50 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
I forgot to add, if I complete a project before the 15 minutes, I fill in the time with one offs. I have my batched one offs as LAST items after my important projects. My little challenge is to complete my projects and fill in as many one offs as I can whilst trying to stuff them into left over time in the fifteen minute squares. i.e. If I blocked off an hour (4 15minute squares in 47 minutes I fill in the remaining 13 minutes with one offs or go strait away to the next project. It challenges me to use ALL my minutes to complete both my closed list and my batches ASAP. The remaining time is a gift to cherry pick projects to complete the day or to start working on a specified later day's closed list in hopes of earning that day off by using my time effectively each day leading up to it! It's challenging and a great reward to plan my days off rather than randomly deciding to be lazy! LOL!
April 19, 2007 at 4:18 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
Thanks, Learning As I Go,

I wonder why we never "randomly decide" to get all our important work done!

April 19, 2007 at 17:45 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Hi, Mark
LOL! I think your memory has flagged on that one, yeah? Don't you ever go on a hyper-focused jag and complete a huge project? We tend to forget the merits amid the failings. You just mentioned writing your book over again in a whirlwind on inspiration and focus......that seemed random because you were engaged. Yes, contrary to our own opinion of our work attitudes, we do on occasion choose to create our glory moments. We forget that work that we enjoy is sometimes the important stuff as well.....probably more important than the onerous stuff we keep criticizing our attitudes about, yeah?
April 22, 2007 at 14:16 | Unregistered Commenterlearning as I go
I tried this at work yesterday and found it enormously useful as a tool to keep me on task despite the many distractions and interruptions I get on a day to basis. It helped me focus on the task and also pick up where I left off after an interruption. I would add that I have tried to screen out interruptions eg dealing with email at set times, forwarding my phone to reception staff, putting up a do not disturb sign, etc. However, even these tactics are often thwarted by people like my boss who send out emails asking for information that afternoon, staff who think it isn't their job to field my calls, or other staff who ignore do not disturb signs with " I know you're busy, but can I just have a minute of your time?". Any hints and tips on this would be gratefully received. Personally, I think the whole culture of my workplace needs to change!
April 28, 2007 at 9:29 | Unregistered CommenterCarole
HourDoc is tool for Time Tracking. is right treatment for time and labor management processes has to be an easy-to-administer and affordable solution for Freelancers, supervisors, employees and HR and payroll managers. They offer free application to companies less than 50 employees. You must Try it!
November 30, 2009 at 7:04 | Unregistered CommenterRonald
I had been using Replicon's hassle free cloud based time tracking and time and attendance ( solution. It is so quick to implement and has got simple to use interface and usability features.
July 11, 2012 at 9:19 | Unregistered Commenterbraden
This article is very similar to the productivity method proposed by Coach Tony of He calls it as Interstitial Journaling.
I have written about my experiment with it here.
March 26, 2019 at 15:09 | Unregistered CommenterSathya

Very interesting article. Food for thought.
March 28, 2019 at 23:24 | Registered CommenterCaibre65

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