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Why Leaders Should Track Their Time (And How To Do It)

Many clocks, too much to do

“If only I had more time in my day.” “I was going to do ___ but I ran out of time.” “I wish I had more time for ___.”

Sound familiar?

Leaders have a lot to do.  And the majority of us think we have too little time to do it. But the truth is, we often don’t know how we spend the 24-hours in our day. And that’s dangerous. Because time is a finite resource.

“I better be careful with it. There is no way I will be able to buy more time,” – Warren Buffett.

The good news is that leaders can apply a simple but powerful approach: being intentional about how they spend their time. This approach starts with knowing where time is being spent, hence it’s important for leaders to track their time.

Three Things Leaders Gain When They Track Their Time

Clarity: Tracking Your Time Shows You Exactly Where It Is Going.

Time is like money or food. Experts trying to help people get out of debt or eat better advise we start by tracking what we’re doing now. Why? Because to manage or change something you first need to know what you’re doing. Want to be better with your money? Know where your dollars are going. Want to eat better? Track the food eat you for each meal. Want to manage your time better? Understand how you spend the hours in your day.

When you track your time on a daily basis, you gain clarity about two things: 1) the actual tasks you are doing 2) how many minutes and hours go toward those tasks. 

This clarity is powerful because it sets you up to make changes. For example, I know that when I’m struggling to be productive I tend to distract myself with social media. Once my timesheet revealed I spent a total of 67 minutes doing so. Knowing this has helped me commit to walking away from the computer when I can’t make progress so I don’t get sucked down that rabbit hole. 67 minutes is better spent elsewhere.

Insight: When You Know Where Your Time Goes, You Can See If How You’re Spending It Lines Up With Your Priorities. 

As a leader, you likely have goals and priorities that guide how you work. The question is: do you know if what you do every day supports them?

The insight is crucial. As a  Harvard Business Review article about how CEOs manage their time says, “Where and how CEOs are involved determines what gets done. It signals priorities.”

Track your time on a daily basis to know if you’re investing enough time in activities that matter and will move the needle in your business and your life.

As a leader in my home as well as my business, I prioritize being present for my two boys. Mornings are a key time together for us. As an early riser, I work for about an hour or so before my sons get up. If I’m not careful, I can get lost in the work. Tracking my time has shown me I need to put my laptop away 15 minutes before their alarm goes off so I can focus on them. When I don’t, I’m distracted, sometimes short-tempered and have ended up trying to type and make toast at the same time (not recommended).

As you look at your time, ask yourself these four questions:

  1. Am I spending enough time working toward my goals? 
  2. If not, what am I spending my time on instead – and is it worth it?  
  3. Where can I free up time so I can dedicate it to working on my goals?
  4. Do my schedule and appointments serve the priorities I’ve set for my business and life?

For what it’s worth, Warren Buffet leaves plenty of time to think on his calendar, a lesson he passed on to Bill Gates.

Freedom: Understanding Where You Spend Your Time Empowers You to Delegate.

The little things. The things that take a long time. The thing you hate. Recurring tasks. All of these can prevent leaders from making progress on things we should be focused on. And all are excellent candidates to delegate to others.

Tracking your time lets you identify things that can be delegated and how much time you are spending on these things.

Having specificity about what tasks could be delegated and how much time you can free up is a game-changer. 

Delegating social media management for one of my clients has been a win for me. Once I discovered how much time it was taking, I knew I needed to delegate if I wanted to focus on my client’s marketing strategy. Fortunately, I found someone who’s excellent at creating and managing social content; she now manages those things, which has freed me up to spend more time on my client’s strategic marketing challenges.

Word to the wise: be sure that you delegate thoughtfully, treat delegation as an art and remember that delegation is not abdication.

“Ok, you’ve convinced me I need to track my time. Now, how the heck do I do it?”

I’m glad you asked.

How to Start Tracking Your Time

If you aren’t in the habit of tracking your time, start by committing to one of the following:

  1. Use a simple spreadsheet. Use Google Sheet, Excel or check out Smartsheet’s free time management template.
  2.  Use a free time tracking app like Toggl. I like and use Toggl for my business. It’s fairly simple, has a browser extension, can be accessed on my phone and offers a good amount of functionality with its free version. Bonus: it has a Pomodoro timer feature, which I like since it pings when 25 minutes have passed.
  3. Use a notebook. You’ll have to manually add up and analyze your time, but, hey, if it gets you started, do it.

Apply these four tips to see the benefits from your time tracking:

  1. Track your time by tasks, e.g. “planned for meeting”. This can feel tedious but it’s the best way to see how you truly spend your time.
  2.  For client work, make sure you associate tasks with the specific clients they’re for. Toggl makes it easy to do this.
  3. At the end of each day, take 5 minutes to make sure you tracked your time to the best of your ability. Estimate if you must.  Don’t go to bed thinking, “I’ll just do it tomorrow”. You’re much less likely to do it, and your memory deteriorates overnight so you won’t track it well. (I know from experience.)
  4. At the end of every week, take 5 minutes to review where you spent your time. This is where the clarity, insight, and empowerment come in.

Start Today

As leaders, we have a lot at stake, which makes knowing where time is going even more important. ESPECIALLY if you’re too busy. Let me repeat: you need to know where your time is going, especially if you’re too busy. Why? Knowing where you spend your time gives you the power to decide how to spend it. 

Not convinced? Ever missed a precious moment with your children or loved one and felt that pang that comes with knowing it is gone? Or did you miss meeting a big goal because you weren’t able to do what needed to be done over a long period of time to meet it?

Knowing that time is a finite and precious resource, resolve to track how you’re spending it. Empower yourself by quantifying how you’re spending your time.

As you track time, let me know how it’s helping you – or if you run into any challenges. Want to talk through things? Book a discovery chat here.


Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

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