As we go through our days trying to be as productive as possible, how do we know when we've accomplished that goal? What tells us we've been successful in reaching the targets we've set for us, or better yet identifies when we've missed those targets? One of the methods I've been exploring more lately is the idea of Active Tracking when it comes to time and completion of tasks.
Now keep in mind for many of us this is already a way of life in the professional world. If we work in a space where time directly equates to money, the legal field for example, then the accurate tracking of what is done for whom and for how long is a linchpin of success. In short, if you don't track it, you don't get paid. In these environments there are usually mechanisms, processes, and reports to reinforce the importance of time tracking. (Just skip a timesheet in an environment like this and see how many "friendly" reminders you get.) The challenge comes less from the myopic professional view and more from the holistic life view. Let's set the stage and I'll use myself as an example.
Irons in the fire
In running a business, having a full time position, AND having a family, time is the one thing of which I don't have an abundance. I'm sure you either feel the same or have at one time (otherwise why would you be spending your time reading this?) To begin I have to start with a question: Will active tracking help me be more productive? As with all productivity questions it's best to begin with the basics:
Who, what, where, when, how, and why?
Who is a simple enough question since I'm addressing my own needs. I may want to include who the changes and tracking may impact as well so as to avoid missing any considerations.
What starts to get a little harder. What I want is to create an accurate measure of the time I spend and how I spend it so I can spend it more effectively. (I'm seeing "spend" come up a lot...that could be useful...I'll come back to that later.)
Where. That's an interesting one. For this to work I need to be able to capture everywhere. The system and tools need to be accessible, complimentary, and efficient as well as portable. Now this is starting to get complicated.
When. This echos where as to accessibility and flexibility. If I follow the CPR model (and I do) I must be able to capture the information (in this case time records) whenever the activity changes. I lead a fairly interrupt driven life otherwise I could count on my calendar more for this. For now it's going to be note based and evolve from there.
How is a big one I'll circle back to later. This is the one that everyone dives into first, looking at apps and notebooks, researching methods, and trying to find the "magic pill" to make the process frictionless. This one will take some explanations.
Finally, why. Sometimes I think why may almost be superfluous. Shouldn't it be obvious why I want to do this? I want to be more productive, more successful, more...and there's the problem. Why isn't specific enough. Why needs to be focusing, motivating, and most of all, clear. Why for me is a matter of wanting to do the right things at the right times in the right ways so I have time to do what I want in place of what I must. Again, that's pretty broad. Let's get even more specific. I want four hours each week to do exactly what I want to do, not what I've been compelled or asked to do. That's pretty specific. So do I need to find four hours? No, I know they're there. I just need to spend my time more wisely. There's that "spend" again.
The Time Bank
Rather than looking at time as a commodity that goes by, I'm going to change my perspective. Each week I have 168 hours of which to put to use. That use may be sleeping, working, travelling, etc. but I only have 168 hours. Looks to me like it's time to create a time budget and track my expenditures. Unfortunately there's no way I can get a raise (haven't finished that time machine yet) so the only thing I can do is spend smarter and more important, spend consciously.
The Stoic philosopher Seneca said:
No person hands out their money to passers-by, but to how many do each of us hand out our lives! We’re tight-fisted with property and money, yet think too little of wasting time, the one thing about which we should all be the toughest misers.
Another way to look at this is, if you receive an email asking you for $100, you'd laugh and delete it in most cases. However if you get an email asking you to work on something for two hours you most often capitulate and do the work. Why is the money more important than the time and why are we willing to say no on the money but not on the time?
The idea of a time bank allows you to allocate time to budgetary categories and then "spend" that time to your budgetary limits. Now there is flexibility but there is also a give and take that must occur. If you're going to overspend your time budget for charitable work in a week (a worthy endeavor I assure you) you're going to have to give up time from somewhere to offset the debt. That time could come from personal time, professional time, or any combination of categories.
A bigger problem
The more I look at these concepts the more looking I need to do for the approach to be effective. I'll continue this in my next post, but for right now I need to make a note of the hour I just spent writing and move onto my next task.
If you're interested in time banking, active tracking, or just being more productive come join us in the Productive Professionals community!