Using an Activity Log: Where does your time really go?

Completing an activity log is the first step in managing time - because in order to manage your time, you first need to understand your time and where it all goes.

And because you can’t buy time, save it for a rainy day or create more hours in a day, the only way you can get more out of your day is to eliminate the time wasters and make the most of the time you’ve got.

So to do an activity log, just document everything you do during the course of a day – and do this every day for a week. As well as noting what you do, it’s also worth noting the priority of the activity, how long it took and how you felt about the task.

Also use the activity log to keep track of your energy levels throughout the day – we all have a natural energy cycle. Some people are ‘morning people’, some have a seconds wind mid afternoon and some are night owls.

Knowing your natural energy cycle and using this to your advantage can have a huge impact on how effective you are – and how much time you save!

There is an activity log template in the ToolBOX you can use, under the section on “Life Skills”.

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Activity Log Analysis

Once you’ve done your activity log, it’s time to start the analysis. So what do you look for?

  • Time thieves – what activities take up time, but don’t actually achieve anything productive? Gossip around the water cooler? Reading junk mail and spam? Procrastination? Identify these and ditch them!
  • Interruptions – how much time did you spend as a result of interruptions? Urgent emails, phone calls, visitors? Some of these interruptions are probably important too, but can distract you from your train of thought – and it takes time to get back on track.
  • Poor planning – how many of your tasks weren’t planned? While some unplanned tasks can be called interruptions, some are just things you need to do but didn’t plan to do. Or perhaps they were someone else’s task that you inherited? Can any of these be better managed by better planning? Or by saying ‘No’?
  • Your energy cycle – when is your power time? When are you sluggish and slow? What do you do to pep up your energy levels? What type of task coincides with your high and low energy levels – is there are pattern here?
  • Tasks that interest you – you’ll always have some things you enjoy more than others. Which ones do you seem to enjoy the most?
Based on the analysis of your activity log, you can look at how you can change your habits to get the most out of your time.

For example:

  • Avoid time thieves. Even if you like your morning gossip session over coffee – it doesn’t get your jobs done! So avoid those unimportant tasks and focus on the high priority ones.
  • Manage interruptions. You may not be able to avoid them altogether, but you can manage interruptions by for example only checking your email a couple of times per day, or by having a “closed door” policy during your highly productive times so you can focus on the task at hand.
  • Plan your day - and the rest of the week while you’re at it! Prepare a plan and stick to it.

    Yes, there’ll be interruptions and new demands – but at least if you have a plan you can work these interruptions into it. And if they don’t fit because you have a busy week, then just say “No”.

  • Energise – make the best use of your high energy cycles by using this time to do important tasks that need your dedicated focus. And try to avoid all interruptions during this time as well.

    During your low energy periods, try to do more mundane tasks that don’t require a lot of brain power – catch up on reading or emails, return phone calls. You can still make use of this time.

    You can also try to boost your energy levels through diet and exercise. A short burst of high energy activity to get the blood flowing can raise your energy levels, as can regular snacking to keep your metabolism going.

  • Sweet tasks – tasks you enjoy doing, but that aren’t necessarily important, are good filler tasks. They are fun, so keep your motivation up, and can also be a ‘reward’ for getting other tasks done first.

The key thing to remember is that how you manage your time needs to reflect you and your lifestyle. So use the activity log as a way to understand where your time goes and how you can make the most out of it.

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