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In Focus: Could time tracking be the key to great productivity?

Our In Focus series of articles originally appeared in The Leadership Bulletin, a free weekly bulletin for leaders and managers. You can subscribe here.

Peter Drucker, one of the world’s great management thinkers, is perhaps best remembered through his short yet incisive comments on business, leadership and management. Even if you don’t know his name, you almost certainly know one of his phrases, such as:

“If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Drucker’s words speak to a fundamental truth about how measuring something helps us to better understand it and consequently manage it. So can measuring how we use our time, for example with a time tracker, help us improve how we spend it? I think it’s worth us exploring, so I’ve created this simple model for tracking, analysing and improving how we spend our time.

  1. Create a list of the key tasks you complete in your working day. Try and create enough categories so that you can distinguish between how you spend your time but not so many that they lose meaning. For example, “Emails” is a suitable category; three categories for emails, breaking down between clients, direct reports and your seniors would likely be excessive. Aim for around a dozen categories and remember to include the non-work activities, like social media scrolling, as well as the work-related ones.

  2. Track how you spend your time over a week. I’ll be doing this, too, and will be using an app, but you can also use a spreadsheet to measure how you use your time. If you are using a spreadsheet, break the day up into 15 minute chunks and record the task that takes up a majority of each segment. No matter how you’re tracking your time, one thing is critical: do not try to perform for the time tracker. Use it to record a typical week.

  3. Analyse how you spend your time. Once you have your week recorded, I suggest creating a basic chart to see how you spent your work-related time. It doesn’t have to be anything complicated, just total up how many hours each activity took. Take some time out to look through your table and see what stands out to you. Ask yourself questions such as: “is that a good use of my time?” and “should this take up as much of my week as it does?”

Once you understand how you currently use your time, and have begun asking questions about it, you can begin to make improvements. I recommend making a list of the things you want to streamline in your working week or cut out altogether, then identify strategies for addressing them. Too much time wasted on emails? Create specific times of the day to deal with them. Interrupted too much, leading to large parts of the day lacking focus? Switch off notifications on your desktop or phone. Wasting hours every day travelling? Look at working from home an extra day, or try and shift some of your in-person meetings online. Basically, take some time to find the productivity-boosting strategies that are relevant to you.

I’ll return to this topic again in the future, but in the meantime let me know how you find tracking your time and whether it generates some eye-opening revelations about how you work. If I can help come up with some approaches to enable you to get the most out of your time, email me on