We’ve all been there. It is 6:00 p.m. on a Tuesday evening and the day has absolutely flown by. At any moment throughout the day I was either on the phone, on email, meeting with clients or colleagues. I felt like I accomplished a lot because I was engaged in non-stop activity. The problem, however, is that I was unable to check any of the items off my “to-do” list.
In addition to my normal day-to-day activities, this particular day’s “to-do” list included one large project and a few smaller tasks that needed to get done. The large project was to prepare a presentation for a group of business owners. The smaller tasks included organizing the month-end financial reporting, conduct an employee meeting and provide some training for a new employee.
Now I’m overwhelmed. How am I going to get all of this done? My first impulse is to assume that there isn’t enough time in the day or I am taking too much on. I tried my best to address all the issues that arose throughout the day and accomplish my priorities. Unfortunately, I was simply unable to get everything done, and important projects and goals were left untouched.
Days like these were becoming very common for me and it was becoming obvious that there was a flaw in my daily process. I had a general sense of what types of tasks I was performing on a daily basis and it didn’t seem possible that these tasks should consume an entire day. That’s when I decided to actually track how I spent my time for an entire week. I kept a log of the tasks that I performed each day and how much time I spent working on each. I needed to have a clear picture of exactly how my time was spent before I could attempt to manage it.
The results of my test shocked me at first. I realized that I was only spending 4-5 hours of a 9 hour day on activities that I considered to be productive. Furthermore, why was I pushing off tasks that required the most creativity until the later hours in the day? I’m a morning person by nature, so this seemed counterproductive to me.
Once I had everything laid out, I was able to break down my daily responsibilities and activities into 5 categories:
- Core work: client meetings, case preparation, client calls and networking
- Management/Leadership: holding collaborative meetings, planning
- Education: industry research, new skill set, technology
- Administrative: email, EOD reports, bills
- Interruptions: putting out fires, addressing crises
My time log showed that I spent roughly half of my days attending to interruptions. Even more interesting to me was that the interruptions varied in severity. Low priority interruptions could just as easily throw me off track as the high priority interruptions could. Whether it was a new email or an urgent matter on a priority case, there was a consistent pattern of interruptions slowing down my progress.
After reading a number of articles on time management, I decided I would try to develop a standardized daily schedule for myself. The schedule I developed forces me to conduct activities that require more creativity and collaboration in the mornings while moving my lower priority activities to the afternoon.
Here is what my schedule looks like:
- 7:00 – 7:30: Review emails and voicemails and only respond to high priority issues
- 7:30 – 9:00: Management or education
- 9:00 – 9:30: Administrative or interruptions
- 9:30 – 11:30: Core work
- 11:30 – 12:30: Break
- 12:30 – 2:00: Administrative or interruptions
- 2:00 – 4:30: Core work
- 4:30 – 5:00: Administrative
This schedule isn’t perfect and is meant to allow some flexibility. However, it has allowed me to stay more focused and increase my productivity. I am always reviewing reports to help improve the efficiencies within my business. In this instance, I was able to use a report on myself to improve my personal efficiencies. I encourage you to take the time to track your daily activities. What you find just might surprise you, and plus, who doesn’t want to feel as productive as possible at the end of each day?