We’ve all heard that financial intelligence requires knowing how you spend your money. The problem with time is that unlike money, it is finite. We each have 24 hours in the day and must divide that precious time between personal, physical, professional, and familial commitments. We can’t borrow extra hours from a credit card or bank. We have to work with the 24 hours that we have. Everyone always complains that they never had enough time, that they were constantly running from one commitment to the next, and that their lack of time led to feelings of frustration, guilt, shame, and an overall sense of not moving forward at an adequate pace. But at the same time, they couldn’t answer the most basic questions about how they spent their time because they just don’t know where the hours go.
I’ve tracked my money before. At first, I believed it was a total waste of time because I thought that I already knew how I was spending it. But the first month I tracked every penny, I couldn’t believe the discrepancy between what I thought I spent and what I actually spent. Knowing where my money went enabled me to start gaining control over my finances and making conscious decisions that would allow me to meet my long-term goals, which continues to be a work in progress.
Likewise, the first time I tracked my time over a week, I was shocked by how much time I was spending on planning to get work done (yes, this includes just thinking about it) and how little I was spending on getting actual work done. Understanding how you spend your time each week (not in your imagination, but in reality) will help you to decide if you are investing in things that will pay off in the long run or spending it on things that offer immediate gratification but no long-term interest. And more importantly, you must know how you’re investing your time today in order to make conscious decisions about how you will spend it in the future.
Track Your Time
Keep track of how you spend your time this week. If you are feeling exhausted, frustrated, and I-don’t-even-know-how-I’m-gonna-make-it-to-Spring-Break tired, then try starting this week by simply tracking your time. Time tracking doesn’t have to be difficult or unpleasant, and it doesn’t require you to buy or do anything different. Just put a little scrap of paper on your desk and keep a running tab of your activities and the time you spend on them during each day this week. Include everything: e-mails, writing, dinner prep, talking on the phone, reading, out-of-work meetings, family time, exercising, day dreaming, running errands, worrying, eating, on Facebook, etc. (If you prefer to use apps to track your time, you can use Rescue Time).
Evaluate Your Data
Once you have a week’s worth of data, tally up how much time you spend on cleaning, working, sleeping, etc. when you sit down for your weekly self-planning meeting. That’s a great time to gently and patiently ask yourself:
- Is how I’m spending my time aligned with how I will be evaluated at my job?
- Does my time reflect my personal values, priorities, and long-term goals?
If the answer to these questions is “yes,” then congratulations! But if you find that the answer is a resounding “NO!” then it’s time to make some changes. For example, if 50% of your evaluation criteria is based on establishing business relationships, but you are only spending 2 hours a week networking — there’s a problem. If travel is 25% percent of your evaluation criteria, but you are spending 30 hours a week on the road — there’s a problem. And if training is taking up more than a few hours per week — there’s definitely a problem. The good news is that these are problems that can be resolved by proactively adjusting your behavior.
Rethink Your Time Expenditures
Researchers have documented that the difference between successful people and those who struggle is how they spend their time. Successful people –
- Spend at least 30 minutes a day on working towards their goals
- Integrate their everyday learnings into their work
- Manage preparation time and avoid over-preparing
- Spend time each week discussing your goals with colleagues
Only you can determine if you’re satisfied with how you are spending your time each day, but if you’re unhappy, exhausted, and feel like you’re not moving forward, then it’s time for a change. Becoming conscious of how you spend your time AND comparing it to the successful behaviors of others should give you some concrete ideas about how to climb out of your “time debt”.
I hope that this week brings each of you the patience to track your time, the wisdom to evaluate your current situation and pinpoint areas for change, and the sense of empowerment that results from making conscious decisions about how you spend your time each day.