Where does my time go?

There are times when I start doing something, and the next thing I know it is time for the next meeting. This often happens at home, when I sit down to relax for a few minutes and then suddenly my wife is wondering why I’m not ready to leave. I will have gotten lost in a book, a show, a conversation, or another project. Very few of us are good estimators at our time usage.

When I started this project last summer, I downloaded the free version of toggl in order to quickly track what I was doing both personally and professionally. I could do it on my phone or in a browser, so it was easy to work with. I didn’t go crazy with categories and 15 minute increments, but simply tracked some key areas:

  • Personal: Eating
  • Personal: Reading
  • Personal: Devotional Time
  • Personal: Email, blogs
  • Personal: Social Media
  • Personal: TV
  • Personal: Mentoring
  • Personal: Out with friends
  • Personal: Chill/Nap (this is important!)
  • Work: 1:1
  • Work: Team Meetings
  • Work: Mentoring
  • Work: Email/Slack
  • Work: Project A
  • Work: Project B

So what did I learn? It made me more intentional with what I did. Personally, I became overly cognizant of how much time got spent on social media, and this has led to a significant reduction in time on these platforms overall. At work, I started to become aware of going to email instead of using some downtime to finish up a task. I also was more careful of sitting in meetings and doing email instead of paying attention. I also started to shut down at an appropriate time and not keep working at the expense of my personal life.

Try it for a couple of weeks and see how it works for you. See what lessons you can learn about how you spend your time. There is no answer that will satisfy everybody in terms of how your time is spent. That is up to you, your family, your work.

Once you have done that, maybe you need to switch something up. I am a person of routine anyways, so this can be hard. My morning consists of reading blogs, personal Bible reading and prayer, shower and dressed, and making a cup of chai to begin the day. At lunch I try to get a couple miles of walking in or a nap if it is ugly outside. During this time I stopped playing Words with Friends, which I found was becoming more of a distraction than a chance to challenge my brain.

Another great personal example that I have heard others do is set a timer. They don’t want to give up video games, but they recognize the need to reduce the time spent on them.

For work, I committed to more walking meetings. When I have a 1:1 or another meeting for which I don’t have to be in front of the computer, I walk while on the call. It keeps me from being distracted by email or Slack. I have also tried to regroup my to-do list so that I focus on the important items when I have some downtime during the day.

Some may question having chill/nap time on this. Doesn’t that mean you aren’t being productive?! I have always found that I can become more productive if I can get a short nap in at lunch, or after going out fishing, or reading something unrelated to work. It was great to see this backed up in an episode of Art of Manliness called A change is a rest . Sometimes walking away from a complex problem will help you to recenter your brain and your creativity.

So spend some hard time doing the analysis of how your time is spent. It might be good to share it with your partner, friend, or a mentor to look at it closer and get some objective feedback. And then make some small changes to see how it changes your productivity.

Schedule Blocking and Meetings

Happy New Year! I want to continue learning with you how to be more productive!

If you read any of the time management gurus, they talk about scheduling four hour blocks daily with yourself to be productive, and then other blocks to review your to-do list and goals. But that has never been an option for me. This has been a frustration for me in my journey.

I have been in IT for my entire career. I used to have a 7AM call to review ticket queues and major incidents, meaning I had to be online at 6:15AM to be review the data from my overnight team and be ready to speak to it. The day would then go until 6PM or later with a packed calendar of meetings, and at least once a week an overnight major incident for which I would have to lead the call. I had to do something different.

I have usually been pretty good at to-do lists. I am one of those who finds great satisfaction in being able to check off completed items. But, when I am in meetings the majority of the day, as new tasks are added and email and messaging tools light up with things to read and know and do, I find that I end a day without having looked at the carefully prepared to-do list and questioning if I was so focused on the urgent that I lost the opportunity to complete the important (see Stephen Covey 7 Habits for a discussion on this).

So here are three of the things I have been working on.

Scheduling Work

In the last blog I encouraged you to block out some lunch times on your work calendar. That was in preparation for the next big ask.

Look at your to-do list and put the IMPORTANT tasks on your calendar. You are going to make a meeting with yourself to get them done. Maybe 15 minutes in that open slot to review the report that your team is ready to send out. Maybe 2 hours to work on that deck to present to the client. Then when you get to that meeting with yourself, turn off email, messaging, and JUST DO IT! And if somebody wants to schedule on top of it, the priority should be higher than your task, and you will need to move your task to another slot. If you cannot do that, question if you need that meeting.

As an advanced method, as you go through the calendar for the next month, maybe you find some hours that are open now that you just want to block. If you look at my calendar, you will find “BLOCK – CLOSE OUT DAY” for the last hour of each day. I often take that and make it longer, particularly on Fridays, and that is where I will drop in some of those tasks. I guard those pretty closely. I may allow a 1:1 to slip in on it, but other meetings get pushed out.


I have become a bit brutal with meetings on my calendar. Meetings that could have been a simple email. Meetings that I wonder why I am in. Sometimes meetings that I find out about that I think I should have been in.

Recently I had a project manager insist that I be in a meeting to build a plan for pre-deployment on a project. There were two concerns with this. One was that my team and I had already reviewed the tasks needed for this, and I was pretty confident that it was 90% complete. The second concern is that one of my team is the lead on this project. I attended the two hour meeting and added very little input. It was more of a distraction than value add.

There are many who have written extensively on this topic, but here are some of my thoughts.

Agenda – be clear on the meeting purpose and the topics to be discussed prior to attending. If there is no agenda, don’t accept the meeting. If it is a recurring meeting, cancel it if not needed.

Participants – the fewer the better. Key working members and decision makers. And even the decision makers, ask if they need to attend or can they finalize a decision later?

Meeting notes with decisions and action items – assign somebody to take notes of the discussion, summarize the decisions, and clearly articulate the action items. 

In the example above, because of my confidence in the project lead from my team, it could have been a quick working meeting without me. I could have reviewed the notes and followed up with questions or concerns.

Turning off email and messaging

If you want to get something done, get rid of the distractions. This is hard if you are like me and have a “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Even in a support position as I have been in, I have found that I can get away with not reading email as it comes in for a few hours. I worked with one person who put in his signature when he would read email, so that the sender did not expect an immediate response. Today, if my boss really needs me on a call, I will generally get a text, and I can catch up then. Let your team know what you are doing and why.

Experiment with some of these items and measure your output. See which ones work for you.