Do you often feel like there just isn’t enough time in the day, week or month to finish your work? If you’re always feeling swamped and just can’t seem to get through the tasks on your to-do list, you may be underestimating the time that you spend on certain activities. When you have a distorted view of how long it takes to complete your tasks, you end up overloading your schedule and setting unrealistic expectations. The result: missed deadlines, soaring stress levels, pissed-off teammates and irritated clients.
A simple exercise can help to improve your planning: Track the time spent on every task.
If you’ve never timed your tasks, you may be surprised by how long it actually takes you to complete them — even those you’ve been doing for years. Try timing your activities for a few weeks or a month (even better, try it for several months for more consistent results) to set a baseline of how long things really take. Time everything you do — phone calls, email, online searches, writing, brainstorming, meetings, reading, social media, organizing, tech maintenance, breaks, etc.
There are a wide variety of free timers that you can download onto your computer, smartphone or tablet. Look for options that offer both desktop and mobile apps that sync so that you can always have the timer at hand, whether you’re working at home, in a cafe or are on the move.
Popular time-tracking apps include Hours, Timely, Toggl and EverHour. Most billing and invoicing applications also include timers, and some offer free plans for single users, such as Billings Pro and Harvest.
This exercise will give you great insight into how your day is spent. Once you have a better idea of how long each task actually takes, you can be more realistic when scheduling your time.