(and learn to spend more time doing what is important and fun!)
My sister in law recently told me that she used to be able to remember appointments six months away and never wrote down anything. I have always been the opposite and have always needed to write down appointments. I have also found that simply writing down everything I need to do is helpful, and it is not surprising that writing down all your to-dos is one of the main tenets of Getting Things Done. You can also use this principle to track your spending and how you spend your time.
What does it look like to write down what you do?
It has long been acknowledged in budgeting circles that if you want to get control of your spending, you first need to track everything you spend money on. Once you know what you are spending money on, you can be more intentional about where you spend it in the future (and my favorite tool for this is YNAB - You Need a Budget this link benefits both of us).
Time is limited in the same way that money is, so you can apply the same principles and track your time. You start with tracking everything you do, and the more detailed you are the better.
Why do I need to track my time?
One of the major causes of stress and burnout is a feeling of being time poor. By tracking our time and then reflecting on how we spend our time and being intentional in making choices of how we spend our time, we flip the tables from always feeling like we have no time to being strategic in how we spend our time. We regain a sense of control and we also can choose to focus on activities which are more meaningful and enjoyable. We also will have more fulfillment when we intentionally choose activities which bring us joy. For more details listen to "Taking Control of Your Time" on the Hidden Brain podcast.
Why do leaders need to track their time?
Leaders typically have even more demands on their time, and one of the most desired characteristics in leaders is strategic thinking. By applying these time tracking principles, you apply strategic thinking to your most precious resource of time. To learn more about the importance for leaders to think strategically about their time, watch the TedX Talk by Dorie Clark, "The real reason we are all so busy".
How can I take control of my time?
Try adopting some of these simple strategies.
Track your time
You can simply use a piece of paper, a bullet journal or go electronic with a spreadsheet or a specially designed tool like Toggl. Try to be as specific as possible but write down everything you do for at least one week. For example, instead of writing 'work', write down what activity you are doing at work like 'email', 'meeting with client', 'meeting with marketing team', etc.
Reflect on how you have spent your time
Use a graph like the one at the top of the article. Plot your activities according to how enjoyable and how important they are. Some activities, like paying bills, may be very important, but not enjoyable. Some activities, like doom scrolling the headlines, may not be important OR enjoyable. Other activities, like family dinners, may be important AND enjoyable.
Make a plan
Make a plan to focus on activities with more meaning and joy (the sweet spot) and to cut back or eliminate as many activities which are low in meaning AND joy. Again, I find that writing down activities will bring the most success. Start by filling in your calendar with activities you MUST do, then write in time slots for activities which bring you joy. Just by having them on your calendar, you will be more likely to do them and to avoid doing the less meaningful activities which we often turn to in moments to fill time. However, if we have scheduled something else in our calendar, we will tend to use our time more effectively.
For the next week, write down everything you do.
Rate each activity on how meaningful and enjoyable it is.
Write in your calendar items that are important and enjoyable.