Posted by: Bill von Achen | January 14, 2011

Is It Time to Keep a Time Log?

First published over 20 years ago, Stephen Covey’s The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People is the classic text for those of us seeking ways to bring greater focus to our daily activities. If you’ve never read this important book, I urge you to resolve to read it this year, or to read one of the many excellent summaries you can find on the Internet.

For me, the heart of this book is Covey’s discussion of Habit Three, “Putting First Things First.” In this section, he presents his time management matrix, in which daily activities are categorized as follows:

Quadrant 1 (Important and urgent)—Includes daily crises, pressing problems, and deadline-driven projects

Quadrant 2 (Important but not urgent)—Includes preparation, planning, relationship building, and recreation

Quadrant 3 (Not important but urgent)—Includes interruptions, some phone calls, some meetings, some e-mails, etc.

Quadrant 4 (Not important and not urgent)—Includes trivia, busy work, and time-wasters

From Covey’s perspective, most of us spend the majority of our time dealing with urgent activities that are either important or not (Quadrants 1 and 3) at the expense of those activities that are not urgent but which can bring focus to the rest of our work (Quadrant 2). In the end, effectiveness depends on finding the right balance between the important organizing and nurturing activities found in Quadrant 2 (what Covey brands production capability (PC) activities) with the production (P) activities found in Quadrant 1.

But how do we know when our PC and P activities are out of balance?

One of the simplest methods to measure your PC/P balance is to keep a detailed log of all of your daily activities for a short period of time. Keeping a time log for a week is ideal, but recording your activities for even just a few days can provide you with valuable and objective data on how you’re actually spending your time and, equally important, how much (or little) of your time is being spent on Quadrant 2-type activities.

In working with participants in my Time Management workshop over the years, I’ve also observed that the mere act of recording one’s daily activities makes participants more mindful of the numerous time-wasters that fill up their days. That “front of the mind” awareness often leads them to use their time more productively almost immediately.

If you’d like a copy of the time log spreadsheet I use in our workshop, go to http://www.bestpracticesforbusiness.com/resources, and click on the link under the heading “Time Management.” Or, send me a note.

What strategies have you used to ensure the most effective use of your time? Have you ever kept a time log? If so, what did you learn, and what changes did you make? Post your comments here.  Thanks!


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