How Much Are You Really Working?

If I were to ask you how much time you spend working each week, do you think your estimate would be higher or lower than the actual amount of time you spent working?  I’m talking about actual work that you do to move your tasks or projects closer to completion, not about the amount of time you spend at your workplace or at school.

I would be more than willing to bet you will always overstate the time you spend working.  I’m very confident on that fact.

In reality we waste so much time in the run of a day, that only a fraction of our time is used to do work to move your projects ahead.  Time wasted may be in the form of reading the news, watching videos online, browsing social media, talking to colleagues, and taking breaks.  The problem is that we may do bits and pieces of work in between these activities which causes the time to blur and leads us to feel like we’ve been working longer than we really have.

This was a common problem for me early in my working career.  My love of professional sports would lead me to read article after article from various columnists on ESPN, CNNSI, and other blogs.  Often it would seem like my workday wouldn’t begin until 10:30am despite the fact that I had been in the office since 8:30am.

Introducing Time Logs

What lead me to change my ways and realize the amount of time I had been wasting was that I began tracking how I spent my day.  For every activity I completed in the run of my work day, I would enter it into a spreadsheet.

I would track the activity, the start time, and the end time and I would be sure to include every distinct action.  This would even include time I would spend going to the bathroom, going on lunch, talking with co-workers, or browsing the web.

Over the course of the first day it felt like a waste of time to track this info, but at the end of the day I reviewed my log and I was shocked.  At the end of an 8 hour day, I had barely worked 2.5 hours!

I chalked the day’s results up to just a distraction filled day and vowed that the rest of the days in the week would show just how much I truly worked each day.  While I wasn’t expecting to see 7 or 8 hours of solid work each day, I figured I was at least logging 5 or 6 good hours.

At the end of the week I was shocked to find that the first day wasn’t an anomaly.  I was working on average about 3 hours a day.  THREE HOURS!  I felt like I was robbing the company I was working for and felt disappointed in myself.  How was I ever going to advance in my career if I was only working 3 hours a day.

I thought about my results over the weekend that followed and decided I was going to be more conscientious about my day.  I was going to continue keeping these time logs, but I felt a change in my mindset.  I didn’t want to look back on week 2 and see the same results and end up feeling bad about my work habits again.  This lead to a staggering change.

When Monday rolled around I continued the practice of tracking my time, but I kept reminding myself that I didn’t want to see too many “breaks” or “surfing the webs” in my log.  So I did as best as I could to remain focus on productive work.  At the end of the day, I tallied up my working time and was overjoyed to see 5.5 hours logged doing real work.

At the end of the week, I noticed a similar pattern, having average over 5 hours work each day.

Not only did I feel better about myself, but it actually felt like I had completed twice the amount of work that I had done the week before.

I continue to use these time logs regularly even today as it puts me in the right mindset to know that my time is being tracked and that I really don’t want to look back at the end of the week and see that I wasted so much time.

To get started using time logs yourself, start a file in Excel, Google Spreadsheet or go old school and just use a pen and paper.  Make sure you log the activity, the start time and the time at which you move to a different activity.

Also make sure you try to be honest with yourself.  You’re not submitting this to anyone so don’t cheat yourself (although promising to share your log with a loved one might add some additional motivation).

At the end of the day, look back at how you really spent your day.  This reality check should provide you with a baseline to improve your productivity as well as provide you with some additional motivation when you truly see where the minutes of your day (and your life!) are going.