Know Thy Time

“Time is what we want most,but what we use worst.” 
         ― William Penn

Earlier, I wrote about the importance of measurement and data that represents reality. The main idea was that any improvement, personally or professionally, can only be effective if it is based on fact based measurements. In God we trust; all others bring data.

ImageThe article used the Global Slavery Index report as an example for defining the process of measurement.

That’s useful – but how about a measurement example that can be applied personally and has value? How if we measure where our time goes.

Our daily discourse is filled with clichés about time:

  • Time is money
  • Time is our greatest asset
  • Time is a great leveler

Yet, we abuse this great asset with impunity. We become unproductive at the very core asset that makes us productive and effective.


And the worst part is that we do not realize we are being unproductive. We do not measure where our time goes. Because we do not measure, we do not improve. No surprises that the Know Thy Time is the first chapter in Drucker’s bible for knowledge workers ‘The Effective Executive’.

So how can we measure time?

Well what we really need to measure is our usage of time – is it being used for the right things or not? Are we effective or not?

It’s quite simple. Let’s apply the 4-step model of measurement that was outlined earlier.

1 – Realize there is a need for Measurement

Unless you appreciate what I said above, and realize both the important of time and that of measuring it, there is no value in moving to the next step.

2 – Define what needs to be Measured

What needs to be measured is your usage of time against your priorities. Are you spending 80% of your time on your key priorities? Or is it just 30%?

You need to list down your priorities. They are the high level focus areas. They are the big buckets. They can change over time, but not on a daily basis. A manager’s priorities can be development of his team, hiring and ensuring that organization’s milestones are achieved. A CEO’s priorities can be development of strategic relationships outside the organization. A university’s president may be focused on bringing funding to his organization.

Priorities are not task. They are not day-to-day stuff you do. They are your strategic goals.

More importantly, you cannot have 10 priorities. You probably cannot even have 5. As Drucker said, an executive has one or maximum two key focus areas. Three is a circus act.

Nailing down these priorities is the first step. This is what you will measure your time against.

3 – Make Statistically Valid Measurements

There are two ways to go about it.

One is to measure backwards. Take out your calendar for the past 8-12 weeks. For every working day, divide it in slots of 30 minutes. For every 30-minute slot (e.g. 1030-1100 last Monday), review what you did. It can be an interview you were doing, attending a project team meeting, meeting a client or simply dating yourself. The activity is not important. What you need to figure out is which priority bucket (as you identified above) it falls under.

This approach has the drawback that your calendar may not document all your activities. That’s bad. Calendar is not a journal of appointment with others, but it’s your scheduling of priorities.

The second approach is to do it going forwards. For the next 4-8 weeks, record what you do daily. Set up a timer every 30 minutes and write down what you did in the last half hour (annoying but valuable).

4 – Interpret the Measurement

That is the fun part. It’s simple. But it’s also scary. You know you may not like the results.

Measure the percentage of your time that goes for your priorities. Did you spend just 20% of your time on your top priority. If so, you may be doing the urgent and not important stuff.

Now you have the measurements and what you did, you can simply course correct if required. A good way to get started is to block slots for your top priorities on your calendar (so that real estate is not available for rent). You can then ensure that you are working on that key thing your organization wants from you.

You are now working on the important and not reacting to the urgent.

“You may delay, but time will not.”
     ― Benjamin Franklin

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One thought on “Know Thy Time

  1. Pingback: Happy Birthday Thinking Spirits! | Thinking Spirits ...

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