How To Use A Time Inventory To Increase Productivity

By Deanna deBara Posted June 29, 2022

 

TL;DR

too long; didn't read

By creating a time inventory, you will be able to clearly see where you time is being allocated and where your time could be better spent. Find where your time could be more efficient and reclaim your day!

 

If you ask most people, chances are, they’d say they’re pretty productive.

And while there’s no denying that there are definitely productivity powerhouses out there, the truth is, most people waste a lot of time. One study (outlined in a 2018 Inc. article) found that the average worker wastes a whopping 21.8 hours each week—including 3.9 hours on mindless online activities (like watching YouTube videos or checking social media), 3.4 hours managing low-value emails, and 1 hour sitting in non-productive meetings.

21.8 hours is a lot of time to waste. But the problem is, many people don’t have a full grasp on how they’re spending their time—or how they’re wasting it—which makes it hard to reclaim that time for more productive activities.

That’s where a time inventory comes in.

A time inventory is a time management strategy that helps you to gain clarity on where your time is going—and determine how you can get time back to focus on the tasks and activities that make you feel like your most productive self, both at work and at home.

But how, exactly, do you conduct a time inventory—and how do you use it to increase productivity?

Find the right time tracking tool

In order to successfully conduct a time inventory—and use it to increase productivity—you need a way to track your time. 

And that means finding the right time tracking tool.

There are a ton of time tracking tools on the market (popular options include Toggl, TimeDoctor, Life Cycle, and Clockify); it’s just about finding the right time tracking app for you.

The “right” time tracking tool will depend on a variety of factors—including how you spend most of your time. For example, if you spend most of your day on your computer, a desktop time tracking app would likely make the most sense. If you’re more of an on-the-go person, you’d get the best data from a mobile time tracking app—and if you split your time between the two, an app with both desktop and mobile capabilities is probably your best bet. 

When choosing a time tracking tool, you’ll also want to consider additional factors like price, ease of use, and reporting capabilities.

If you like to keep things simple, you might not even need an “official” time tracking tool—and instead, might prefer to manually track your time on a spreadsheet (or, if you’re a more tech-averse person, in a notebook!).

Track your time for a week

Once you’ve got the right tool in place, it’s time to officially kick off your time inventory.

Keep track of how you’re spending your time each day. Categorize each block of time based on the activity you’re engaged in—whether it’s a personal task or work-related. When you move from one activity to another, mark it with your time tracking app.

And do this for at least a week. (In order to get a real sense of where your time is going—and see clear patterns emerge—you need to track your time for a significant stretch.)

The key to a successful time inventory is to track every second of every day—and to be as specific as possible when categorizing each time block.

For example, let’s say you spend 9am to 5pm working every day. In order to get the most out of your time inventory, you wouldn’t want to label that entire stretch of time with a broad category like “Work.” Instead, you’d want to get granular about how, exactly, you’re spending those work hours—which might look something like this:

  • 9am to 9:30am: Email

  • 9:30am to 9:40am: Snack break

  • 9:40am to 11:15am: Project work

  • 11:15am to 12pm: Conference call

  • 12pm to 12:30pm: Lunch 

  • 12:30pm to 1:15pm: Exercise class

  • 1:15pm to 2:15pm: Project work

  • 2:15pm to 3:15pm: Team meeting

  • 3:15pm to 3:45pm: Break/walk outside

  • 3:45pm to 4:00pm: Email

  • 4:00 to 4:15pm: Check social media

  • 4:15pm to 4:30pm: Responding to Slack messages

  • 4:30pm to 5pm: Project work

The more specific you are as you’re tracking your time, the easier it will be to identify the most—and least—productive parts of your day, which will help you better formulate a plan to ramp up your productivity.

Dig into your data

Once you’ve tracked your time for a full week, it’s time to dig into the data and see where, exactly, your time is going.

Most time tracking apps will generate reports that allow you to easily see each of your time categories—and how much time you’re spending in each. (If you’re using a spreadsheet or notebook, you may want to consider a coding system to make your data easier to visualize—for example, coding different categories by color). This allows you to clearly see where your time is going each week—and can help you figure out if how you’re spending your time aligns with how you want to be spending your time.

Pay special attention to any categories that are taking up significantly more—or less—time than you thought they would. For example, are you spending eight hours each week on social media—when you thought you were clocking less than two hours? Or, on the flip side, are you spending five hours of time with your kids each week—when you figured that number was closer to 10 hours?

Leveraging the data to get a clear idea of where your time is going is a crucial part of using a time inventory to increase productivity, as it allows you to…

Eliminate time sucks and reclaim your time

Once you have your data laid out in front of you, it’s time to identify “time sucks,” eliminate them from your schedule, and reorganize your time in a way that’s more aligned with your productivity goals—both at work or at home.

Time sucks can be defined as any tasks, activities, and/or categories that are preventing you from spending your time in the most productive way. This can include:

  • Tasks you don’t actually have to be doing

  • Tasks you don’t enjoy

  • Tasks you can delegate to someone else

  • Mindless tasks that don’t bring you enjoyment (for example, mindless phone scrolling or internet surfing)

For example, let’s say you’re spending five hours every week in meetings you don’t feel like you actually need to be a part of—and you’d rather spend those five hours focusing on project-related work. In that situation, you might connect with your boss and ask if there’s any way to opt out of those meetings to get more done.

Or let’s say you’re spending five hours every week doing laundry—and you’d much prefer to use those hours relaxing at home or engaging with one of your hobbies. In that scenario, you might consider hiring a service that will pick up, wash, fold, and return your laundry each week—and reclaim those hours for yourself.

Bottom line? The point of a time inventory is to eliminate time-wasters, streamline how you’re spending your time, and reorganize your schedule in a way that supports your highest level of productivity—so make sure to leverage your inventory to do so.

Deanna deBara

Deanna deBara is an entrepreneur, speaker, and freelance writer who specializes in business and productivity topics. When she's not busy writing, she enjoys hiking and exploring the Pacific Northwest with her husband and dog. See more of her work and learn more about her services at deannadebara.com.

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