I Timed My Work For 60 Days And This Is What I Learned

photo via  @brightonkeller

photo via @brightonkeller

I have always liked to think of Spire & Co as a place where inspiration and information flows from truth. We grow when we are honest with where we are and where we’d like to go.

Well, here’s my truth: I have a bad relationship with time.

Simply put, I’m someone who likes to pack a lot into a day. I thrive on long to do lists and thrilling, robust goals. My mom often recalls the early years when I would wake her up at the crack of dawn, telling her the laundry list of things I had already accomplished that day–including feeding all my stuffed animals breakfast. Like I said, I really love to do lists.

Despite my love for getting things accomplished, somewhere down the line when to do lists turned into more than feeding teddy bears, I started to see time in a different way. It was a constraint. There were never enough hours in the day. Rushing from one thing to the next became the new normal. To do lists were still my constant confidant, yet they were rarely fully accomplished in the time in which I estimated.

Time became my personal Regina George. She intimidated me. She personally victimized me. It felt as though she had me etched across her burn book.

Dramatic? Yes. Honest? You bet.

Nevertheless, I still got things done so perhaps I just pretended to ignore her. But this feeling of time being my enemy never seemed to go away. Then I started a new job, one where efficiency was of the utmost necessity. I couldn’t just tack on more hours. I could’t just work harder. I had to be aligned with time.

For a while, I thought I could just avoid the problem. But just like all things we avoid, eventually, they become inescapable. So I started with the very obvious question: What the heck was consuming all my time? To find out, I began to time myself as I did, well, everything. This is what I found out.

I waste a lot of time on my phone.

I never thought of myself as someone who was addicted to their phone. Well, my phone begs to differ. Turns out, I was spending upwards of four hours on my phone each day. 4 HOURS. Now sure, some of that was answering emails, reading content while waiting in lines, etc. But over two hours of it was spent on Instagram.

How I fixed that: I set app limitations to how much time I could spend on specific kinds of apps everyday. As it stands today, all social media apps are limited to one hour a day. I’d love to get it down even further from here, but for now, it’s a solid start. Plus, it makes me more mindful of when I am mindlessly scrolling.

How you can, too: If you have an iPhone, there’s a feature in your settings called Screen Time and you can see your activity broken up by time spent in each app. From there, you can set limitations based on type of app. The best part is, you can customize it by day, so if you are fine with scrolling for longer on the weekends, you can do that.

Keeping my inbox constantly opened is a massive distraction.

Admittedly, I’m easily distracted and like many people, email has a way of sometimes making me quite anxious. I thought the best way to avoid that was to keep my inbox opened at all times. That way, I could catch every message as it arrived and quickly triage responses when needed. But that wasn’t what happened. By keeping my inbox on my monitor all day long, I’d get distracted by every email that came through, 99% of which could be responded to within 12-24 hours and life would go on. With each new email (and working on many cross-collaborative projects at the office means there were many), I would get out of flow on my existing project, check the email, and then try to get back to what I was doing. It was an endless cycle of inefficiency.

How I fixed that: If I’m not in and out of meetings, I try to move around about once an hour at the office. That usually means refilling my water bottle, grabbing a coffee, or just taking a quick 2-minute walk to stretch my legs. During those periods of time, I’ll quickly scroll through my inbox and make sure nothing came in that was urgent. If something did, I’ll either respond on my phone or when I go back to my desk. Otherwise, I block 30 minutes at the start of the day and at the end to get to inbox 0.

How you can, too: Minimize your inbox at least during the hours where you are heads-down on a project. Instead, block off specific periods of time on your calendar to get through your inbox. If emails from specific people require immediate responses, go into your email notifications settings and set push notifications specifically for those individuals.

Certain tasks cannot be accomplished efficiently while listening to music or podcasts.

I love turning on my headphones and pressing play on my favorite power playlist or a good ol’ podcast. I thought it made any task more enjoyable and sometimes, energizing. However, after timing my work, I realized certain projects were taking longer than I thought they would. One day, I forgot to charge my headphones, so I had to work on a piece of a project in silence for a while. I noticed that the time it took for me to complete the task was cut almost in half when I didn’t have any audio distractions. I tested out the observation a few times, truly hoping it was a fluke and I could go back to my Maren Morris playlist, but turns out, it was spot on: some tasks just require silence.

How I fixed that: I simply started paying more attention to the task at hand. Did music help the situation or hurt it? Am I paying more attention to the podcast episode than I am my work? And I just adjusted accordingly. I noticed that mundane tasks like pulling data reports and specific creative tasks like graphic design could easily be accomplished efficiently with my headphones tuned in to something entertaining. However, writing up proposals or answering complex emails needed my full, unwavering attention.

How you can, too: We are all wired differently, but maybe it’d be a valuable investment of your time to examine the variety of tasks you have to complete in a day, in or out of the office, and see where distractions slow you down. Whether it’s watching TV while meal prepping or listening to a podcast while creating a strategy for your job, some practices just require a semblance of silence. Figure out what that looks like for you.

Some tasks are just purely requiring too much of my time.

My to do list used to be chock full of small tasks. A part of me just felt they were all necessary while another part of me probably felt that in doing a bunch of small tasks, I was being more productive by checking off more boxes each day. But as I saw my timed work breakdown, I noticed that some small tasks actually were taking up way more time than they were worth.

How I fixed that: Some tasks are always required and there’s nothing around that. However, some can be shifted and reshaped so that they take up far less time. For me, that meant creating some processes, like creating templates or scheduling “housekeeping time,” where for a segmented period of time, I’d get done these small tasks all at once, rather than spreading them out over the whole week. And some tasks I just stopped doing altogether if they weren’t necessary.

How you can, too: At work, when we are determining if a project is a valuable use of our time, a teammate of mine will ask, “Is the juice worth the squeeze?” It’s a question I try to ask myself often and when the answer is no, I try to find a solution, whether it’s making the process more efficient or learning to say no. The first step to figuring this out, though, is determining the true sum of time a task is requiring.

The Major Lesson Learned: I have to honor my time because no one else will.

“Time is your biggest asset.” How many times have you heard that phrase? Yet, no matter how frequently we hear it, no matter how true we know it to be, we are still left in this twisted, complicated relationship with time. In putting a timer on my day to day, I learned a critical lesson: no one else is going to care about your time as much as you will.

I know, that sounds harsh. Of course others care about you and how your spend your days. However, unless someone is with you for every waking moment of the day, peering over your shoulder as you do every single task, and is as invested in your wellbeing and future as you are, there’s simply no way they’ll ever fully comprehend how you invest your time or if you’re doing it in the best way possible. No, that one is up to you, sister.

Time is not something to fear. In fact, it’s something to honor. It’s our greatest opportunity and if you ask me, time wants you to use her well. She is your greatest asset and when you honor the gift she is giving you, she’ll love you right back. Time can be your closest ally or your worst enemy. The good news? You get to choose how you approach the relationship and it’s never too late to improve how you work together.

So where does that leave this little experiment? It’s ongoing, actually. I still measure how I spend my time because for me, awareness is critical. My relationship with time is getting better, but we still have some couples counseling every once in a while. Nevertheless, it’s leaps and bounds better than it was at the start of 2019 and with each step in the right direction, there comes this unparalleled positive energy and confidence that I can do more, be better, and feel more at ease. If you can relate to that notion that time is never on your side, try a timer, whether it’s just on your phone or a digital tool like Toggl or Rescue Time. You’d be amazed what you’ll uncover.

Have you ever tried to time your work? What are your secrets to time management? Share with me in the comments!