Ever wonder where all your time goes? You have enough hours in the week to get done all the stuff that’s expected of you, and yet you keep falling behind. I decided I needed to find a way to track how distractions steal my time.
At first, I thought of making a simple list something like this:
- 6:42 – write email to [something]
- 8:14 – research blah blah blah…
But this method wouldn’t record how while I was writing the email, I realized I needed to verify some details on a website, and that site took too long to load so I checked email, and one of my emails required me to do something, so I did that, and then I remembered I had intended to look up something online, and then I spent 10 minutes reading about some topic online, and then I remembered to go finish writing my email, and forgot completely about the site I’d been waiting to load so I could get that detail confirmed. That sort of thing happens a lot.
So after reading for hours about mind-mapping, I came up with my system. You can do it on paper or in a word processor, or even on your phone. It’s just an outline, simple as anything, but with a few special color codes I added. Here’s an example:
7:44 – 8:52
- Respond to emails
- Computer crashed
- Processed email on phone while scanning computer for viruses
- Saw email ad for office supplies, bought some
- Searched for new apps for the phone
9:08 – 10:01
- Futzed with mind-mapping solutions, settled on this system, which can be emailed easily to phone or home
What It All Means
The indentations in the outline show which activities led to other activities, for better or worse. The more indentations I have, the more distractions are controlling me instead of me taking control of them. Later, I color code as I make judgments about the following: what was a distraction, whether the distraction was out of my control, and how productively I reacted to it.
Blue represents a distraction. The italics in this case mean I didn’t cause it – the computer crashed. And because it crashed in an odd way, I felt the need to do a virus scan, and because it was an older computer, the scan made the computer really slow for doing anything else.
Green means I responded well to the distraction and did something useful with my time. Processing emails had to be done, and luckily I could do them on the phone. An email informed me that some needed office supplies were on sale, so I ordered those while I was waiting for the scan to finish. But then I also decided to download some apps when I could have found something more useful to do, so that one got colored red.
Orange means I have mixed feelings about how productive that activity was. On the one hand, coming up with this solution was important, and it should be helpful, and brainstorming does take time; on the other hand, I should know by now if I can’t find a software program that does what I want inside half an hour, it probably doesn’t exist (or at least not at a price I’m willing/able to pay). I need to train myself to assume after a thirty-minute software search that I’m going to have to make my own solution, using paper or software I already have.
How I Use This
Of course, you can code yours any way you like. I only did this for a few weeks, and that was long enough to assess what I’m doing wrong and how to improve. Then in the future, I’ll use it again whenever I feel like I’ve gotten off-track. I find the act of recording my time wasting that makes me not want to do it anymore.