One of the first things I did when I got Filevine was to create a project called “How I Spend My Time.” In that project I simply made a note of what I did each day and how long I spent on any given task.

It was a life-changing moment.

You don’t have to look very hard to find success stories about tracking work. From freelancers gushing about how tracking their work has made them twice as productive, to CEO’s who claim it has re-energized and even saved their companies. Tracking your work is (or should be) a vital part of managing your job and daily life. Why does tracking work save you time and make you more productive?

Why You Should Be Tracking Your Work

Research indicates that tracking your work raises your level of awareness, keeps you present and focused, and reduces time spent procrastinating. It boosts motivation, encourages you to work quickly and limits distractions. Tracking your time also gives you a hefty amount of data about your work life – what you are doing, when and why, how much time you’re spending on various activities, and what is distracting you. It provides the context and history of your work, records how much you are billing and making per hour or per project, helps you evaluate and alter your habits, increases your project management skills, and heightens your sense of time. With all of that data, imagine the possibilities! Envision the changes you can make to your work to increase productivity, efficiency, and find more time for what really matters.

“But Greg,” you say, “I’m pretty organized, and I usually remember what I’ve done each day. If I just remember, does that count as tracking?” Sorry, friend, but nope. Your brain actually isn’t very good at comprehending productivity and can’t differentiate between being busy vs. being productive unless it has help. At the end of a day, your brain might decide you’ve been productive simply because you’ve been busy, and trick you into feeling elated about all you’ve supposedly done. The difference between remembering your day and physically tracking your day is vast; you don’t get the benefits of tracking your work by just remembering, and you don’t get to assess the wealth of data that comes with tracking your work.

This was the benefit of my “How I Spend My Time” project. Suddenly I realized that, while I was feeling “busy” most of the day, I accomplished far less in terms of valuable tasks than I had realized.

So let’s get down to business. How do you actually track your work?

How to Track Your Work

Start With A Plan.

Consider what you want to track and why. Do you need to track every part of your day, or just work time? Do you need to include your commute in your tracking? Work lunches, networking events? What are your priorities? What can you track that will help you become more productive in the workplace? Matt Blumberg, founder of Return Path and Only Once, is religious about keeping an accurate time calendar, and includes commuting, traveling to events, meetings, networking, emails, lunches – the whole lot. Blumberg reports that recording the details of his work life has kept him proactive and on track. What should you be tracking?

The Devil Is In The Details.

Once you have a general idea of what you will be tracking, get ready for details, details, details. Tracking your time isn’t just about keeping a basic schedule of your day. It’s not enough to simply write down, “I worked with client X for two hours, went to a meeting for an hour, answered emails for three hours, then did casework for the rest of the day.” To truly understand where all your time is going and why, you need to include the details of your day.

What should you record?

  • Start and end time of an activity, meeting, break, etc
  • Billable time
  • Project co-workers
  • Goals
  • Distractions

Want to get really detailed? (Yes!) Include your location, how much time you anticipated for each activity, and even quick reflections on your priority activities.

Review and Assess

Give yourself at least of a week of tracking your work before you review your data, so you have enough information to digest and develop a comprehensive plan. From then on, you should conduct a weekly review. In your review, ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is taking up the most time and why? Should it take up that much time?
  • When am I most productive? Why?
  • What is distracting me the most? Why?
  • What is taking up too much time? Why?
  • What is taking longer than I thought? Why?
  • What am I not doing enough of? Why?
  • Is there anything to hand off?
  • What is making the biggest impact?

Consider your time carefully – what is your time worth? Where has it been poorly used or well spent? How can you address the issues you see in your time management?

It will be easy to feel overwhelmed from the sheer amount of data to review, and the effort it will take to get your work and time management under control. No worries, you’re not alone. It takes time to find and develop an effective tracking system, and it takes time to incorporate changes into your work and schedule. Instead of trying to ‘fix’ your work all at once, first reflect, and then begin working on one area at a time. Start by working on priorities and address the issues that are affecting your productivity the most. Soon enough, you’ll be a pro.