The relation between Personal productivity and time logging
November 17, 2020
The pain of working all day with no clear effect of hours spent is depressing. The combination of work with no clear meaning and shrinking personal time is a short road to burnout. That’s where personal productivity comes in glory.
The internet is full of contradictory narratives of maintaining work-life balance and applying sophisticated tricks to max-out the work productivity. One gets confused when resting about power-naps and dietary supplements that boost mental efficiency. On the other hand, one needs to spend time with significant ones, eat well, exercise, or sleep enough to stay healthy.
And all these activities are off-work. Thus, the only way to keep succeeding in work while staying satisfied with personal life is to maximize personal productivity.
What is personal productivity?
Personal productivity (or personal efficiency) is a self-explanatory term itself. It is about being productive in work-related meaning. Getting back to basics – productivity is the ability to deliver an effect during a certain period of time.
The term can be applied to individuals, organizations, or nations. In fact, the ability to reach high productivity is one of the most important factors in building wealth on a national level.
For example, the Eurostat data implies, that the relation between the time worked and the GDP per capita is directly opposite. Nations with the longest hours worked a week get the worst results with Turkey employees working for over 45 hours a week and delivering $9,042 GDP yearly. On the other side, there are employees from the Netherlands who deliver $52,447 of GDP yearly while working only for 30.4 hours per week.
So it is clearly not about working hard – it is about working effectively. Doing all accounting with pen and paper is undoubtedly hard, but hardly as effective as doing that with Excel.
The wealth of individuals
The concept of personal productivity is narrowed to a particular individual, with all the respect for his or her goals, priorities, and needs. So it does not matter if it is all about a stay-at-home mom, a freelance graphic designer, an office worker, or a high-level manager – each of them can be both productive or slacking.
The key is knowledge about managing personal tasks and maximizing time efficiency.
What are the benefits of personal productivity?
First and foremost, personal productivity is about maximizing the outcome of the assets one has, with time being the most valuable of them. Why is that? Because there is no way to get it back, manage to have it more, or save for the future. From this point of view, the benefits of being productive on a personal level include:
More time to allocate – if the productivity is about delivering more stuff in a shorter time, there is more time left for things that used to be cut off – sleeping, meetings with friends, working out, or basically whatever one wills to do with his or her free time.
More things done – the greatest disappointment of being a grown-up is the constatation that works to do never ends. On the other hand, though, doing things faster and more efficiently enables one to get better effects – bigger paycheck, chores are done – you name it.
Reduced stress – the relationship between stress and productivity is, according to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, pretty straightforward – the higher the stress is, the lower is the productivity. In this cursed circle, the things that remain undone create pressure that makes delivering them even harder. On the other hand, delivering results reduces the stress level and makes working faster and more efficiently easier. So being productive makes one less stressed, and in the end – healthier and more productive.
Considering the benefits listed above, it is not surprising that there are so many guides and manuals about achieving productivity, be that the Getting Things Done system or Pomodoro technique. But there are essentials that can be found within any system one wills to use.
How to increase personal productivity
Building and maintaining personal productivity can be compared to staying fit – beginnings are hard, yet there are immediate effects that can be amazing, especially for a non-productive person before. Yet there is no “finish” in this run. One needs to constantly keep an eye on the process. But essential tips for being productive include:
Have a right tool stack
And “right” is “right for you”. There are dozens of task managing solutions, tools supporting multiple productivity-boosting heuristics, and other digital ways of delivering better results. Also, there are notebooks, Kanban offline boards, whiteboards… – the list has no end in fact.
If one feels better with pen-and-paper lists, it is cool. Equally cool as building a to-do list every day in the email and sending it to the own mailbox.
The key is in spotting the tool that supports managing things to do, which is usually built around lists. A popular Getting Things Done (GTD) system recommends a particular way of building the list, while not recommending a tool.
The key feature of the tool is the system that needs to keep all things to do – and it is not the user’s head. The ever-accessible and complete storage system can be a notebook, a sheet, Asana, or Trello board, or basically anything that supports making the list.
To be honest – if one is cool with writing down the list of chores on the backside of envelopes – it is good as long it works. Even though at some point one would need a big stack of envelopes.
Writing down things to do is the first step toward personal productivity. It also makes the mind free – a great feeling itself.
Also – the key in achieving personal productivity is to name all the things that are to be done – it doesn’t matter if it is about delivering a presentation to work, finding a better tutor for a child, or cleaning up the garage – there is a lot of time to get back from the void of slackery.
Learn to set goals and name actions
“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” LaoZi, Dao De Jing (attributed also to Confucius)
Having the first step of writing the list down behind, the next comes in – reforging “things” into goals and actions. A “thing to do” can be “do grocery shopping for next week”. Reforging that into goals and actions is a more sophisticated process. So in fact “grocery shopping” can consist of:
Planning meals for next week to know what needs to be bought
Updating the list of owned food, to not duplicate owned food
Although the list divided into single actions can be of daunting length, actions themselves are usually short to do. one is usually surprised how swift can be delivering the tasks that used to be overwhelming without planning. It is like eating a whole table of chocolate piece-by-piece – one never expects it to end so fast. That’s why a to-do list for a productive day boosts work satisfaction so much.
Ok, so having all (or at least most of) things sliced into manageable pieces, leaves one with a swarm of tiny tasks – nearly as overwhelming as it used to be before. According to the GTD principles, the next step is to ask:
What is the thing I should do next?
Setting priorities is the next aspect of personal productivity. When considering how important the task is, one should think about:
Estimated time of delivery – how long is the task going to last? If it is about a whole day of the trip or several hours in a row, there can be the need to block a time, especially for this particular task. On the other hand, though, there are a lot of tasks that take no more than a few minutes, so a separate list with the “pick-one-to-do-now” type of tasks can be a good idea.
Deadline – pretty straightforward. The closer the deadline, the higher the priority.
According to the multiple guidelines with GTD in particular, it is advised to deliver several to-do lists depending on the priorities. A “wishlist”, “to do in near future”, “near deadline” and so on, depending on the type of thing to do and the nature of the project – personal, professional, creative, etc.
Here comes the bottleneck. While building lists and executing them is a widely-covered topic, time logging can be an overlooked element, yet it is crucial.
While time logging in a professional field is popular, doing that in every aspect of life can be considered an oddity. When it comes to work, time tracking delivers benefits both for salaried and hourly-paid employees. It makes invoicing clients easier, reduces productivity leaks (by up to 80%!), and delivers transparency in the workplace.
But tracking time spent with family and friends? Sleep? Scrolling down the Facebook wall?
Actually, it is a great tool to improve productivity on a personal level. One needs not to abandon all these activities, but to figure out which one of them takes time that seems to leak. There is no improvement without data. And on the other hand – what is measurable can be optimized.
If one uses time tracking software like Calamari in his or her workplace, transferring this habit into a home-related field can be easier than thought – it is just about extrapolating a professional habit into private space – we all do that all the time, willingly or not.
Time tracking requires building a set of categories in the same ways professional time is sliced into projects and tasks. When it comes to personal life, a sole building category can be both challenging and enlightening. It requires to ask oneself questions like:
Where I would like to allocate more time – Work? Family? Art project? Traveling? Sleeping? Exercising?
Where do I think I allocate my time now – work? Family? Social media? Internet? TV? Sleeping? Commuting?
In the end, there can appear a lot of categories that were not there before, yet they consume a lot of time.
Time review – for how long you really work?
Benjamin Franklin, a man famous for his quote “Time is money” (among other things he is famous for), followed a strict daily routine to keep control of his time and not waste it. Yet he was living in the times before the smartphones, where one can either set up a timer or use one of the countless apps to track habits and time.
After a week of tracking personal time, it is a time for a review – it can be done separately or in conjunction with the task list updating.
In the ideal world, one would achieve 100% accuracy on things done, but it is impossible and would be wearing. On the other hand, delivering “good enough” accuracy can be sufficient.
Spot the bottlenecks and sinks
Assuming the honest time tracking (if it is not honest, it is better to not do that at all), one can analyze his or her daily routines. Confronting the real-time allocation can be painful, sometimes surprising, but always enlightening. One can get information on matters like:
For how long do I really work (and I mean work, not “sit in the office or near the computer) – isn’t the overworked specialist narrative only an excuse for slacking and wasting time?
Which time I consider wasted – according to Oberlo’s research, a typical user spends three hours a day using social media. Is it really necessary to use Facebook for the 12% the daily time we have at all?
What am I doing too much – assuming the ability to put a value in a particular time spent, one can see if there is some time over-allocated in a particular category. Is checking email really that essential for work? Are these phone calls really necessary? If running a garden delivers only stress and consumes a lot of time, abandoning that can be a good choice. Having flat grass near the house is not a shame and requires significantly less effort.
What am I not doing enough – on the other hand though, there is no way to have a great garden when caring about it for less than 15 minutes a week. Transferring the time considered wasted or ill-allocated into more meaningful things is the sole purpose of personal productivity.
Data gathered, knowledge extracted. Time for the last step.
Observe, learn, react
At that point, one has a clear view of:
Things done – based on lists of things to do and tasks to accomplish
Time allocated – how much time one has spent on delivering results listed above
Goals achieved – how much tasks from particular categories have been achieved and how closer one is toward accomplishing a more high-level goal.
If everything is OK at this level – that’s cool. If there is something to change, one can manage the process with collected data and setting proper goals to support a long term vision. If one will write a novel, he or she needs to allocate at least an hour a day to secure the required time.
Learn to avoid distractions
Last but not least, having all projects and tasks listed and a time tracker right at the fingertip, one is ready to focus on doing a single task at once. Multitasking is an attractive yet harmful myth. According to Stanford research, multitaskers are better at organizing and managing information, yet that’s the only benefit.
With more than one task at once done, cognitive functions drop significantly, rendering one nothing more than just able to do several tasks at once rather than do them greatly.
It is sometimes impossible not to multitask, but this practice should be avoided. Setting a queue of tasks to solve and then shooting them one-by-one while staying focused is a much more productive approach than trying to be a multi-handed Hindu goddess of productivity.
Time has neither mercy nor compassion – it flows no matter how desperately one needs more sleep, spare time, or working time. It is impossible to manage it in the way other assets are manageable. Storing it for the future or multiplying by a good investment is no more than a fancy metaphor. Yet without time tracking, there is no way to manipulate the efficiency at all.
The best answer to the question about how to get productive is to squeeze owned hours to get the best of them. And that’s what personal productivity is really about.
If you enjoyed this article and wish to talk about clock in and time tracking in productivity-boosting techniques, don’t hesitate to contact us now – we will be happy to share our experiences and remarks as much as to hear yours!