02 May 2012

Know Your Time : Time Tracking Experiment

Umar Bin Al-Khattab, may Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) (glorified and exalted be He) be pleased with him said “Take yourself to account before you’re taken to account”.
As Muslims who believe that we’ll be judged for every minute we spent on this earth, it is sometimes quite useful to track how we spend our time in order to accurately measure how well we’re living our lives according to the purpose we’ve been created for.
About two years ago, I ran a time tracking experiment on myself for a few days to help me measure exactly how I spend my time in different activities. The results of this experiment were astonishing! It made me realize how much I was wasting my time and helped me take drastic measures to improve my productivity.
Here’s how you can run your own time tracking experiment with a few, free simple tools.
As with every successful experiment, you need the right measuring tools and apparatus to accurately measure the data and draw the most useful conclusions. This can be challenging if you’re trying to record what you do every minute of your day, since you’ll either forget to record what you do, OR be biased in your recording to show that you were productive when in reality you weren’t.
To overcome this problem, you need to divide your time tracking experiment into two parts:

1. Recording the time spent online/on a computer

Since the majority of our time these days is spent on the computer and online, you can start by recording what you do on them. Thankfully, there’s a great application for that!
RescueTime (Free)
One of the best time tracking tools online today is RescueTime; a web-based time recording and analytical tool that sits quietly in the background of your computer and measures which application, website or document you’re currently actively using.
At the end of each week, RescueTime will send you beautiful (or scary) result graphs showing exactly what percentage of your time online/on the computer is spent on “Productive Tasks” (e.g. Word document, online research, presentations..etc) vs. “Unproductive Tasks” (e.g. social media, personal e-mails, etc). (Note: you can choose which applications/documents RescueTime should classify as “productive” vs. “unproductive”).
Another great feature of RescueTime is that if you’re away from your computer for more than 5 to 10 minutes, it will ask you to write down where you went and what you did, again giving you visibility of how you spend your time during your breaks away from your computer. (E.g. in one day, I realized I spent 5 hours at meetings!)

2. Recording the time spent offline/off a computer

Now that you have an accurate recording of your time spent online or on the computer (and even during short breaks between your working day), it’s time to measure how you spend your time offline, especially when you’re away from your laptop for long stretches, or at home.
To record your time offline, I highly recommend the techniques used by accountants and auditors who need to record their time for billing purposes where they simply record what they are doing every 20m. There are a couple of ways to do this accurately:
  1. You could keep a buzzer next to you and set the timer for 20 minutes or 1 hour. Every time the buzzer goes off, you record exactly what you’re doing on a piece of paper.
  2. You can ask a friend, spouse, child, or someone else who’s close to you to simply record what you’re doing every 20 minutes.
That’s it! At the end of the week, you’ll have a pretty accurate picture of how you spend your time.
Finally, a word of caution: recording your time is a painful and tedious experiment and it can be very tempting to skip some steps, or record how you think you spent your time at the end of your day, but that will defeat the purpose! You need to be as objective as possible and avoid relying on your memory to remember what you did at certain times.
Once you have an accurate measure of your time (both online/offline), you need to compare the results with the results you’d like to achieve as a Productive Muslim – a person who achieves success both in this life and in the Hereafter. If the results of your experiment show that you’re wasting a lot of your time, then you know you have to do something about it as the results won’t improve by themselves.
Here are 3 practical things you can do to improve your time management:
  1. Limit time-wasting activities: If you find that you spend a big chunk of your time on social media, TV or aimlessly surfing the Internet, try to limit these activities by allocating specific times for them during the day.
  2. Compress your work time into large work chunks: If you find that you work in bursts of 10-20 minutes throughout the day, try to compress all your work time into large chunks of at least 45 to 90 minutes. This will allow you to work more productively and achieve greater results.
  3. Manage your time actively: Instead of managing your time reactively and fire-fighting your way through your days, try your best to actively manage your time by planning each day the night before, using our ProductiveMuslim Taskinator and completing at least 3 to 5 of the Most Important Tasks (M.I.Ts) early in the morning. Moreover, such active management of time would help you avoid the common pitfall of “heedlessness” from Allah’s commands and allows you to truly develop a balanced lifestyle that doesn’t forget the akhira and works hard in this dunya.
Once you’ve adopted some of the above changes and you feel that your time management has improved, re-run the time tracking experiment again and let the results speak for themselves.

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