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Time management strategies: Take a time inventory

How do you get long-term projects done, given day-to-day realities? It can certainly be a challenge, especially if you suffer from procrastination and disorganization, says William Weare, Access Services Team Leader at the University Library at Indiana University-Purdue, and author of several journal articles, conference papers, and a book chapter on time management for academic librarians.

One of the strategies he has used to become more productive is taking a time inventory to visually see where his time goes.

Choose a day–or a couple of days in your work week if your days look different each week–and track everything you do in the day, recording the time you start, and the time you finish what you did.

And he means everything: I get to work; I logged on; I put my milk in the refrigerator; I unpacked my stuff; I checked the weather; I checked in with my staff; I went to the restroom.

“The reason why I record even my trips to the restroom is that sometimes what ought to be a four-minute trip might turn into 20 minutes or 40 minutes because I ran into a colleague, and I want to track that,” says Weare.

What he’s really looking at by taking this time inventory is getting a picture of how he spends his time, he says. The point is granularity.

An example time inventory might be this snapshot taken at the end of the day:

5:24-5:29       Calendar and email
5:29-5:33       Staff check-in before I went home
5:33-5:40       Cleaned up, packed and shut down

“This gives me a start time, a finish time, how much time I spent on every activity, and what it was I did,” said Weare. “I now know how I spent my time and I can see where my time really goes.”

This article was based on William Weare’s 2013 TAA Conference presentation, “It’s Focus Management, Not Time Management: Strategies and Habits That Lead to Productive Writing,” Listen to the podcast