Where does the time go?
I imagine that all of us can relate to the notion that some days time just slips through our fingers. At the end of a day like that we might feel frazzled and as if we really haven’t accomplished anything. Those days, which somehow don’t feel particularly productive, sometimes feel like the busiest of all.
It was after a day like that that I resolved to try and capture the shifting sands of time in my hand – or rather on a Google Sheet. The results were certainly imperfect, but they do point to what I would call “a situation.”
Over the last two weeks, I’ve asked the Half Moon Bay Review news writers to humor me and try to jot down the time they spend on various tasks. I left it pretty unstructured on purpose. The image above shows how I measured my own time over the week. I made categories for a story I was working on (Foyer), mundane tasks like email, time spent representing the newspaper in the community, on The Kicker, etc. At the end of a week, I went through, tallied up the hours and then figured out the percentage of the total time I spent on each category of tasks.
One wise gal on the staff said she needed a separate category for time spent filling out the silly form. Point taken.
The categories for each of us varied a bit, but for me the takeaway was that we all spent between 20 and 47 percent of our time on what I would call “job maintenance.” That is email, planning, answering phones, filling out the weekly news budget, going to meetings, etc. It’s the stuff that in one way is the scaffolding upon which more meaningful work is built, but it is also not that meaningful work itself. (I outlined those tasks in red in my Sheet, which showed that I spent 28 percent of my total time on clerical, planning and email tasks.) …
I don’t plan on keeping up the tally. I think I saw what I wanted to see for now. In my opinion, we spend too much time on this less-than-fully-productive busy work. Imagine if you had 28 percent more time in your work week to write, talk to readers or learn a new publishing skill?
I’m actively engaged in rethinking that 28 percent of my work week. I may be checking email less often. I may be opting for fewer staff meetings. I could be offloading or otherwise streamlining the way we put together our calendar and real estate sales listings. I want that time back. In a bit, I’ll try this experiment again.
If you want to give it a try, I just ripped off one of the templates available on Google Sheets. Kidding aside, it took less than 15 minutes out of my week to jot down my time and analyze it afterward.