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Diagnosing Time Drains

With summer coming to an end (sigh), we approach the Fall with a reinvigorated sense of productivity….right? Not for all of us. For some, the transition from warm days and long weekends, to short days and heavy jackets, can be rough. To help you with this transition, we’re going to take the next month to explore the topic of time management. Not only are we discussing how can you effectively manage your time during the week, but also the time drains that could be getting in your way. What is a time drain? Keep reading to find out.

Diagnosing Time Drains

What Is a Time Drain?

Time drains are activities or behaviors that consume your attention and/or focus and are completely unrelated to completing the task at hand. If you were to add up the amount of time you spend engaging those activities or behaviors, you’d realize that the time spent is significant. These behaviors are different for everyone, but may look like: scanning your Instagram explore page, falling down Wikipedia holes, watching YouTube videos, etc…

Develop a Monitoring System

To diagnose your time drains, develop a system to track your activity throughout the day. Self-monitoring is a tool that you can use to track your activity during the day and identify patterns of behavior.

Time Tracking

Time tracking is a form of self-monitoring that requires you to record your activity regularly throughout the day. The first step to time tracking is setting an alarm at set time intervals (e.g., every 30-minutes or every hour). Then, when the alarm goes off, that’s your cue to record EXACTLY what you did during that time period. Continue this throughout the entire time that you're at work. Since the goal is to monitor productivity and time drains, we suggest labeling each activity as “on-task” and “off-task.” To get an even clearer picture of your productivity, try and approximate how much time you spent on each activity that you recorded.

1) “On-task” activities are any behaviors or activities that relate directly to the project, assignment, or task that you intended to accomplish during that time period.

2) “Off-task” activities are any behaviors or activities that are not directly related to the project, assignment, or task that you set out to accomplish during that time period (e.g., checking Instagram, falling down a Wikipedia hole, texting, going on Gchat or Facebook Messenger, etc.). In other words, time drains. It’s important to note that an off-task activity could actually be work related, BUT is off-task because it was unrelated to the task that you were working on (or set out to accomplish). For example, if a coworker came to your office to ask you questions about a client, but this distracted you from the pitch that you were working on for a different client, then this interaction would be considered "off-task."


At the end of the day, review your time tracking and write down different patterns of behavior that you notice. You may realize that over the course of the day you spent 2.5 hours on Instagram! Looking at pictures of puppies may be a great distraction when you're feeling stressed, but spending 2.5 hours isn’t a great use of your time. You may also realize that you spent 3 hours responding to e-mails and speaking to coworkers about projects or assignments, but these activities were labeled as “off-task.” Even though those activities were important, they were distracting you from what you were doing in the moment. As a result, these interactions may have led to poor time management because you had to rush to complete the assignment you were trying to work on in that moment. At the end of the week, rank your time drains by the amount of time you spent engaging in them. This way, you know exactly which behaviors are having the greatest impact on your time management.

Improving time management isn’t just about enhancing productivity, but also reducing behaviors that interfere with progress and on-task behaviors. Now that you have diagnosed your time drains, you can actually treat them! Next week, we will provide strategies that you can use to directly target time draining behaviors so that you can manage your time more effectively, enhance work progress, and support behaviors that lead to profitability.

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