Setting Your Baseline: Where Do You Spend Your Time?

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"Time is money."

-Benjamin Franklin, Advice to a Young Tradesman

Time is probably the most precious resource that a successful person has. The President of a company that I worked for many years ago told me that the secret to resolving a customer service issue was to work your way up to a person in the company with more money than time.

Be sure to read this article until the end because I have a never before revealed secret formula for how much productive time you should have each day.

If you don’t know where you are spending your time, you are wasting money. One of the most profitable skills that I learned in my first job after college was tracking my time in 15 minute increments. I was working as a staff accountant for a local CPA firm and had to account for all of my time. If I didn’t track my time, then I didn’t get paid. In addition to tracking my time, the majority of my time had to be billable. This exercise taught me to be aware of where I was spending my time and to focus on activities that generated profit for the firm. In subsequent industry jobs, I realized that this skill gave me a significant competitive advantage. While others were engaging in “water cooler” conversations, I was getting recognized and promoted.


One of the main reasons that we should write things down is because memory is a poor model of reality. This is true for a variety of reasons, here's three:
  • First, we all have a bias. Our memories must go through the prism of our experience before they are stored in our brains.
  • Second, many of us have a tendency to remember things in a positive light, especially our contribution to something. Psychologists call this an ego-centric bias. We believe that we are far more focused and productive than we really are.
  • Finally, our memories fade over time. In some cases, they change entirely as our new experiences and changing beliefs attach different meanings to them.


"Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you."

-Carl Sandburg 

Time is the great equalizer. I had a wonderfully wise teacher in high school who would rebuke anyone coming to class late with this saying, “time, and time alone, waits for no man, and dang few women.” It’s a sobering thought when you consider that everyone has the same amount of time in each day, week, and year. Michael Korda, former Editor-in-Chief of Simon & Schuster in New York City once said, "Success has always been easy to measure. It is the distance between one's origins and one's final achievement."

The idea that we all have the same amount of time can be very humbling. This fact made an indelible impact on me in college while watching Andre Agassi at Wimbledon. Although he was only about a year older than me, he had already achieved unbelievable success. He had achieved wealth, fame, and numerous tennis titles. I would say that he spent his time wisely during his youth.

How are you going to spend your time? Isn’t this an interesting phrase, “spend your time”? 
What accomplishments are you exchanging for your time? Are you wasting your time or investing your time?
Unlike virtually every other resource on the planet, time is irreplaceable. For example, if an employee leaves your company, you can hire another employee to replace them. By the same token, if you lose a customer, you can find another one. On the other hand, if you waste an hour watching television or mindlessly surfing the web, that time is gone. You can never recover wasted time.

One of the best ways to determine what your time is worth is to divide your annual salary by 2,080, which is 52 weeks at 40 hours / week. This will give you an idea of how much money you are investing or wasting each hour.


Activity logs help you to analyze somewhat objectively where you spend your time. If you are like me, what you discover will surprise you. Since we too easily forget things like reading junk mail, personal phone calls, internet, daydreaming, etc., the activity log will bring these issues to the surface so you can deal with them.

Activity Log GraphicSo, what do you do? Our best day planners has a great tool that allows you to quickly  track your time. It’s already set up so all you have to do is write down the category, i.e. Sales Proposal, Web Surfing, Customer Calls, then, bubble in the portion of the bubble that you spend on the particular category. Here is a picture of the Activity Log page. You can also do this in excel or on a piece of notebook paper. 

By analyzing your activity log you will be able to identify and eliminate time-wasters or low-contribution tasks. So, here's the secret formula that I mentioned earlier. How much time should you spend on non-productive activities each day or week? I would say that God knows a little about time being the Ancient of Days. As such, I use his formula of 1 day of rest for every 7 days, which translates to 15% of rest each day. I call this the original 85/15 rule. This is similar to Deming's 85/15 Rule although his rule is about the value of processes. By keeping an Activity Log for several days, you will understand how you spend your time. Once you have logged your time for a few days, analyze the log. You may be alarmed to see the length of time you spend doing low value or unproductive tasks!
“I will act now. I will act now. I will act now. Henceforth, I will repeat these words each hour, each day, everyday, until the words become as much a habit as my breathing, and the action which follows becomes as instinctive as the blinking of my eyelids. With these words I can condition my mind to perform every action necessary for my success. I will act now. I will repeat these words again and again and again. I will walk where failures fear to walk. I will work when failures seek rest. I will act now for now is all I have. Tomorrow is the day reserved for the labor of the lazy. I am not lazy. Tomorrow is the day when the failure will succeed. I am not a failure. I will act now. Success will not wait. If I delay, success will become wed to another and lost to me forever. This is the time. This is the place. I am the person.”

-Og Mandino
Time Management 6397089980444409326
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