Tracking Time

Gerwig 2015-03-06

How do keep up with time and plan your projects and daily “to do” list? Do you use your watch, your phone, your tablet, or your laptop? Perhaps you use a more traditional, old-school, method such a desk calendar or daily planner. But hopefully each of you is using something that works for you.

Time is fascinating to me. Both the concept of time and how we track it. Perhaps it goes back to my early days as a Junior Olympic swimmer when my event times were measured in hundredths of seconds. And perhaps my fascination with time was reinforced as a young industrial engineer when I was tasked with improving assembly operations and measured process times with a stopwatch. Still later, I went to NASCAR races with my dad where we’d measure the lap times of our favorite drivers with digital watches.

Time. The richest billionaires in the world can’t save it, bottle it, or sell it. The poorest people in the world have as much time in their week as the wealthiest. You can’t go back in time and you can’t go forward in time. We plan our future and reflect on our past, but we can only live in the present. Time. It’s a fascinating concept.

Also fascinating is the way we plan our time. We break long-term projects into milestones and track our progress using tools like Microsoft Project. We make and prioritize daily and weekly “to do” lists. We use family calendars on the refrigerator to help us track school activities and social events.

But do you correctly track or account for time? What I mean is, are you realistic or are you overly optimistic? Do you allow for unproductive time? Travel time? Delays? Let me give you some examples that hopefully clarify:

  1. Your work calendar. I remember years ago a smart, young professional who scheduled 15 minutes on her calendar in-between meetings. Why? Because often her next meeting was on a different floor or on the opposite site of the building. If you have a lot of back-to-back meetings, be certain you’re allowing for travel time (or time to use the restroom or get a drink of water).
  2. Traffic and parking. Your daughter has a school play at 7pm and it only takes 15 minutes to drive to the school. You leave at 6:40pm. Guess what! You’re late. You have to deal with rush-hour traffic, find parking, and walk into the auditorium. Be certain you’re adding up the time required for each part of the process so you’ll get a good seat and see the opening act.
  3. Breaks, lunches, and change of shift. If you work in a production or manufacturing environment where associates are on a time clock, this is likely a no-brainer for you. But you must take into account the time the associates are non-productive during the day. Legally they receive breaks and lunch. During these periods they’re not productive from an operational point of view. Also, in many environments there is lost time at the beginning and end of the shift as associates are transitioning. Be certain you’re correctly accounting for all the non-productive time in the day when planning your labor requirements.
  4. Meetings. Much has been written about effective meetings. Suffice it to say that few organizations or people run extremely effective meetings. A few do. And if you’re in that camp, great! But for the rest of us, be realistic. You’ll likely have a few minutes of wasted time as people come in and get settled. Also, many of your meeting attendees will leave a few minutes “early” in order to get to their next meeting. If you have a meeting scheduled for an hour, you’ll do well to get 50 productive minutes. Be certain you’re realistic with the time you have at your disposal.
  5. Annual targets. Many of you are involved in developing annual operating plans, capital budgets and the like. Others of you are involved in executing these plans. If you’re creating the plans, be realistic. If you’re executing the plans, be realistic. Once I was given a productivity goal (X% year-over-year improvement). The interesting bit was that I was given the target in the fourth month of the year and due to some additional constraints had to complete all my projects and meet the target by the end of the third quarter. So in reality, I had 5-6 months to meet this “annual” productivity goal. I wonder if those who developed the target realized this when they gave me the target. Be certain you’re realistic with time when creating and executing plans.
  6. Distractions and miscellaneous delays. Some events are beyond your control, like the weather. Some are not, like the phone call you take in the middle of a meeting you’re leading. It’s worth thinking about and building time contingencies into your plans. In the winter, plan for snow and ice. In the city, plan for traffic delays. In your meetings, set ground-rules for phones, tablets, laptops, etc. You can’t plan for every possibility, but you can, and should, plan for those events that are likely. For example, yesterday when I picked up my wife from the airport, I left early because of the snow storm. I accurately predicted that the roads would be slick, traffic would be worse, and a few accidents could crop up.

The next time you plan your day, week, quarter, year, or project, think about how much time you really have and how much time you really need. Be certain you’re realistic.

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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