Most of us continue to look for ways to be more productive. We use techniques to deal with email, manage our TODO lists and prioritize the most creative tasks early in the day. These and many other techniques are valuable but not sufficient. We need to measure and check our time against what we see as our desired allocation. We need an approach and tool to help to spend time on the right things.

What you will learn…

  1. How to determine the desired allocation of your time
  2. The simple tool to collect and compare actual to desired time allocation
  3. Ideas for how to adjust your time to meet your desired allocation

I developed an approach a number of years back, to determining my ideal allocation of time, collecting the actual time that I have spent over a short period of time (typically a couple weeks) and comparing this to the ideal allocation. I have never actually hit my ideal allocation.  I make adjustments to the ways I spend my time and start the process all over again.

Below are the steps required so that you can use this same approach. It is both simple and amazingly insightful. It will help you.

Step 1: Determining Your Ideal Time Allocation

There is no single perfect allocation. You need to determine the best allocation for you, given what you do, where you are in your career and the responsibility that you have.  My allocation has changed dramatically over the years as I have moved into different roles and increased my scope and responsibility.

Here is how you do this.

  1. Review the list of categories below and select the 5-10 that apply to you.
  2. Determine the percentage (not hours) of time that you SHOULD be spending on each of these categories
  3. Save these for use later


  • Strategy
  • Leadership
  • Operations
  • Customers [and Partners]
  • Partners
  • Personal Development
  • Employee Development
  • Status
  • Fire Drills
  • Interruptions
  • Projects [can name them]
  • Action Items
  • Housekeeping
  • Meals

Example: A Recent Allocation

Here is an example of a recent allocation that I used. This was in my role as a  VP of Platform Engineering in Customer Support.

CategoryDesired %
Customers and Partners10%
Personal Development5%
Employee Development10%
Key Projects25%

You may want to use the same model for work-life balance. If you do, here are some categories that might help.

Additional Categories

  • Sleep
  • Social
  • Exercise
  • Hobbies
  • Family
  • Spouse
  • Kids
  • Entertainment

Step 2: Calendaring Your Time

In order to map the time that you spent to your desired allocation, you need to keep track of where you are spending your time. I have found that the best way to do this is to calendar ALL of your time for roughly two weeks.

As a manager, you likely use a calendar, and that calendar has a number of meetings scheduled. What you have to do is account for the remainder of your time. To do this, create new calendar entries around those that already exist. Given them a useful title and where appropriate add what you are doing in the description section.

I recommend using a granularity of 15 minutes. Unless you do a lot of very small tasks, this should be sufficient. I also tend to lump together in order to reduce task switching cost so not only will it work well for mapping but will help you to be more productive.

Example: One Day of Calendaring

Spend Time on the Right Things

Step 3: Compare and Adjust

The way you do this is simple.

  1. Determine your actual time spent for each category for the period of time.
    1. Go through each calendar entry
    2. Assign one of the categories to the entry
      • It may be that you have to divide an appointment across more than one category. When you do this, assign the appropriate hours to each category.
    3. Go through the calendar again. Add the number of hours from each entry (or part of an entry) to the appropriate category
    4. Add up the hours from all categories to determine a total
    5. Calculate the percentage time spent on each category (category total / total hours)
  2. Compare the actual to the desired time spent
    • Take the original list of categories with the desired allocation percentages and write next to them the actual percentages
  3. Review the events within the categories where you are spending too much time and find a way to shorten, eliminate or delegate.

Example: My Actual Compared to Desired Time

Here is the same desired allocation from above, but now with the rough actual percentage time spent.

CategoryDesired %Actual %
Customers and Partners10%5%
Personal Development5%5%
Employee Development10%10%
Key Projects25%20%

As you can see, I did not hit the desired allocation. In many cases I was close. The one that jumps out for me is Housekeeping. Why am I spending that much time on things like email, budget, etc. Turns out that I was not efficient with email. As a result, I have since moved to Inbox 0. See my post “Stop the Email Madness“.

As I mentioned earlier, I have never hit my desired allocation. I am always off, typically spending too much time on the urgent and not the important. I always make changes, wait a while and then go through the exercise again where I see better results!

Get Started Today

This is a really simple process. There is no reason to wait to spend time on the right things!

It will take you less than an hour to complete the first step. Do not over think this the first time. You will very likely get it wrong. You will miss a couple of categories that you will need to add, so don’t start out with 10. Start smaller and add only when you convince yourself that you need another category.

The calendaring of everything is the hardest part. Just do it. Do it continuously during the day. Don’t leave work without having calendared all of your time.

When you complete the calendaring and go back to compare, you may be surprised at how you spent your time as compared to what you desired. Don’t get frustrated, the goal is to learn and adjust.

Good luck!

See Also

Rethink How to Prioritize

Limit Time Spent – Avoid Parkinson’s Law

Become Way More Productive

Categories: TimeTools


Leave a Reply

Avatar placeholder

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *