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Want to Use Your Time Better? Act Like a Dieter

After assessing the damage the holidays have done to our waistlines, many of us start the new year vowing to lose weight. Those who are serious about it will soon encounter this nutritionist commandment: keep a food journal. Writing down everything we eat is a sobering exercise -- sometimes literally, when you see how many calories alcohol contains -- but it also works. The act of observing something changes the thing being observed, and makes you think twice about grabbing a miniature Snickers bar every time you walk past the receptionist's desk.

That's why, when people ask me how they can start to spend their time better, I tell them to act like dieters. But instead of keeping a food journal, they should log their time.

Here's how: For a week, write down everything you do and when you do it (you can use this time management spreadsheet). You can also see public examples of my own time logs here and here.

After a week, break your activities into categories, and see how it all adds up. Most people discover a few things:

  • We work less than we tell people. I used to complain about my 60-hour weeks. My time logs showed that 40 is more like it.
  • We sleep more than we remember. According to the American Time Use Survey, Americans average more than 8 hours a night when you look at the big picture.
  • We have vast stretches of time we can't account for.
We all have time equivalents of Snickers bars: late nights after the kids go to bed, morning routines that stretch on endlessly, afternoons spent checking email every 5 minutes, and weekend days where we don't figure out what we're doing until 4pm. People need downtime, just as a few sweets are fine. But it's hard to claim to have no time to exercise when a time log shows 20 hours parked in front of the TV.

Just as with a food journal, though, staying accountable is the first step to making better choices. After logging my time, I've started checking email less frequently -- and hope to do so even less in 2011.

What time resolutions do you have for the new year?

Image courtesy of Flickr user, Plutor

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