A timechart is an organizational device of my own invention that helps you track what you are working on from minute-to-minute during the day. It provides time-awareness, the sense of time passing. It keeps you on task, as any distracting activities show up immediately on the chart. For someone like myself, who is easily distracted and often goes down tangents and rabbit holes, a timechart can be very useful for getting things done.
A timechart looks like this:
It shows activities that you do throughout the day as you are doing them.
I have been using timecharts to manage my time at various points over the last two decades. They are not appropriate for use all the time but in certain situations can be very helpful for being productive.
A timechart is useful if you have a large block of unstructured time, such as a weekend day, where you want to get some productive work done.
A timechart is useful if you have lots of 15+ minute tasks that you want to get done but you are worried about getting distracted.
A timechart is NOT useful for brainstorming or exploratory work that inherently involves switching between lots of different topics. Timecharts make context switches and digressions more expensive, so are a poor fit when you want to move fluidly from topic to topic or idea to idea.
A timechart is also not very useful if you have exactly one task that you know you must be doing and are already highly motivated to do whatever it takes to get that task done.
A timechart is also not as useful if you have less than 2 hours of free time to manage, as the overhead of creating and updating the timechart in the first place will tend to outweigh the benefit.
I typically create a timechart at the start of a weekend day or just after returning from work on a weekday.
A just-created timechart will look like this:
Notice that in general the known-fixed activities are written in pen and the proposed activities are written in pencil. As the day progresses, the proposed activities in pencil will be overwritten by the actual activities in pen.
When stationary at a desk, I keep the timechart notecard out and beside me for easy updaing. When out and about, I keep the timechart notecard in my pocket for quick access.
Whenever you feel yourself beginning a task during the day:
Whenever you feel yourself finishing a task during the day:
I frequently find that I do NOT immediately begin a new productive task directly after a previous task; I often take a break or deliberately distract myself for a few minutes between tasks.
Late in the day I frequently become tired of working on tasks and stop updating the timechart entirely. This is okay. It is neither possible nor desirable to be productive all the time. We all need unstructured breaks.
I usually discard timecharts from previous days.
If you are feeling aggressive about tracking your time usage on a weekly scale, you can compile weekly activity summaries based on timechart data that summarizes what you have been spending your time on. Such weekly activity summaries can provide visceral graphical evidence that either you have or have NOT been working toward your weekly and monthly goals, assuming you have been tracking such goals. These days I usually feel that the effort for regularly compiling weekly summaries outweighs the benefits provided by them so I do not compile them anymore.