Here's how and why you should start tracking your time

It's the most valuable resource you have, one that's usually limited, and it's often a challenge to manage effectively

Tilottama Barua
Published : 24 May 2023, 01:42 PM
Updated : 24 May 2023, 01:42 PM

We often complain that there aren't enough hours in the day. Time tracking is a practice that helps you track what fills up your hours and how much time you spend on these tasks.

I started recently, and it's helped me work more efficiently, reduce stress and increase productivity. Whether you're a student, freelancer, business owner, or full-time employee, we can all agree those are significant changes.

Now that I've gotten into the habit, I see four main reasons you should also consider tracking your time.

The first is that it trains you to stop multitasking. As I think we've all learned by now, multitasking doesn't work. It splits your attention, meaning you end up with multiple tasks done poorly instead of one well.

Time tracking urges you to record only one activity at a time. If you want to maintain your accuracy, you must approach your tasks separately, giving each the proper focus it deserves.

You also get much better at estimating time. Humans are notoriously bad at estimating time because of the 'planning fallacy', which argues that people are too optimistic when considering how much time something will take. We instinctively think the future will be better than the past and judge accordingly and incorrectly. But, with time tracking, we'll have a crystal clear sense of how long our regular tasks take. At first, it might be painful to realise how slow you are at some things. However, if you view it as a starting point, you can improve at judging and managing your time.

The third benefit is there's less wasted time. You become deeply aware of every minute you spend doing something unproductive. This awareness makes it harder for the minutes to slip away when indulging your vices, like binge-watching TV or scrolling endlessly on your phone. While the added tension might initially seem negative, it ultimately gives you more control over your day and your workflow. And, when you do have downtime, it's easier to relax because you know you don't have some impending deadline looming overhead. So, in the end, you end up getting better at work and getting better at relaxing.

The final benefit is specifically for those doing freelance work. While time tracking helps people in all fields, freelancers have particular circumstances that make the practice essential. Because regular work hours or salaries don't apply to most freelance positions, those in this line of work need a transparent way to know how much of a return they get for the time and effort they expend on their labour. Tracking time will help freelancers understand what is and isn't worth their time.

As with any habit, the challenge is to get started and keep at it.
The first thing to do is find the right time-tracking tool for you. As a generally organised person, I start by breaking down literally everything I do in my life. Once I've collected the data, I look to organise it clearly and orderly.

One of the simplest ways is to use a spreadsheet – one you make on your own or download from a template online. People tracking their time usually divide the day into 10-15 minute chunks and write down what they did during that block.

Once you have the tools, it's a matter of effort. Go easy on yourself to start. Tracking time isn't intuitive or spontaneous, so you'll likely be staring at a few empty slots at the end of the day. That's totally fine. Keep at it. You'll get used to it within a few days or a few weeks. If you suddenly remember you haven't kept track for a few hours, don't stress. Take time to adjust to having a healthy amount of consistency in your time tracking.

It is also important to note that tracking time isn't just about breaking down how long it takes you to complete tasks. It also includes setting goals and reviewing your time logs. Setting daily or weekly goals will help you stay motivated and focused while monitoring your progress. By regularly reviewing your time logs, you can identify patterns that help you improve your time management and productivity.

Tracking time is a relatively simple strategy. But it does help us understand how we spend our time and whether it is the most productive way to reach our aspirations. Following these few tricks may allow you to seize the day instead of letting it go to waste.

This article is part of Stripe,'s special publication focusing on culture and society from a youth perspective.