Capturing Time


“If I could save time in a bottle…” was pondered by the late Jim Croce in his 1973 chart-topping song Time in a Bottle.  

This song captures the thoughts of many who deeply desire to get a hold of things that they feel are slipping through their fingers. It beckons for a sense of control in ones life to capture things of value and not let them get away.

In later decades, this concept of capturing time for our benefit has been dubbed “time management” in the corporate world. It is meant to get better results from the time allotted to each person.

As great as the idea of “time management” seems as a concept, there is a really big problem with it. This is because we can’t really manage time. In a single day, time is finite. Beyond our life and scope, time is infinite. So rather than managing time, we should consider how we can manage ourselves better. We really don’t have much of a choice, after all.

At work, this really shows up in multiple ways. Due to the constant incoming barrage of interruptions and urgent issues in today’s information age, it has become increasingly difficult to focus on a single task for a prolonged period of time.  As a result, the work day often becomes a whirlwind of action and fire fighting. We can often spend time high on activity and low on achievement.

Here are two techniques I have learned, from my own experience in guiding my clients, that can help:

  1. Break through the over-commitment and chaos we face every day.
  2. Gain the benefit of doing the work rather than dealing with obstacles to getting work done.

My clients, both billing professionals and folks with a desire to increase their personal effectiveness, have used these tips successfully. They often end up with “free time” to enjoy some fun! Imagine that?!?!

Understand Your Personal Time Profile
Most people think they know more about how they spend their time than they actually do. We tend to believe our memories are good enough for an accurate account of the hours and minutes we spend on a given task. Here’s the truth: no one can really master their time until they know how they spend their time.

If time seems to always be getting away from you, the Time Mastery Profile can help you understand how you manage your time. These insights can help you see where your time goes and then adjust your behaviors to give you more of what you want and need.

Make Sense of Your Time by Capturing it Automatically
One common problem that I often hear from my clients who need to track their billable time is that they have a great deal of difficulty accounting for their time after the fact. In a perfect world, you’d be able to keep track of each and every thing you do, and make a note of it as you do it. We know, however, that this is not a realistic expectation. So what to do in such a busy life?

There are many quality software products geared towards helping you track your time as you go. You may want to try a software program called Chrometa which can actually do all of this automatically for you. It logs and categorizes everything you do on your computer as you work, making time reconciliation a snap.

Eliminate Time Wasting Habits
These are a couple of the ways you can more effectively manage your time. Now you need to do something with this knowledge and take the first step.

Identify the habit you want to change. The more you know about what, when and why you do something, the easier it is to identify habits that are detrimental.

Begin the new behavior as purposefully as possible. Once you’ve identified the new habit you want to develop, tell people about it so you’re not tempted to fall back into old behaviors. Establish new routines associated with the habit, put up signs to remind you of the new desired behaviors, and do what you can to change your environment so the new habit has a chance to take root and grow.

Time management can help you increase your productivity on the job and at home, help you enhance the quality of your work with less stress, and give you a sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment. You never know, you might just find the time to reward yourself and do something you have never had the time for!

What are some “tricks” that you use to help you keep focused at work and at home? Have you had some success in shaving off unexpected and unwanted tasks as a result of a new habit or behavior? Let us know what has been working for you!


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Kristi Royse

Kristi Royse is CEO of KLR Consulting
She inspires success in leaders and teams with coaching and staff development

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Brett Owens contributed to this article
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6 responses to “Capturing Time

  1. There are many techniques to go about it, however as points of reference I would recommend Dr. Edward M. Hallowell’s book “CrazyBusy” which provides several techniques and methods for handling day-to-day time crunch and disruption issues, and Jim Loehr & Tony Schwarz’s book “The Power of Full Engagement” which discusses the advantages of managing your energy and not time (getting re-charged for all the time commitments you must deal with). There was also an article in Harvard Business Review in October 2007 that summarized the “manage energy” concept entitled “Manage Your Energy, Not Your Time” by Tony Schwartz and Catherine McCarthy. As far as establishing priorities, I recommend Covey’s 4 Quadrants and living out of Quadrants 1 & 2 (“The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”).


  2. Thanks Pete for your suggestions. I am familiar with each of the references you recommend and my favorite is the Harvard Business Review article. I have it on file if anyone would like a copy let me know and I will share it.


  3. Pingback: Chrometa Blog » Blog Archive » What Time Capture Can Do For You·

  4. The comment that we can’t really capture time nor manage it is to the point — in my book ‘Time Management for Architects and Designers’ I emphasize that it is really a misnomer. But especially for designers and other folks who are dealing with non-routine problems for which there are no data about how long tasks will take, the challenge of making at least realistic time estimates for such projects require some effort at ‘keeping track’ of how one’s time is spent working on such problems (“Wicked Problems”). The only basis for gaining such experience is comparing estimates wirth actual time spent, both of which therefore must be kept track of. My designers’ time management tool’ (so far a paper tool for students and people on the go who don’t necessarily have their computer or even laptop with them at all times) is designed to facilitate this. I’m not sure yet if it’s meaningful to develop programs to put that on a computer — I have tried it with spreadsheets but end up not using those). Comments?


    • Thorbjoern, very good points. In our experience, a computer-based program like Chrometa works best when most of the person’s time is spent on the PC.

      In these cases, we’ve managed to replace spreadsheets and timers, or at least supplement them, by providing a passive, non-intrusive means of tracking time.

      When folks are bouncing around and not primarily PC bound, I’d imagine your designers’ time management tool is as good as they come.


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