How You Spend Your Time Reflects What You Value

Anyone who has worked in a professional services environment understands the value (and the drudgery) of tracking your time. In those instances, it’s generally for financial purposes such as billing and tracking performance metrics such as utilization and efficiency. But, have you ever considered tracking your time to increase your awareness of how you’re spending it? And, better yet, to see how that expenditure aligns with your values?

One of the things I love about teaching is how much I learn about myself along the way, and this semester was no exception. I assigned my undergraduate students the task of tracking their time (download the tracker they use), in 30 minute increments, for two weeks. They were to write down how they spent their time, including working, attending classes, spending time with family/friends, school work, church activities, exercising – whatever. After the tracking was complete, I asked them to force rank their top 10 and then top 5 values. Finally, they had to assign the values to their time entries, effectively giving them a map of how their values are reflected in time spent. Many of them reported what an eye opening experience it was – everything from how much sleep was lost playing video games or on the internet to disbelief that it had been days since they had communicated with family members.

Uncomfortable with the truth
Participating along with them this semester was an eye opener for me. Not only did I find hidden pockets of wasted time, but I found myself squirming when I had to write down that I had lost an hour tooling around on the internet or watching a TV show that I couldn’t remember after I turned it off. I also took an honest look at how my time aligned with my values, and found it to be lacking in certain areas.

Since completing the exercise, I have found myself much more focused on activities that are important to me and that align with my values. I have also been more productive, and I find myself feeling less often that “I don’t have enough time,” because when I am focus on spending it on people and activities that are important to me, I make the time count.

To put this idea to work in your organization, you might informally ask people to track their time in a similar fashion, and then audit those entries against the organization’s stated values and mission. If you already track time, you have valuable data at your fingertips already. Is there a significant amount of time spent in meetings about topics that don’t align with your values? How much time is being spent specifically on tasks that do align with the company’s values? Are there certain roles where a significantly lower percentage of time is spent on work that aligns with the values? If you value relationships, for example, how much time was spent developing relationships?

Armed with this knowledge you can determine what requires alignment: your mission and values, or the focus of the tasks and work effort.

Shannon Brown is a Ph.D. student at Benedictine University’s Center for Values-Driven Leadership (CVDL) and a VP for Exemplify. She has served in leadership positions with Thomson Reuters and Tata Consultancy Services. In addition, she is an adjunct faculty member at Dominican University where she teaches courses in leadership studies.


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