Every so often, I do what I call a "time management audit" on myself, where I write down what I'm doing and for how long each day for one week. "8:10-8:25 read and respond to e-mails," for example. I just do this at work, but it could also be helpful at home, I imagine, either for stay-at-home moms or days, or work-at-home moms or dads, or even to assess how one spends their evenings for working parents.
The main idea is to really see where my time goes each day. I am a big multitasker, switching rapidly between tasks as another "thing to do" pops into my mind. For example, in the middle of a couple hours editing a chapter, I remember an e-mail I need to write, and I immediately shift gears to do that. (That's being generous, though, since I typically shift gears to do at least five other smaller tasks over the course of one larger task.) However, I once read that multitasking actually is not a time saver, and it is more efficient to focus on just one thing for a solid chunk of time. So, when looking over my "audit" for the day or week, I take note of the 10-15 minute blocks where I've shifted focus. This isn't necessarily bad, as sometimes I need a shift in focus to boost my energy or clear my head when I've hit a mental block, but overall these short periods of time reveal when my mind has been scattered and I'm having difficulty focusing.
The audit also reveals my true priorities. I (or my job description) may say that such-and-such is the primary purpose of my job, but looking over what I've actually done in a week shows how often the urgent takes precedence over the important. Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson Publishing, avid blogger and media guru) had two really relevant posts during the week of my most recent audit. One talked about "priority management," and Michael stated his six priorities in life and how he keeps them in order. The other was on "master tasking"--keeping focus on what you were hired to do, the things that are important but not necessarily urgent. Commenting for the first time on Michael's blog, I pointed out that this is rather difficult for those of us who don't have subordinates on which to dump the things that are urgent but not important. Difficult as it may be, however, we must try as best we can to give those "master tasks" at least a portion of the time they deserve.
The time management audit brings into stark relief the things that are getting shortchanged. ("Wait a second--have I really only spent 40 minutes on that all week??") Looking over the course of the whole week's time tallies, I found that one of my "master tasks" that is important but not urgent only got 6% of my time that week. Other high priorities that were both important and urgent got 23% and 24% of my time, respectively, so I'm not a total failure, but the lesson remains clear that I need to be intentional about making time for the important even when it is not urgent.
I know not everyone is so Type-A as me, and not everyone lives and dies by their to-do list, but I really do recommend doing a time audit on yourself. If you often find yourself saying (even jokingly), "where does the time go?" then find out! And in the meantime, tell me: how do you prioritize the important and the urgent in your life?