Time – we all have the same amount, but we all use it differently. At the end of the day, some of us feel satisfied that we made the most of our time. For others, managing a schedule is a source of constant frustration, and it always seems like time is slipping through our fingers. If you feel like the latter, it might be time to try a new approach to planning and managing your time.
There are as many ways to manage your time as there are hours in the day. You might already be familiar with time boxing and time blocking – but have you ever considered time mapping?
We all know that maps are handy when trying to learn the best way to get somewhere. Productivity can be like a destination. So, in the same way as you use a map before you start a journey, why not start each day with a time map to help you get where you want to go?
In this post, we’re going to lay out precisely what time mapping is, why it is important, how to do it, and finally (because we like to make your life easy), we’re going to give you everything you need to get started on your time-mapping journey.
What is a time map?
A time map is a way of creating a big picture of everything you spend time on – all in one place. By assigning chunks of time to the important stuff in advance, you can bring order to your day. It’s reassuring to know you have a complete picture to get you back on track even if you get lost. A lot like an actual map!
Once you develop the mapping habit, it becomes possible to look back and make intelligent decisions about how you are spending your time – and prioritize things that matter.
We’re not just talking about your work hours here. Time mapping works best when you take an overview of all your time. So think about your priorities at work alongside personal, leisure and family time. Color coding these groups is a simple way to give yourself an at-a-glance understanding of where all that valuable time goes.
So, a time map is an exercise you commit to and a system to help you make better use of your time.
Time mapping vs. time blocking
You might be wondering the difference between blocking and mapping your time. You’re not alone.
Here’s a helpful way to think about the difference between the two. Time mapping is just what it says – a complete picture of the things you spend your time doing from day to day. Maps aren’t very useful when they have pages missing, and a time map is no different. Your time map should give you a complete picture of what you do with the hours in your day.
Time blocking is a schedule that you set, usually at the beginning of a day or week, based on your immediate priorities. When you know what needs to get done today, timeboxing your calendar is a quick way to ensure that everything gets done and you don’t go off track working on low-value tasks. It also focuses on completing tasks in the set time you have allocated in advance.
These two time management techniques are complementary and work well together.
Why creating a time map is so important
1. It’ll cut down how long you spend deciding what to do next
It can be daunting to scan down a long to-do list. Where to begin? What to do first?
A time map takes away this stress, known as decision fatigue, and replaces it with a clear plan you can refer back to later with confidence.
If you're thoughtful about building your map in the first place, you are giving yourself a clear structure and an instant answer to the question of what you need to do next.
2. A time map can reveal when you are most productive and cut out low-value tasks
The more time you have mapped, the more valuable insights you can take from your map. You will begin to see patterns in your efficiency and effectiveness that will help you tweak your workday to suit you as an individual.
3. You won’t fall victim to Parkinson’s Law
British Civil Servant Cyril Parkinson said, way back in 1955, that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. I think we all know just what he meant. By setting strict endpoints for tasks in your time map, you can avoid the pain of the dragging job that is never entirely done.
Read more: What Parkinson's law can teach companies about productivity
Forcing yourself to stick to the map has the bonus of incentivising you to push a task to completion today, rather than letting things drag on at 95% done. Done is better than perfect, after all.
4. A time map helps you understand how you work best and when
Looking back and adjusting how you use time is a significant benefit of a comprehensive time map. At the end of the week, schedule some time (obviously!) to consider how you did.
When you notice your periods of peak productivity, the next logical step is to build your next map around those – so that important jobs get tackled at the moments when you know you will get stuff done.
How to create a time map in five easy steps (template included)
Step 1. Assess how you currently spend your time
The more effort you put into a time map, the more you get out of it. So first, you should create time to sit and reflect on how you currently spend your time.
Consider the whole picture. What are the things about your lifestyle that you know you could improve? Your time map gives you a complete and rounded picture of everything you do from day to day, not just your working life. So, take the opportunity to reflect honestly on how you use your time.
Step 2. Create your to-do list
Build a list of all the things you need to do every week. Start with 3-5 key themes, covering work, family, personal and other things that are a regular part of your life. Make sure you include your health and wellness activities – this is essential.
Timely tip: Use our handy template to get started, and don’t forget to color code.
You can break down each area into more specific items, but the idea here is to build a high-level picture of how you spend each day. Remember, we are creating a map, not a blueprint.
Step 3. Prioritize your list of tasks
You should have a clear list of significant commitments grouped into themes.
Next, you need to be quite strict about prioritization. We’re building a weekly map here, so think about what is important to you in the next seven days. Picture yourself a week from today. What do you need to get done to ensure you can look back with satisfaction?
Step 4. Schedule blocks of time for individual tasks
Here comes the overlap with time blocking. Start to build blocks of time to deliver on key priority tasks.
Take the time to include meetings, appointments and other obligations that will take you away from your usual working flow. You should group these tasks to give yourself as much uninterrupted work time as possible.
Step 5. Review and improve
This is the crucial component of your time-mapping exercise. Like a geographic map, you find shortcuts to get there faster each time you travel a route. With a time map, you should build a few moments each day to review and reflect. With time (and help from the right time-tracking tool, wink wink), you’ll develop a pattern that works best for you.
Some helpful time mapping tools
Whatever you do, Timely can help automate your time mapping adventure and gives you a simple and intuitive way to create color-coded themes.
Try Timely for free
2. Time Tree
Are you looking for time mapping based primarily outside of your workday? Time Tree is a great way to coordinate and collaborate on a time map with your friends and family.
Todoist is a to-do list app that helps you structure and prioritize all your tasks and ensure nothing slips through the net – and can support your time map. You can add daily habits, recurring deadlines and tasks and easily see how your week or month is looking.
It can take a bit of trial and error to get into your groove, but time mapping really works as an easy tool to take back control of your time. If you’re already using time blocking and timeboxing, then a time map is a great way to turbocharge that habit and give a longer horizon to your time planning If you’re just setting out on your time management journey, you should always take a map. Happy travels!