Peter Druker is widely considered the pioneer of management thinking. He was a great votary of efficient time management and once remarked, “Time is the scarcest resource and unless it is managed, nothing else can be managed.” Indeed, professionals and students have long pursued the art of managing time judiciously to maximize efficiency and output. Unfortunately, however, it remains an elusive chase for many of us. Consequently, we often play catch up and complain about the lack of time when we are unable to meet our professional or personal commitments. Surely, managing your time better allows you to get the most out of a day, month or year. Hence, amateurs and professionals have devised diverse time management strategies, such as the Pomodoro technique or the Covey Matrix.
Time mapping is a similar time management system that allows you to create a roadmap of important activities and tasks for a specific duration, such as a day, month or year, by blocking time. Using this roadmap, you can determine how much time you’ve spent on tasks and can use this information to enhance productivity and optimize the available time.
A Unique Time Management System
Time mapping is unique compared to other time management techniques, such as the Pomodoro technique, as users can employ it to map both their professional and personal commitments. Thus, for instance, a typical time mapping exercise would include listing meetings and tasks for work, and personal activities like spending time with the family or pursuing a hobby. This process allows users to determine how much time they are spending on different aspects of their lives.
Time mapping also differs from other techniques in that it’s not limited to individual use. Larger groups, such as project teams, can also employ this technique to map their key project milestones to determine their feasibility and the steps required to accomplish them within a predetermined time frame. Project managers can use this technique to not only understand how their teams are using their time, but also to rate the quality of the output. For instance, a team member may allocate two hours to check software for bugs. In that case, the manager can rate the time spent by that team member by analyzing the quality of bug testing and whether or not that team member has utilized their time well.
You can use one of the several time management apps to create a personal time map. For instance, you can use a physical calendar, a digital calendar or any other digital tool like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar to record your time, and customize the time map to suit your needs. For instance, you can use color codes to distinguish between personal and professional tasks, or to highlight urgent tasks, such as blue for family time, red for official engagements, and green for the time allocated to health and wellness activities.
What Is Time Mapping?
As the name suggests, time mapping is a time management system that involves creating maps of critical activities. Similar to a map that offers directional cues to a destination, a time map helps you gain a better understanding of how you are spending your time and how much work you are getting done. Then, you can critically analyze the time spent and take corrective measures to enhance your productivity.
Conventional time management methods typically cater to the users’ professional needs. However, with the growing popularity of remote and hybrid workplaces, the lines between personal and professional lives have diminished considerably. As a result, time mapping has gained substantial traction among professionals aiming to better manage their professional and personal commitments.
Time Mapping vs. Time Blocking vs. Time Boxing: Understanding the Difference
Before further discussing the aspects of time mapping, you must first understand the concept of time blocking and time boxing. These terms may sound like homonyms. However, they have different meanings and are intrinsic to time mapping. As mentioned above, time blocking is the process of earmarking specific time slots for essential activities on your calendar. Once you have identified the tasks you wish to focus on, you can schedule them on your calendar. Simply put, you dedicate and block time on your calendar for personal or professional activities. Thus, it is a critical step in creating a time map that allows you to determine the quantum of time you will invest or spend completing a pre-determined task.
On the other hand, timeboxing is the process where you limit the amount of time you would spend completing an activity. This technique ensures that you do not spend more than you have allocated, thus ensuring optimal utilization of the available time.
Now that we have touched upon the concepts of timeboxing and time blocking, let us understand how to create a time map in detail.
How to Create a Time Map
You can create a time map using the traditional pen-and-paper method by listing your important tasks and categorizing them into ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ brackets. This is the simplest and easiest way to create a time map. However, this conventional method has a major drawback – making changes to a schedule can be difficult and clumsy. Thus, a better option is to use one of the many online tools for recording your work, such as Microsoft Excel or Outlook.
Below is a step-by-step process for creating a time map:
1. List Your Tasks and Activities
The first prerequisite to creating a time map is to list all the tasks and activities you wish to accomplish during the set time frame. Be sure to set a time frame that is not too distant in the future, since a shorter time frame allows you to set realistic and achievable targets. Make sure you create a comprehensive list that contains all your critical professional and personal commitments. Then, you can further categorize the personal and professional columns into columns like work, sports, wellness, health, and family time – this can help you gain a more sweeping overview of your deliverables and commitments. Also, color coding them is a good way to decipher the information quickly, as many columns and too much information can become challenging to understand.
2. Ascertain the Importance of Each Task
Apart from understanding how we actually spend our time, one of the reasons to use time mapping is to complete as many tasks and activities as possible. However, not all tasks are equally important. Hence, you need to ascertain the importance of the tasks to determine their degree of priority. Then, you can use color coding or simply highlight the priority order when listing tasks.
3. Dedicate Time for Specific Tasks
You need to dedicate specific timeslots or ‘block time’ for particular tasks. This step of the process enables you to pinpoint and allocate time for tasks that you believe you can accomplish in a predefined duration. However, it is important to note that you need to set aside some time for unforeseen contingencies or delays. Hence, you should typically refrain from creating a schedule with no spare time. Plus, leaving some gaps in the calendar helps you take a more balanced approach toward work, with sufficient provision for rest and recuperation.
There are no sacrosanct rules around the duration of specific tasks. When deciding how to block your time, you can factor in things like the nature of the task, your ability to get the work done and your appetite for work – just remember not to stretch yourself unreasonably. Thus, understanding your abilities and limitations is crucial to the success of the exercise.
4. Examine Your Time Map to Identify Areas for Improvement
A time map enhances your ability to finish more work in less time. However, a time map is open to changes, and it is advisable to make minor tweaks as you go. Therefore, you should periodically assess your time map to ascertain how well you have been able to follow your blocking. Then, you can make changes by allocating more or less time to tasks or by adding new tasks, depending on your requirements. After all, a time map exists to help you optimize your time and not to make you chase unrealistic, counterproductive targets.
This trial-and-error approach is a good way to zero in on a time map that works well for you.
Benefits of Time Mapping
Time management techniques usually offer you several benefits. A time map offers some key advantages, as described below.
1. Enhances Efficiency and Optimizes the Utilization of Time
Time mapping enhances individual and team efficiency by optimizing their use of time. A time map allows users to create a list of activities that they wish to undertake for a specific duration. As a result, they clearly understand their upcoming personal and professional tasks and activities. This insight significantly reduces the time required to make decisions. Furthermore, as users have already laid out a roadmap of tasks, they can spend more time on execution, without wasting time on the decision-making process.
2. Helps Improve Work-life Balance
In 2022, workplace stress peaked and employee productivity hit a new low. Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace 2022 report findings reveal that only 21% of the global workforce identified as being actively engaged. Meanwhile, employee stress is at an all-time high at 44 percent, surpassing even the numbers in 2021 when the pandemic was at its peak.
Several other reports have revealed similar findings, highlighting that employees’ work-life balance has undergone significant strain since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way we work. The absence of in-person meetings, working in isolation, and burgeoning stress levels have cumulatively increased employee burnout.
A time map is a useful tool that helps balance professional and personal commitments. It offers a useful vantage point, enabling users to find balance – which is one of the reasons this technique is becoming more mainstream in the project management landscape.
3. Helps Use Time as an Asset
People tend to fit their schedules to the work they are tasked with. This approach means that they fit their work according to the available time, reducing their ability to optimize their time. A time map inverts this thought process, allowing users to think of the tasks and activities they need to accomplish in a given timeframe, and then make the time for them. This way, users are able to enhance productivity and use time as an asset.
Businesses and professionals want to complete the most work in the least possible time. However, attaining this is easier said than done without foresight, immaculate planning and consistent effort. A map is necessary to reach a destination, whether a paper map or a voice-assisted Google Map. Similarly, achieving excellence and harmony in your professional and personal life requires a roadmap that a time map offers. Therefore, a time map is a useful tool that can help individuals, businesses and project teams make the most of their time and achieve success.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is a time map?
A time map is a time management tool that is used to create a timeline for specific durations, to accomplish significant personal and professional tasks. It can help users better understand how they are spending their time, so they can optimize their use of it.
2. How do you map out time?
You can create a time map using the traditional pen-and-paper method by listing your important tasks and categorizing them into ‘personal’ and ‘professional’ brackets. Or, you can use one of the many online tools, such as Microsoft Excel or Outlook, to record tasks.
Here is a step-by-step process for creating a time map:
- List your tasks and activities
- Decide how critical each task is
- Dedicate time to specific tasks
- Examine your time map to identify areas for improvement
3. What is the importance of time mapping?
Time mapping is a time management system that involves creating maps of critical activities. Similar to a map that offers directional cues to a destination, a time map helps you gain a better understanding of how you are spending your time and how much work you are getting done. Then, you can critically analyze the time spent and take corrective measures to enhance your productivity.
4. What are the benefits of time mapping?
A time map offers some key advantages like enhancing efficiency and optimizing the utilization of time, helping improve work-life balance and using time as an asset.