This is an activity for measuring how effectively people are spending their time.

Group Size
  • Any Size
  • Spreadsheet
  • Pen and Paper


  1. Tell participants the following: “For the next 3 days, divide up every hour of every day into 15-minute segments. On a spreadsheet, you can record what you have just done. Admittedly, this is very difficult. Many people start recording how they spend their time for the first hour or two. Then they get distracted and find themselves trying to reconstruct their day right before they go to bed. And they often find it difficult. They ask themselves, ‘Where did the day go?’ Thus, for those who need technological assistance, there are some apps like RescueTime that can measure how much time you are spending while on your phone or computer. You don’t need to be keeping track on a spreadsheet. The app will do it for you. And you may be surprised and chagrined to hear what it discovers: Some people will find out that they spent several hours each day on Facebook, Instagram, or other social media sites. That’s fine if this is what you most value. But the challenge is that most of us lose a tremendous amount of time, unconscious of the fact that we are doing the things that really matter to us. So please keep track of everything you do for the next three days. When we come back together, we will discuss what you discover.”
  2. After people have tracked their time for at least 72 hours, it’s time to go into the debrief.
  • This is a reflective activity, which requires people to track their activity over several days. It’s challenging
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When the participants return after doing this for three days, start a conversation as to what they found out. Did they spend their time on the things that really mattered to them? How much time was wasted?

We certainly don’t want to judge how people spend their time. This is based on whether they think that they have used their time wisely. Is their use of time consistent with their stated values? Only by taking honest stock of our time can we see whether you are truly spending much if any time on what truly matters.

This leads to the first principle of time optimization:

There is enough time! We tend to waste and squander inordinate amounts of time on things that give us little ROTI (return on time investment.)

For people who claim that "I have no time" to achieve what they really want to do, author Kevin Ashton writes:

"Time is the great equalizer, the same for all: 24 hours every day, 7 days every week, every life a length unknown, for richest and poorest and all in between. We mean "we have no spare time," a blunt blade in a world whose best-selling literary series [Harry Potter] was begun by a single mother writing in Edinburgh's cafes when her infant daughter slept; where a career more than 50 novels long [that of Stephen King] was started by a laundry worker in the furnace room of a trailer in Maine; and where three centuries of physics were overturned in a year by a man [Einstein] with a permanent position as a patent examiner. There is time."


Research on time optimization suggests that we have far more time than we think. For example, according to surveys, Americans spend an average of 10 hours 39 minutes per day consuming media – not just TV, but also surfing the web, using their phones, checking social media, etc. This happens across the globe, and even at work. A 2016 study of workers in the UK found that less than 33 percent of people’s professional life is spent on worthwhile activities. Most of people’s time is wasted on unproductive things that yield little satisfaction. Research shows that we would get far more accomplished if we concentrated just a few hours per day on the things that matter most.


Transformative Action Institute

Additional Readings

Deep Work, Cal Newport