What gets measured gets managed. --- Peter Drucker

When it comes to managing precious resources—time, money, attention—you won’t find a more concise philosophy than Peter Drucker’s.

In my own quest to increase the amount of time I spend doing what author Cal Newport calls deep work (cognitively demanding work performed in a state of complete focus), I took a page from Newport’s book of the same name and started tracking my deep work time. A few minutes of Googling revealed a useful Medium post by NYU engineering professor Enrico Bertini from which I constructed an Excel template for tracking deep work. I’ve been tracking it successfully since 2017, and I’m routinely amazed at how the act of tracking itself keeps me on the straight and narrow.

I’ll share the template at the end of this post. But first, why is tracking a desired behavior such an effective way to increase it?

The power of tracking

First, when I enter the starting time for a new deep work session, I feel like I’m “clocking in.” I’m on the job. Since I want my time-logging data to remain valid, I’m less likely to flake out and peek at my email than if I had simply decided to “get some deep work done.”

Second, I have a stated weekly goal of 15 hours of academic deep work per week. Tracking my deep work keeps me moving toward that target, which is far nearer and more concrete than any of the personal and professional goals my deep work sessions are designed to help me achieve. Completing a PhD is a long way off, but logging 15 hours of deep work this week is something I can work on right this moment.

My time-tracking Excel template

Here’s my time-tracking Excel template (and by “my,” I mean the one I reverse-engineered from Enrico Bertini’s excellent Medium post). The template’s columns are mostly self-explanatory, with the possible exceptions of the three below.

Type (Think/Write) Location Description
Type of work Home/office/other A few words about the task at hand

You may want to modify or delete these columns, but I find it helpful to track them in case I ever want to analyze my existing data on when and where I’m most productive.

Time-tracking is a free and low-effort way to increase your productivity, and an Excel template is a simple tool that allows you to put time-tracking to work for you. Take it for a test drive and see if time-tracking has a positive effect on your most important work.