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What Is Time Mapping? (A Complete Guide)

Learn the concept of time mapping, its benefits, and how to implement it easily. Plus, discover the best software for making it happen.

Shinjini Guha
Writer at Motion
Apr 22, 2024
Table of contents

Wondering how to fit more into each day? Time mapping might be the answer.

Time mapping is a useful time management technique for those who tend to meander through their workdays, never sure how to make the most out of the hours they have. With it, there’s no dilly-dallying over what to do next. Instead, you get right down to work since you know what task to take on next and how long it will take.

This article discusses time mapping in detail, including how it differs from other time management techniques, its benefits, and how to do it correctly. We also show you how to map your time more efficiently.

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What is time mapping, and how does it work?

Time mapping is a time management technique where you create a map containing the key activities you need to complete, along with their allocated times (blocks of time) — whether that’s over a day, a week, or a month.

Time mapping isn’t limited to professional tasks, either. It can also include daily personal activities to help you manage your time effectively and achieve a healthy work-life balance.

Once you’ve reached the end of the day, week, or whatever time frame you choose, you’ll analyze the time you spent on each activity. Then, you can take the necessary steps to improve your productivity.

In other words, like traditional maps, time mapping gives you directions for reaching your destination (completing your tasks and activities) most effectively in the least amount of time.

Pro tip: Don’t confuse time mapping with a simple to-do list or calendar scheduling. This technique goes beyond. With it, you can track “when” and “how” you’ve spent your time.

Here’s an example of what a weekly time map could look like:

An example of a weekly time map

‎Now, you might be asking, Is time mapping any different from time blocking? What about timeboxing and time budgeting? Let’s see how these techniques differ before jumping more into the time-mapping details.

Time mapping vs. time blocking vs. time boxing vs. time budgeting

These four time management techniques are often used interchangeably. But they do have differences. Let’s take a look:

  • Time mapping provides a complete picture of how you spend your time at and outside of work. It helps you prioritize tasks, improve your work-life balance, and boost productivity.
  • You can time block once you’ve mapped out your time. With time blocking, you allocate blocks of time for all activities throughout your day, week, or month on your calendar to help you stay organized. At the end of the day or week, you assess whether you finished the tasks within the allocated time. If you didn’t, you can add to or reduce the time blocks for the next time.
  • Timeboxing is a technique where you assign a fixed time slot or box of time to a particular task. Since you box the time, you must stop the activity once the time expires, even if it’s not complete. The strict time limit promotes focus and helps prevent procrastination.
  • With time budgeting, you treat time like money. You allocate a “cost” for each task — but in the form of minutes or hours instead of currency.

A comparison between time mapping, blocking, boxing, and budgeting.

‎Why should you care about time mapping?

Time is precious — once it's gone, it's gone.

Time mapping can help you get more out of your time by tackling the following problems:

  • Distractions (social media, phone, pets, etc.)
  • Stress and anxiety due to all of the tasks on your plate
  • Inaccurate estimates for how long tasks will take to complete
  • A lack of breaks and self-care
  • Poor planning or procrastination

A technique like time mapping can help you get a solid grasp of your limited hours. That way, you utilize every moment and make each day a purposeful, productive one.

5 benefits of time mapping that make a difference

Here are some of the biggest benefits of time mapping:

1. Spend more time working and less time planning

Tired of endless planning that leads to procrastination and exhaustion? Eighty-eight percent of workers over plan.

But with time mapping, you only need to do one planning session for a week’s or month’s worth of tasks. You know how long you'll spend on different tasks and what your priorities are, so you always wake up knowing what you’ll be doing that day.

2. Analyze your efficiency to improve your motivation and performance

Two in 10 employees think their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to be highly efficient.

But with time mapping, you can analyze your performance yourself to increase your motivation. Time mapping helps you look back at your work day, week, or month to review:

  • How much time you spent on each task
  • Which tasks were easy for you
  • If you’ve improved your efficiency when doing certain tasks
  • How much time you spend at work compared to personal activities and family time

Here’s an example time map template that uses color coding to simplify efficiency analysis:

‎3. Break down your larger tasks into smaller portions

Divide and conquer your to-dos.

The advantage? Smaller tasks give you a more accurate outlook on how long each activity takes. This leaves you room to think about your day on the spot or shift tasks around as necessary during the week instead of replanning and reprioritizing from start to end.

Breaking large tasks into smaller pieces is also helpful for when you don’t have enough time to complete a big project on a specific day. Start it today and finish it tomorrow.

‎4. Easily spot dependencies

It’s impossible to accurately allot time slots or prioritize work if you’re in the dark about dependencies. Dependencies refer to the order in which tasks must be performed, providing the fastest route through your week or month — much like a time map within a time map.

Since time mapping lets you block time for even the smallest activities, you can see which tasks depend on the completion of others. This little trick not only helps you prioritize like a pro but also keeps pesky delays at bay.

5. Drastically improve your work-life balance

Burnout from work has negatively impacted 83% of workers’ personal relationships.

Time mapping is one of the best ways to tackle this issue. It helps you allocate time with family, consider your parenting obligations if you have them, and take care of other personal commitments alongside your professional activities. The result? An improved work-life balance.

How do I map my time?

Now that you know why you need time mapping, let’s look at it step by step:

1. Create a task list and categorize them

Before you can create time slots, you need tasks. So, start by listing out all the activities you need to complete within a certain time frame. Then, categorize them.

Pro tip: Create a color code for each category of tasks. That’ll make it easy for you to analyze the map once you have multiple deliverables.

2. Assess your habits and activities

Next, take a peek at your daily groove. What are your peak productivity hours? When do you feel most active? Do you need long or short breaks? Do you have a dog you need to walk every day at 8 a.m.?

Your answers to these questions are important for you to assess your habits and activities. Find your rhythm and preferences to optimize your time map accordingly.

Remember: Time mapping is personal. It’s all about making your schedule work for you — not the other way around.

3. Prioritize the listed tasks

Classification of tasks isn’t enough, nor is just knowing what tasks you have. It’s about prioritization to decide which tasks deserve the prime slots in your day.

So, figure out your most important and urgent tasks right away. Popular prioritization techniques, like the Priority Matrix, can further ease the time-mapping process.

Pro tip: Balance is important. Pick a few top priorities from each category of tasks for a healthy work-life balance.

A man standing on a ladder prioritizing tasks.

‎4. Structure your map by placing your tasks in time blocks

Now that you have your task list and priorities, begin to block time in your calendar to visualize and structure your map. You can use an online planner, digital calendar, task manager, spreadsheets, or even a notebook to help you do this.

Remember, the goal is to block time for everything from sunrise to sunset — or you won’t benefit from the time mapping technique.

Here’s how to structure your map:

1. Pick your weekly priorities from all categories. Block out times for the highest-priority tasks. Then, do the same for the medium- and low-priority ones.

For example, start by slotting a client proposal due this week, your doctor’s appointment, and your child’s sports practice into your calendar.

But that email draft that’s not due till next week? It can wait — you can add it in later.

Don’t forget to color-code or highlight your priorities, too, when adding tasks to your map.

2. Focus on repetitive daily tasks, like meals, walks, cooking, gym, and other important tasks. Set fixed times for those activities that you’d like to avoid skipping.

3. Do you have some gaps in your calendar? Leave them be. They can be your rest times or used for unforeseen tasks or unexpected events that pop up.

5. Keep it flexible and review for improvement

No two days are exactly the same. That’s why time mapping should be open to some trial and error.

Every now and then, see if you need to make some minor tweaks to your time map. Maybe some tasks need more room to breathe, or others don’t need as much time as you’ve given them.

Regularly evaluating and updating your map will help you understand how and when you work best. As a result, your next time map can be as near-perfect as possible.

How to use software to streamline time mapping

Many calendars, time-tracking toolsonline planners, and project management tools can help you out when it comes to time mapping.

But what’s really useful is a tool that can:

  • Automatically readjust blocks of time to create an optimal time map or schedule without you having to re-enter data.
  • Color-code tasks automatically based on their type and priority.
  • Break down large chunks of tasks into smaller ones.
  • Give you an overview of your progress and commitments that’s much easier to analyze than a Google Sheet, an Excel sheet, or a notepad.

Motion is a task management tool that can improve your time mapping and time-blocking efforts. It helps reclaim your time via auto-scheduling.

Motion’s auto-scheduling feature considers everything from task priorities and deadlines to your availability to cleverly slot your tasks into your calendar.

The benefits? You can:

  • Manage and visualize your time effortlessly
  • Avoid racking your brains to plan an optimal time map
  • Dodge tedious decision-making on your part

Motion automatically scheduling tasks.

What’s more? Tasks and events are color-coded in Motion (just like in a time map) for easy analysis. You can drag and drop tasks to change their time frames, too, to create the most optimal schedule.

Lastly, in addition to auto-scheduling, Motion offers powerful project management capabilities for better organization and collaboration with teams. This means your entire team can use Motion to create efficient task schedules and map out their weekly availability to stay on top of things.

Start time-mapping with Motion by your side

Ready to get more done in less time? Start time mapping.

Finding your rhythm will take some research, planning, prioritizing, and trial and error. But once your map is complete, you’ll never waste time planning and deciding what to do next. You can get to work — stat.

Motion automatically creates the most optimal schedule for you. All you need to do is add the task details, like urgencies, dependencies, and due dates, and voilà! You have a custom schedule.

Want the benefits of time mapping without all the time planning? Let Motion do its scheduling magic while you focus on your tasks.

Sign up for Motion today.

Shinjini Guha
Shinjini is a SaaS and project management writer with an annoying love for heavy research. She’s been through the whole 9-5 grind, churning out content for writing mills, but she also knows her way around freelancing for big SaaS players. When Shinjini’s not buried in articles, she’s either on a Google rampage for healthy recipes or petting her neighbor’s dog.
Written by Shinjini Guha