My well-measured life (part 1)

4915969081_2503a02c45_mI’ve been having dozens of people keep time logs over the past few weeks. In solidarity, I decided to track my time again, too. I have kept multiple time logs over the years since I started writing 168 Hours. I always learn something new about my life. This is actually the first full 168-hour time log I’ve kept since moving to Pennsylvania and since having my third kid.

As I reviewed it today, I was heartened to see that spending four years thinking about time can, in fact, help you have a lot of fun with it. Last week (Feb 10-16) was a good and full week. I went to the zoo. I went swimming twice at the Y. I ran five times. I took the kids out to a pancake dinner at IHOP, and took my oldest son to his favorite pizza parlor for lunch. I made Valentine’s Day breakfast: heart-shaped pancakes. I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. I met with my agent. I spent several hours brainstorming what I’m calling the BBB (my “big business book” idea — I need to come up with one, but it’s proving difficult). My husband and I did a special anniversary date night that involved going to one of our favorite restaurants in New York, where we had drinks with my brother and his girlfriend before dinner. We stayed overnight and went to brunch the next morning. I spent close to 2 of my 168 hours reading to my kids, a fact greatly aided by the discovery that the baby (OK, toddler) will now sit on my lap and look at stories for quite a while. Since I’m often up early in the morning with her, this gives us something more pleasant to do during the wee hours than my lying on the couch.

Perhaps most heartening: I slept between 7-8 hours every night. Even if it didn’t always feel like it.

While some of the fun was previously planned (an overnight date night has to be on the calendar about a month in advance for it to happen) keeping track of my time greatly aided in the cause of having a great week.

For starters, I think of “reading with kids” as a productive way to spend my time. I do like doing it, it’s just always easy to chuck for other things. So, knowing that I’d be writing my actions down, I was more inclined to pick up a book and, once I had picked it up, read a little longer than I might have.

I could also see, as I kept track of my time, that while I spent a lot of time with my 1-year-old, my boys got a bit less one-on-one attention. So I looked for ways to make that happen. Hence the pizza lunch. I also got my 3-year-old to go to the post office and grocery store with me one day. He helped pick out the Valentine’s Day cards for our family breakfast, and that made him feel special and helpful.

There were a few things I was less thrilled about. I spent more time on email than I would have liked this week. Partly that’s because I’m working through other people’s time logs (it’s a bit meta: my logs show much time spent on other people’s logs). I do enjoy learning about people’s schedules and I *love* the phone calls and exchanges I’m having, but keeping on top of the inbox eats up a lot of space. Keeping track of my time helped me see that returning most messages within 24 hours isn’t always possible.

I’m also trying to get better about when I do my first email check of the day. I could pick up the iPhone as soon as I wake up, but since I’m usually waking up with the kids, it distracts me from them. So I’m trying to push it closer to the actual start of my work day. That way I read stories with the toddler rather than check my inbox. This is easiest to do if I leave the phone charging upstairs, far away from the breakfast table.

There is also, still, puttering time. I’m working on this — on turning puttering time or distracted time into fun time. My boys had watched “How to tame your dragon” during the week, so Friday morning after breakfast, we had a spontaneous family game of training our dragons. It’s kind of like Simon Says, only you have the kid do something dragon-related. There was fire breathing and flying and jumping. That space after breakfast and before our sitter shows up is often hard to use well. On Monday (the day I’m writing this) I found myself running up and down the stairs trying to supervise one kid’s breakfast, change the toddler’s diaper, and still act interested in the marine habitat my oldest wanted me to help with in the basement. While sometimes I like the kids to all do their own thing, at a time like that, it’s better if they all do the same thing. So I should attempt to steer things that direction. And if that direction involves dragons, all the better.

Have you made changes as a result of tracking your time?

Photo courtesy flickr user wwarby



10 Responses to My well-measured life (part 1)


  1. Nadia says:

    I seem to always stall quite quickly when logging my time. I think I am afraid of the truth and the changes that will be necessary if I were to do it for a whole week…but you have inspired me, it will be my goal for the week to log my time and face the truth. I will let you know if I succeed or not. Are you keen to receive another time log, or are you “full” at the moment?

    • Laura says:

      @Nadia – I’m always willing to take a look at another log. Go for it! I believe the truth sets us free. I had a good week, but I was still aware of time I could be spending much better. My longish mornings with the kids are a big one. How can one spend 6-9 a.m. with small kids best? Especially when it’s dark and cold? I’m trying to figure this out.

      • Ana says:

        Laura, if you figure it out, let me know! Only my youngest is up that early (pre-6am most days), and its hard keeping him occupied until big brother gets up (7-7:30). I realized that when it warms up & gets light out, I can take him to a nearby park & have my coffee to go…but these cold dark morning are sooooo looooonnnnngggg!

        • Laura says:

          @Ana- I know. I’m looking forward to being able to go out and play in the yard at 7 am. This morning, I had the 6 am to 9 am shift and I really did not use it optimally. I’m trying, but it’s hard. I keep hoping the baby will sleep past 6:30 — some days she does. Others, she does not. It’s the whole baby roulette thing.

      • Calee says:

        We’ve pretty much switched to having our Kindergartener do her homework in the mornings. It’s not like it takes her very long and she’s much more willing to do it early. I know some people who set out a small craft (or legos or something) on the kitchen table before they go to bed so the kids wake up to something novel. But when it comes to wrangling 3 kids in the morning, that’s out of my league…

        • Laura says:

          @Calee- the homework in the AM for the kindergartner is a good idea. But my kindergartner isn’t the problem. If I only had the older two, we’d do better with the mornings because they don’t need to be constantly attended to… Well, the toddler will grow up.

  2. gwinne says:

    Interesting to read your experience. I wonder, have you posted (or would you post) a whole weekly log?

    I’ve tried to track my time several times but find it takes too much time to record! Much better for me to think about my day while I’m in the shower or something and reflect on the moments that could have been spent “better.” Not as accurate, I know…

    • Laura says:

      @Gwinne- I think the technology is almost there that this should, soon, become a more passive experience (logging time). Think smart objects. Your shoes could report to your phone that you’re exercising. Your computer would log what you’re doing at work. Your bed would register that you’re in it. Your car, likewise. Until we’re there, I agree that logging time takes time, but that’s why I don’t do it every week. A few weeks here and there keep me mindful. I’ve posted a few full logs in the past; if you search 168 Hours Challenge on this blog they should come up…

    • Cloud says:

      I often track my time, and in fact once worked as a contractor and HAD to track my time at work. The system that I find works best for keeping it non-intrusive is to set up a spreadsheet (or time tracking app- there are apps aimed at contractors who have to charge by the hour) and then mark your time whenever you switch tasks. If your job isn’t computer based and/or you want to track time at home and don’t keep a computer handy, you can print out a spreadsheet and mark your time on the printout. Unless you want to do statistics, you probably don’t need to transfer the numbers to the computer- just seeing the marks on the spreadsheet will be enough. I wrote up my method last time I did a timetracking exercise: http://www.wandering-scientist.com/2012/08/tracking-time-brief-how-to-guide.html

  3. Cara Marcano says:

    I have NO trouble with a.m. hours but that might be b/c mine go to bed with me not at 7 or 8… this is bad for down time for me but I never have them up at 6 a.m. I haven’t managed to get myself up at 5:45 a.m. for a run or something but I decided recently that 10 lbs and good sleep are more important to me than a militant 5:45 a..m run schedule… I travel overnight for work sometimes and I’m going to say that honestly I am not that interested in overnight travel while my son is young (he is 2 so I do wonder when I will feel ready for it again in terms of like hey honey let’s take a cruise) when I do it for work it is one thing but I actually just don’t enjoy that much carving out free time without kids.. my husband works a lot so that might be part of it b/c when he is home I’d rather us all be together etc. what works for me is just putting one or two or three most important things on there and having work-free blocks of time. I started saying Sunday is a no work day.. I can do laundry, yoga, run, whatever but no work.. it is working for me.