Lessons from minding my hours

8680506263_4382b4660c_mI’m keeping a work time log this week so I can see where my time goes (keeping a work time log is Week 1′s assignment in the #SuccessatWork challenge).

I’m noticing a few things. First, it takes me a while to ease back into work after every break. I check my email, I follow links, I see what’s going on at Twitter. It’s not out-of-control in terms of time, but I need to be aware of it. If every break involves an easing in, it may be better to take fewer, longer breaks to avoid losing time on re-entry.

Second, not only do I have more focused times of the day (mornings, 8-11 a.m.), I have more focused days of the week. Monday I hit the ground running. By Wednesday, I’m often sputtering. These are related, of course — I may tackle my big goals on Monday, and thus have less to do by Wednesday. But again, it’s good to be aware of it. If there’s something I want to do, I should schedule it for Monday, not Thursday. Thursday may be a better day for calls, meetings, and other things that don’t require the laser focus that writing does.

Third, having my iPhone with me changes how I experience time. I was very proud of myself the other morning when I woke up at 6:30 with my toddler, and did not turn on my phone until 8:45. Early mornings in my house can be long, but checking my phone doesn’t actually make them go faster. It just makes them more stressful.

Fourth, I’m happy with the amount of “work reading” time I’m putting in, but I can probably even do more of this. Right now, I feel guilty about reading during work hours, and so I tend to do it at night. But if I’m reading something for work — like analyzing the structure of a longer magazine piece to see how other people tackle these things — there’s no reason I can’t do it during my regular work day.

What are you learning from minding your hours?

In other news: A number of home/finance/food bloggers (like The Frugal Girl and Money Saving Mom) are running an “Ultimate Homemaking eBook Bundle” sale, where you get 100 ebooks for about $30. I bought the bundle partly to understand more of how people are approaching ebooks — the writing, the selling, what works and what doesn’t. Seeing 100 ebooks in one fell swoop has allowed me to do quite a comparison!

Forbes’ Laura Shin writes about “The 7 Ways Successful People Approach Their Work” — highlighting What the Most Successful People Do at Work.

Over at Fortune, Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes her side of the story about our accountability partner arrangement. My version of the tale ran here.

The Deliberate Reader reviews my book. She likes it, but thinks it ends abruptly. Note to self: work on transitions!

The paperback of All the Money in the World will be out May 28! Check out the new cover here.

Photo courtesy flickr user SMugridge



26 Responses to Lessons from minding my hours


  1. Britt says:

    Dear Laura,
    I am trying to Fellow this weeks assignment and keeping track of my hours. But I find it really difficult. How detailled do you record your hours? (hours, half-hours or even minutes). How do you recognize by writing down your hours that it takes you a while to get back into your work.
    Thanks for your help.
    Britt

    • Laura says:

      @Britt- thanks for trying the assignment! I tend to do it more on a quarter hour basis – but not exactly. Like sometimes, I know I spent an hour on a project, so I write that down. How I figure out that it takes me a while to get back into my work is that I look at my log and see that I sat down after lunch at, say, 12:20, and then I look up and it’s 12:45 and I haven’t started any of the “big” projects I’ve set for myself in the afternoon. I’m working, but it’s the sort of puttering work that isn’t all that effective (let’s see what’s in my inbox now!)

  2. sarah says:

    I’ve enjoyed several of your mini ebooks now. I’m a mom, and a volunteer doctor married to a cancer doctor, and aspiring writer/blogger trying to carve out the time for all my passions and somehow maintain/grow my career. I just downloaded a time tracking app, but not sure if i like it. Which app have you like most for this exercise? Thanks for all the great inspiration!

    • Laura says:

      @sarah – Thanks so much for reading my books! I don’t use a particular app…I just write it all down in word. Has anyone reading this used an app that they’d recommend?

      By the way, I just went to your blog and your kitchen is gorgeous. It’s exactly the color scheme I’d have in my perfect kitchen!

      • Jennifer says:

        I use Toggl for time tracking. It’s easy to set up and takes very little time to use. You can track tasks in real time, or one back and list them after the fact. Also, the mobile app, desktop version, and website all talk to each other pretty seamlessly, which I like because I inevitably “start” a task one place and “finish” it somewhere else.

        • Cloud says:

          I’ve been using Toggl, too and really like it. I plan to write a blog post about it soon. It is free as long as you don’t need any of the Pro features, which most people using it for personal time tracking won’t need.

          • Marcy says:

            Thanks for the recommendation, I like it a lot! Only one thing I’d like to change about it — I decided this last time of tracking that I wanted to blog my logs, but it doesn’t seem like Toggl has an easy way to share results. I mean, you can do screen captures or something, but that seems clunky.

  3. Nancy says:

    Very jealous of your “work reading” time. I have been going wide and not deep and that needs to change as my brain needs deep, sustained reading. Maybe next week?

  4. ARC says:

    Thanks for the pointer to the eBooks. A lot of them seem religious, and it’s keeping me from buying the bundle. I can’t decide if that’s a deal-breaker or not.

    I definitely notice that if I’m on the computer to do a specific task, like order something on Amazon or return a phone call, I end up “just checking” Facebook, blogs, etc. And then get sucked in for 30 minutes, easily. That’s no good.

    • Laura says:

      @ARC – if you’re put off by evangelical/fundamentalist sorts, you probably won’t like half the bundle. I was particularly surprised to find, in an ebook of moms of big families answering parenting questions, what to do if your child is exposed to an “unbelieving family.” But there’s stuff like 20 minute meals, and iPhone photography too, which doesn’t really seem like proselytizing!

      • ARC says:

        Thanks for the heads up! I’m torn.

      • Oh geez…like your kid is going to get some dread disease from being around people who aren’t Christians? Dear heavens.

        I agree with your assessment about the bundle…that a lot of the books are pretty faith-based, but that there are a number that could be helpful if you’re not a Christian. And since the price is so low, even if you don’t like half the books, it’s still a pretty decent deal!

        • Laura says:

          @Kristen – do you have an ebook in there? I was trying to find yours but the list I have doesn’t make it very easy to tell who wrote what (unless it’s branded in the title like Money Saving Mom’s freezer cooking).

          • I do! Mine’s called Reuse, Refresh, Repurpose, and it’s about getting more mileage out of your clothes by making them look better (sometimes by hacking off an offending part!) or by turning them into something new (like pants to a skirt, a tshirt to a shopping bag, etc.)

          • Laura says:

            @Kristen – just downloaded it! I love the idea of turning a T-shirt into a re-usable shopping bag. It didn’t even look that hard!

        • Cloud says:

          Based on what I learned from my classmates growing up, I think the problem is that if you’re raising your child with strong religious views that imply this is the one and only way to be good, go to heaven, etc., then it can be disconcerting for the kid to run into someone they like (and may even think is “good”!) who clearly does not follow the same religious beliefs. I had one good friend in grade school who was really bothered by what she saw as my future in hell.

      • Cloud says:

        What to do it your child is exposed to a non-believing family… That is an interesting one. I had not realized that my family was causing problems for the religious folks we run into! But I guess, given some of the things that have been said to my kids, I am not surprised. Maybe I should write up tips on how to respond when your kindergartner comes home asking if she’s going to Hell because she doesn’t go to church…. But to be honest, we’re still working our way through that sort of thing. I’m surprised I’m struggling with it so much, since I grew up in a much more religious area, and had to handle being told I was going to Hell quite a bit as a kid. (FWIW, we currently just say that we don’t believe in hell in the way that her friends do, and then answer any follow up questions. But I have a feeling those follow up questions are going to get harder and harder.)

        • Oddly we haven’t had any problems… maybe because my son’s at a mainstream Protestant school and they get mainstream religion-lite in school. Fundamentalists go to one of the many religious schools in down that don’t teach evolution.

          • Laura says:

            @NicoleandMaggie – soon, I’m going to get around to reviewing Naomi Riley’s Til Faith Do Us Part book here on the blog. It’s a data-based look at inter-faith marriage, but one of the things I found most fascinating was that she characterized mainline Protestant-evangelical as a mixed faith marriage. On one level it isn’t. On another, it is.

  5. fern says:

    I am finding that just by writing down how I spend my time (and color coding it on the excel spreadsheet) helps me stay more focused and waste less time. I have had a very productive 2 days.

    • Laura says:

      @fern – so glad to hear it! The weather is too nice here. I don’t feel like doing anything…

  6. Leanne says:

    I like your point about doing certain kinds of work on specific days of the week. I find that early in the week is the most productive time for me. I set myself goals every week for how many minutes to exercise and either a page or hourly count for my writing. I like to get a lot done on Sunday-Tuesday so the rest of the week feels less stressful. I also really like to clean the house on Fridays, because I know the weekend is coming and it’s more motivating to clean when I might have visitors.

    • Laura says:

      @Leanne – Friday is a good day for cleaning stuff up – literally, and figuratively. I was just talking with an organizer about scheduling a time to go through my “soon” pile. We realized that time would never be Monday morning. It is much more likely to be Thursday at 4 pm. Monday AM is way too valuable for that sort of thing.

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Anyone here want to be accountability partners? Having read Laura and Katherine’s posts, I think I want one.

    • Laura says:

      @Elizabeth – it really is helpful to have one! You might try friends/neighbors/colleagues too — anyone who can keep your feet to the fire…

  8. Marcy says:

    I’m a little late commenting on this one, but…

    I’m starting to pay a little more attention to the cause and effect of my emotional rhythms. I think it helps me not to think of tasks solely in terms of easy or difficult, but in terms of how much focus they require, how much willpower they require going in, and how much energy or willpower they use up. They’re not always as similar as you’d think.

    For example, a couple weeks ago I helped watch my mother after work (she has dementia), because my dad was out of town. I’m from a big family, and there was some professional help too, so I had a number of shifts to choose from. I chose Monday and Tuesday because I knew it’d be hard on me emotionally, and I was thinking it’d be better to do something hard earlier in the week.

    What I didn’t think about was that, though it may have used up a lot of willpower for later, it didn’t require much initially. I’d committed to it and people were expecting me, so it wasn’t hard to go. It didn’t take much focus, either. But it cost me energy like crazy, which made the rest of my workweek much, much harder. Scheduling it later in the week might have been a better idea.