(Laura's note: I'll be running a few guest posts over the next month from bloggers I enjoy. I hope you'll enjoy these posts, too!)
by Carrie Willard
After reading 168 Hours last year, I began keeping a time log. I’ve always geeked out a bit when it comes to tracking things: my income, my spending, a food diary, books I’ve read. Why not my time? After a few weeks of doing so diligently, I realized a couple of important, albeit difficult to admit, truths. Since then I’ve repeated the exercise several times, and I always gain refreshing insights about my life.
First, similar to what Gretchen Rubin has expressed in her books on happiness, focusing on how I spent my hours (and thus, my life), actually made me happier. I have a great life, and I generally enjoy my days. I felt more grateful after seeing it on paper. Lucky, even. I also became motivated to do even better things with my time.
For instance, I spent nearly two hours a day reading for pleasure. Since reading is my favorite hobby (and an important activity for a writer), I’m pleased that I’m able to make time for that, even with a house full of kids. That two hours didn’t include time spent reading aloud to my kids for homeschooling or fun either. (That would fall under the “childcare” category.)
The problem with my reading is that I was doing it at the wrong time -- typically, in the middle of the afternoon when my energy level and brainpower were still pretty high. I decided it would be far better to move reading to times where I wouldn’t likely be doing anything productive -- working on my blog or writing ebooks -- such as the late evening, or while nursing my youngest. It took a bit of self-discipline to set these rules for myself, but it paid off. These other things bring income to my family and a sense of personal satisfaction that surpasses the pleasure of reading.
One embarrassing truth my time log revealed was that I don’t spend much time at all on housework. Of course, the fact that cleaning doesn’t take up the bulk of my day isn’t what’s embarrassing. That part is a triumph, mostly due to my training my kids well to a) clean up after themselves and b) keep to a chore schedule.
The embarrassing part was my attitude and perception. I would occasionally stomp around the house, muttering under my breath or worse, audibly complaining that “all I do is clean up around here." That behavior was immediately and permanently nipped in the bud when I saw the truth on paper. In fact, I actually became cheerful about doing housework, especially after cleaning the bathroom floor on hands and knees led to sore abs and shoulder muscles the next day. Cleaning tasks as exercise? Yes, please! My family was spared the once-weekly whine fest and I was far happier.
One of the biggest time blocks that appeared on my log was shopping. I truly dislike shopping, but when you have a household of nine people, shopping is inevitable. I determined to reduce the amount of time -- and more importantly, energy -- I spent doing that activity. I sprang for an Amazon Prime membership, and started ordering more items online, something that’s fun for the kids and for me. (Who doesn’t love getting mail?) I stopped grocery shopping at multiple stores and instead did the bulk of my shopping at the one, cheapest store.
And the best change I made in this area? Having my clotheshorse daughters log in to eBay, shop to their heart’s content and add their finds to my “watch” list. When I have time, I purchase the items I approve of. Why I didn’t think of this years ago? Oh, wait. I know: because until I started keeping a time log, I had no idea I spent several hours a week shopping. I just knew I hated doing it!
Carrie Willard is a writer/blogger and (homeschooling) mom of seven kids. She still finds time to read, write, and review books at http://www.CarrieWillard.com. How? By using her early mornings well and keeping track of her time.