Opening a new spreadsheet

img_2496I started tracking my time continuously in April of 2015. There was no one event that precipitated it. I'd had a baby in January, and had a book coming out in June, and I knew it would be a full year. I wanted to see where the time really went. I wanted a record of what life looked like in a way that my journal wasn't necessarily proving to be (I had a hard time keeping up with it). I also thought I might be able to write about the results on my blog. (I wound up writing about the first year here).

Anyway, I am now about 21 months in. I use a spreadsheet that covers a week -- 168 hours -- in half-hour blocks. The spreadsheet starts on Monday morning at 5 a.m. This has created a new ritual every Monday morning. I fill in what I did Sunday since the last time I logged. I hit save and send that week to my back-up. I open a new blank spreadsheet, fill in what I've done since I woke up, and then save with my initials and Monday's date.

I have done this now about 90 times. As I was calculating some numbers for something else I was writing, I looked at my life expectancy. At birth my life expectancy was 78.0 years, but since I seem to have made it through childhood and adolescence, my odds are some months north of 83 years now. I forget the exact numbers I used, but the result was that if I keep with this habit, I have about 2380 more Mondays of opening a new spreadsheet to go.

For some reason that number felt more real to me than any other number: years left, hours left, days left, whatever. Maybe because time tracking makes the weeks feel very concrete. When I start, the spreadsheet is blank. By the end of the week, it is filled with something. There will be many somethings on those spreadsheets. Last week began in California with a ride over the Golden Gate Bridge. It ended with the trip home from Montreal. Many somethings! But not infinite somethings. A little memento mori, courtesy of Excel.

Photo: KJ Dell'Antonia created this bracelet, which says "Design your mosaic." The mosaic reference is an artsier way of looking at a time-tracking spreadsheet. If you enjoy my writing, you'd probably like hers. You can check out her writing here (or in her professional capacity as the Well Family editor at the NY Times).

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5 Responses to Opening a new spreadsheet


  1. jennie says:

    I have come to learn that while I do not have a formal “time tracking method” I do rely very heavily on my bullet journal/planner for this. (Mine looks nothing like Pinterest–seriously not at all.) I have also found that when I get overwhelmed or bogged down in those seasons where its seems nothing of real import gets done and I’m just slogging little things off a grocery list of to-dos (re: last week), a quick review of my Facebook page jogs my memory. Its hard to say I had “no fun” when in the space of two weeks I went to a Red Hot Chili Pepper Concert, saw Rock of Ages, got to have a Girls Night at a cool new restaurant, etc. I know Facebook gets a bad rap for being a highlights reel, but it can serve as a real reminder of the fun things in your life that you sometimes forget when you are boxed in the car line at the bank and your child leans forward and vomits all over you. (re: last week)

    • @jennie- it is true that FB has that unfortunate highlight reel aspect. That said, you are right that sometimes it triggers good memories. I kind of like those “five years ago you posted this” flashbacks it sends. I’m like oh yeah, that was fun, and look how cute the kids are!

      So sorry to hear about the vomit. It’s really going around…

  2. I don’t have a fixed schedule. Instead, I have a list of 5 most important things for the day and I do that based on what comes up. I try to get in touch with my mood to see about how things will go.

  3. cheryl says:

    Hi Laura — Just wondering what your take might be on when it comes to choosing between paper or digital or both planners…. I have always been a paper person but also realize there are many apps now w/ robust features that paper planners don’t offer, e.g. colors for each project/category, document attachments, even timers, etc. I would like to integrate both paper and digital, but also don’t want to end up having to input everything twice…. I would love to hear whatever advice you might have….

    • @cheryl- I think this is something where you just have to experiment and see what works for you. I’m not a big app person myself, though people who want to track more precisely (or who need to bill time) would probably like them. I use a paper calendar, paper planner, and then I record time on a simple spreadsheet.

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