2018 Time-Tracking Challenge: The wrap-up thread

If you've been reading this blog over the past week, you now know exactly how I spent the last 168 hours. However, on the off chance that you weren't adding up every single minute (ha) I thought I'd share some of my analysis. Here's the run-down:

I worked 34.5 hours. Only about 30 of these occurred during the Monday-Friday work week. And even some of those occurred outside normal 9-5 work hours. There are a few structural factors limiting my work hours right now. First, I built in a lot of personal priorities to the hours when my older children were out of the house and I had childcare (generally 8:30-4): the massage, the haircut, several of my runs. It's also generally harder to work when the big kids are around, and we had two early closures and a weather delay. Also, I stopped working prior to 5 p.m. most days to deal with kid activities: karate, an audition, wrestling, gymnastics, etc. I worked some at night and on the weekend (specifically, at the wrestling meet) but that wasn't going to add a lot to the total.

That said, despite the limited work hours, I did make serious progress on my biggest goals for the year! I got an offer on my next book (a time management fable, to be published in early 2019). I made progress on getting contracts for several potential speaking gigs over the next few months. I ran the time-tracking challenge. (Blogging every day actually takes a fair amount of time! I normally only do it 4 times a week; this week was 8 times). Sarah and I recorded two podcasts (I put this in the work category). I wrote an article and even spent some time on speculative work: writing fiction and two sonnets.

I also spent a lot of time on email. More than I'd like to. Email enables the other work, but it is not the work itself. This is always a work in progress. I don't want to feel productive if I got through all my email, but didn't write fiction (something I am aiming to do multiple times per week -- I want another novel draft by the end of the year).

I slept 52.5 hours, or an average of 7.5 hours/day. None of the days were too short. My minimum for the week was 7 hours, max 8.75 (I crashed last night at 10:15!). In general I went to bed later than I would ideally do so, but my husband was around this week, so I stayed up to match his schedule and spend time with him. Fortunately, the 2-year-old (now 3-year-old!) didn't get up ridiculously early most days, and on many of the earlier days I was able to get another 15-30 minutes of sleep while he watched cartoons. Things are getting better there. Some people might assume, since I wrote a book called "What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast" that I enjoy rising at 5 a.m. to run 5 miles and then write a book a day. Nope.

I spent a lot of time in the car. In theory, this could be wasted time, but almost all of it — including my two hour-long trips on the weekend — was related to transporting kids around. I had some fascinating conversations, among them my daughter inquiring how much it hurt to have a baby, and whether I'd taken medicine to make it not hurt (answer: three times yes, one no), my 8-year-old inquiring how much Daddy and I both made, and the 10-year-old's talking through his slight trepidations about his audition (but how much he enjoyed performing), and his thoughts about what middle school will be like next year. He has really been thinking through the logistics of lockers. With four kids, there's just a lot of driving around. When my travel schedule picks up in the spring, I might wind up needing another sitter to deal with it. But for now, I've kept some chunk of this on my plate partly for entertainment purposes.

I finished reading four books: one novel, three non-fiction works. (The novel was very short!). I am currently about 55 percent of the way through Ali Smith's Winter. (Not my favorite, but it's short too, so may as well finish).

I practiced my music for choir and did about 2.5 hours of rehearsal, and then sang at the Sunday service. I feel like my voice is improving, which is nice, but I think it's attributable to the sheer volume of hours spent singing. I haven't spent this many hours rehearsing since college.

I ran all 7 days. Four days I was able to run outside, which was quite a treat. Once was in the sleet, but the three other days were lovely -- two of them were north of 50 degrees! Given the kids' weekend schedules it's sometimes hard to get longer runs in on the weekend, which is the complete opposite of what many people deal with. Though I imagine if it wasn't possible to run long during the week, I'd probably make it a bigger priority to do so on weekends. I did pick up the kettle bell a few times and throw it around. It's sitting in my office right by my desk so that makes it easier to do while waiting for a call. Right now I'm just trying to build the habit, as I have no real expectation of massive results from doing 2 minutes of strength training 3 times per week.

I spent time playing outside with the kids, throwing snowballs and stomping around. It's always good to build in a bit of playing in addition to supervisory duties: baths/showers, homework, etc. We had fun on our weekend trip to the DaVinci Science Center, and celebrating the now-3-year-old's birthday. We had several family breakfasts.

My husband and I went out to one of my favorite restaurants with friends. A double win!

So, all in all, a pretty good week. If you tracked your time, I'd love to hear your reflections on the process.

Photo: One of the biggest reasons I like spreadsheets is that I can easily visualize the week. Key on this - nothing during the middle-of-the-night hours! There have been far fewer weeks in the last 3 years like that than I would have liked, but this was a good one. 

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13 Responses to 2018 Time-Tracking Challenge: The wrap-up thread


  1. Gillian says:

    This is 8th week ever time tracking and I saw some nice trends. This week I exercised 5 times up from the once per week I was getting in when you did my time makeover in Fall 2016, but not my goal of 6 times (Q1 goal). This was despite the week starting normally, but ending up with my husband unexpectedly out of town due to a family illness. That meant I spent a whopping 32 hours caring for my kids (often all 4 of them alone), though some of it was play–one day my 10 year-old even ran outside with me. I played board games for 6 hours this week! (gotta love winter). I only worked for 37.5 hours, which is not quite enough and I only slept an average of 6.8 hours per night (home solo with a 2 yo who thinks 5 am is morning). I also didn’t meet my reading goals for the week. That said for a week that started out normal and ended up anything but normal, it went better than I thought. And I am inspired to track my time once per quarter–I’d like to see how things fluctuate based on the time of year.

    • @Gillian – Good for you for exercising 5x. I’m pondering doing a post on winter kid ideas because, yes. Ugh. The board games. I detest board games. Also 5 a.m. wake-ups.

      • Gillian says:

        I would love a post on winter kid ideas. I don’t detest board games, but 6 hours in a weekend is a bit much. What wasn’t captured in my log (because the weekend continued into Monday was a trip the Museum of Natural History in NYC. We do try to plan at least 1 outing per weekend in the winter to stave off cabin fever.

      • June says:

        Yes, please!! I’d love a post on winter activities with kids, with a particular focus on the older kids. I’ve enjoyed some of the more recent episodes of the podcast because they are also applicable to parents with non-babies. My 2 kids are the same ages are your older 2 kids, so we have lot of things that are the subject of work-family content already set. Plus, the baby/balancing stuff doesn’t hold much interest anymore.

        • @June – ok, working on it! But yes, it is hard to get topics that appeal to everyone – there is such a range of parenting subjects. And things are so different when you’re talking getting teens to sports and doing their home work and college admissions vs. breastfeeding a baby.

          • Robin says:

            Although I haven’t listened to any of the podcasts yet, I hope to take time soon to do so.
            I agree that things are different depending on children’s ages. I’d love more information about dealing with a wide range of ages. I’m not yet at the stage to deal with college admissions, but with 13 years between my oldest and my youngest, I’m juggling working full-time and then shuttling teens and preteens to their activities, playing games (board games and others) with my younger school children, helping with schoolwork, AND breastfeeding a baby (who is wide awake at this hour, eager to play, as I type; she was trying to emulate my typing on the keyboard) while trying to carve out some time for myself.

          • @Robin – you do have a spread! while we have less of a spread (10 to 3) we’ve gone with the philosophy that care for the littlest is often a separate question from the oldest. So we’ll hire a sitter on weekends to stay with the little guy while we go do big kid activities, or take the big kids out for dinner. We’ve taken trips with the big kids without the little guy too. It’s great when they can all do stuff together, but often “all together” just means the littlest consumes all available attention. So the childcare is a key part of being able to enjoy my older children. (And I assume the 3-year-old is probably happier NOT being in the car all the time too!)

  2. Lori says:

    This week was a challenge. I did a planned tracking sheet and an actual tracking sheet. WOW! My planned helped me accomplish what I needed to get done, but my actual showed that I have a lot going on. I am going to be working on better control of the schedule and time. However, since the Elevate HR conference when I first heard you, I have done my best to be conscience of 168 hours and how to use them to get things done and not to just be too busy. Since, I have been working on the 168 I have started accomplishing without an over whelming feeling of being busy. So this weeks challenge was great! Thank you for being an inspiration. I look forward to your posts and reading your books!

    • @Lori – thanks! I’m so glad you found me through the Elevate HR conference. Tracking time can be tough but it’s so worthwhile – you see where the time really goes, and see where the space might be.

  3. Time tracking is such a valuable tool, and I’ve learned a lot from it over the years. I’m pretty sure you were the one who introduced me to the official practice, so thank you! I’ve learned that I have more time than I think, including evenings and weekends, but that if I’m not careful, I allow “work” to fill too much of any seven day period. Instead of focusing and getting the important stuff accomplished, thus allowing myself to truly relax and play, I tend to let my work bleed into hours that I really do need for recharging. That’s not the worst thing, since I like my work (I’m a freelance writer), but it’s not ideal. My time logs have helped me be more aware and make more conscious choices about what I’m doing at any given time.

    • @Kathy – time tracking is a great tool! Glad you agree 🙂 And yes, if one does very flexible work, it can be very easy to let it bleed into all available time. I see this during weekday evenings. I could spend another half hour answering email…or not. So what do I choose to do?

  4. Leanne Sowul says:

    Laura, I’m wondering if, as a fellow Upholder, you find that tracking time makes you stress more about certain commitments. I’m prone to the “tightening” that Gretchen Rubin writes about, where if I start tracking something, that habit becomes almost too sacrosanct and I can get obsessive about it. Do you feel that time tracking gives you a positive overall perspective on your time, which makes you stress less about small hiccups in your habits? Or can it lead to tightening?

    • @Leanne – Since I don’t find time-tracking that difficult at all, I don’t feel any sense of “tightening” on it. I mean, it literally takes me 2-3 minutes a day. Just like brushing my teeth! And I haven’t felt myself feeling all that tightened about that.

      Even the running doesn’t feel that constricting. Since it’s only a mile, which doesn’t take much time at all. Of course, there’s a bit more equipment and bother involved in running, but it’s not that big a deal. Yes, I do it everyday, but I really WANT to do it every day.

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