A number of people are keeping track of their time for a time makeover project I’m doing. I always love seeing what people’s lives look like and the people who are logging their time seem to find it pretty fascinating too. They look at how they spent the previous 168 hours, typed into Excel, and go “wow.”
Some people are surprised by how much time they spend on certain activities (email, Facebook, driving around in the car). Some people are pleasantly surprised to see that they are, in fact, doing activities that they thought they “never” did. The human brain is funny, in that it seems to remember that we “never” do things that, in fact, we just don’t do as often as we’d like. But that is a different matter. Sometimes we’re also bad at recognizing opportunities. Parents will say that they don’t see their kids during the workweek, but the time logs show they’re spending 90 minutes or more together in the morning. Since we’re not accustomed to thinking of morning time as potential quality time, we don’t view it as such. But there’s no reason it couldn’t be.
Anyway, in solidarity, I’ve started tracking my hours again this week, too. Today (Sunday) was reasonably good. So far there’s been church, a YMCA excursion (with running and swimming), a grown-up nap and reading time, and a lightning-fast trip to the zoo. My husband thought it closed at 5 pm; it turned out to close at 4. We got in at 3:35, yet managed to see gorillas, giant tortoises, alligators, crocodiles, boa constrictors, a lion, a snow leopard (up close!) and a tiger before they shut the gates. We had our usual Sunday night hamburgers and hot dogs. The boys (including my husband) are now watching a movie together while I’m typing this and then tackling some work tasks. I hit all three core competency areas (relationships, self, career) during the day!
Yet logging my time makes me aware of how much space is still not being used well. Not in the sense that I should be doing something “productive,” but in that I could be doing something more enjoyable or meaningful than I am.
For instance, I got home from the 8:00 church service before 9 a.m. We were all in the car to go to the YMCA at 9:50. What transpired between 9 and 9:50? I don’t know. There was the usual corralling of children, and getting dressed, and loading everyone into the car. I cleaned out my car at some point in there (someone ate a chocolate doughnut and spilled it all over the backseat. Also, I found a banana, which thankfully was more frozen than rotten). I doubt all of that had to take 50 minutes. And since we didn’t spend as long as we usually do in the pool — because we had hungry and tired children around noon — we probably should have gotten on the road earlier.
My husband and I took a nap, and then I read for a while during out 16-month-old’s nap. I came downstairs at 2:30 p.m. We woke her up (to go to the zoo) at 3. What happened during that half hour? There was a lot of trying to figure out what we were going to do, and fighting with the boys to get them to turn off the TV. They didn’t want to go at all (then had a great time, of course). We should have simply presented this as a done deal at 2:30 and then used that half hour for something else. Like (am I really suggesting a chore??) picking up the basement, which wound up consuming 45 minutes from 6-6:45 — and is still not done. That time could, perhaps, have been better spent playing with the kids. The basement had gotten so bad it was almost impossible to walk through. That’s probably best dealt with by enforcing a 5-10 minute pick-up time each day, rather than losing weekend time blitzing it.
We got out of the car from the zoo at 4:35. I started cooking dinner in earnest at 5:05. The time between 4:35 and 5:05 is pretty much gone with the wind. I had all three kids during this time (my husband had run to the grocery store) but what did I do with them? I have no idea. I think I gave the baby some raisins. I may have checked email. I am pretty sure I did nothing of consequence whatsoever. Even sitting and snuggling more consciously while we watched TV together would have been a better idea.
The good thing about keeping the log is that I’m now mindful, again, of these gaps. I can, over time, try to use them better, and think about what would be more enjoyable than the puttering that can consume many minutes. These minutes add up over time.
What have you learned by tracking your time?