Guest post: How Keeping a Time Log Changed My Life And My Attitude

(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 How? By using her early mornings well and keeping track of her time.

15 thoughts on “Guest post: How Keeping a Time Log Changed My Life And My Attitude

  1. Hi Carrie, congrats on your new insights! Keeping a time log has helped me in similar ways. I laughed at what you wrote about cleaning as exercise, because I set myself a weekly exercise quota, and I always put in thirty minutes just for vacuuming! I have a heavy vacuum and I know I’m getting a good workout.

  2. Carrie, I love this, largely because I completely relate! My own time log revealed very similar things.

    It turned out I spent very little time on housework, but I spent more time than I wanted on laundry (and promptly outsourced it: now my mother’s helper does the bulk of it, with my kids’ help).

    And even though we’re “only” a family of six (heh), I had the same shopping epiphany. I spent too much time doing it, AND I hated it! So hurray for Amazon Prime and Trader Joe’s, the tiny store where I can do a week’s worth of shopping in twenty minutes.

    (How old are your ebay shoppers? I see that in my future….)

    1. I do nearly all of our shopping at Trader Joe’s, too, and love that there aren’t a million choices of each thing. Ours is pretty large but I still get out of there much quicker than at the regular grocery or Whole Foods.

    1. @Carrie – wow, that is awesome! My 6-year-old has taken ownership of his own lunch packing, so I’m happy about that.

  3. I love this, the distinct ways in which time tracking changed your practices and your perspective! (and YES for Amazon Prime and TJs…that takes care of 95% of our shopping). Your experience—and the fact that you were able to use it for more than simply squeezing more work into a day—is tempting me to actually attempt to track my time (for longer than the 2 days I’ve managed in the past…)

    1. @Ana – we are all about Amazon Prime as well. It has paid for itself many, many times. Not having to go to the store to buy a costume for the school play = priceless.

    1. @nicoleandmaggie – it was amazing. I was all prepared to have my NY experience where I served for two weeks as an *alternate* (the worst of all situations, really — there and my vote doesn’t count) and then I called the day before and they said I was excused! I suspected I would be — my daughter is scheduled for surgery this Friday – but I thought I’d at least have to go in and make the case.

  4. I had the same revelation about housework, shopping, and laundry when I kept a time journal. That’s why I started shopping online more and outsourcing my laundry when it was possible. But for buying produce and meat/seafood, I find I have to go to the grocery store about twice a week. I guess that is better than the dreaded shopping trip every other day because of not planning meals ahead of time.
    I too like that housework burns calories, even just washing dishes. That fact helps motivate me to get it done. 🙂

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