by Alison Pike
Almost a year ago I tracked my 168 hours for Laura’s Mosaic project. It was a really valuable experience; I have been more conscious of how I allocate my time ever since. The week I tracked helped me to set up a template for my ideal week, pictured later in this post. Of course life happens, which is why the week pictured is almost 6 months into the future. Still, my hours are reasonably consistent: 33 hours at work, 31 hours primarily looking after the boys, 19 hours of me-time (this includes a chunk of focused work every morning before arriving at work), and 13 hours of family time.
I gained three insights through time tracking:
1. Quality of time is at least as important as quantity. I came to a point where I needed a few more hours each week to work. It was time to bring in some regular babysitting. The obvious thing would have been to put the boys into an after school club on Thursday afternoons, but I love our swimming time! Instead, I looked carefully at my week and thought about when the lowest quality time with my boys takes place. Easy – getting them out the door and walked to school on Thursday and Friday mornings. Luckily our regular babysitter was happy to take this on. This has worked wonderfully. A point of regular friction removed, work time gained, and no “quality” time lost. Money very well spent!
2. Non-work time needs balance, too. I used to focus on “balancing” work time and personal time. But personal time encompasses three distinct categories: time with children, couple time, and me-time. I found it really helpful to code these in different colours, and think about the balance there too. I can now “see” what the trade-offs are, and I’ve become more intentional about it. Although not an introvert in the traditional sense, I need a lot of time to myself in order to be a decent parent, and to be focused and efficient at work. I also need 7.5 – 8 hours of sleep per night. I wish I didn’t, but that’s how I’m built, and I accept it. Many working mothers sacrifice sleep and me-time. Instead, I squeeze family time. Yes, it’s lovely to spend time all together as a family, but I sacrifice some of this in order to have plenty of time for exercise, journaling, meditation, and blogging.
3. Time spent planning the day pays off. Since tracking for Laura, I have actually expanded my morning time at the gym, and am spending less time at work. As part of my morning routine, I spend ten minutes or so reviewing my medium-term goals, and time-blocking my day. This has really helped me to prioritize the important as well as the urgent. I’m getting at least as much done in less time by being more intentional at the outset.
What have you learned from tracking your time?
Alison Pike is an academic psychologist based in the United Kingdom; her research focuses on family relationships. She is also mother to two boys, Harry (7) and Tom (4). Her blog, thescientificparent.com, explores how academic psychology informs everyday life as a parent, such as why children should not be encouraged to “clean their plate.”
Laura’s note: I love Alison’s point that work/life balance isn’t just about finding the right mix of work and everything else. It’s about finding the right balance between different categories of non-work time, too. What’s the right mix for you? How do you split your non-work time between family time, couple time, personal time? (Please click on Alison’s calendar to see a full-screen version).