The 3 questions to ask after tracking time

photo-395I’ve been keeping track of my time since mid-April, so I’ve gotten into a groove. I write down what I’m doing, as often as I remember, which tends to be a few times per day. It’s not too hard to recall the previous few hours, and now that time-tracking is a habit, I can reconstruct a few days pretty well too. I commit certain times and activities to memory, and then I can recreate them later, so I don’t need to be around my computer all the time.

Anyway, when I have people do this exercise for workshops, I tell them to ask themselves 3 questions. So, looking at a week in mid-August (note: I wrote this post pre-website meltdown and am resurrecting it now), I’m asking them of myself.

1. What do I like most about my schedule?

It’s my life, so hopefully something! I am quite happy with a few things. I am getting a fair amount of exercise. That August week, I ran 5 times. Four of those were actually early morning runs, which haven’t been easy to make fit into my life, but are so much nicer in the heat of August. On the days I didn’t run, I went for a walk, and then I spent Saturday at an amusement park, so there was a lot of activity.

I’m also doing really cool stuff with the kids. My perception is that they’re watching a lot of TV and playing a lot of Minecraft. But during that week I took various combos of them in the pool three times, I did an evening playground trip, rode the bus for orientation with my 5-year-old, took the whole family out to Ruby’s Diner, took the kids to the zoo, and took them to visit their cousins in Maryland, which involved a trip to Six Flags, plus church and brunch all together. And that’s just the stuff they did that involved me!

I like that when I am working I am extraordinarily efficient. But…

2. What do I want to do more of with my time?

The honest answer is “work.” I know that’s not politically correct, but it’s true. My time log shows about 37 hours of work for that week, and that’s with doing a short “split shift” most nights, working on Friday night and Sunday night, etc. This is what happens when I prioritize self-care (going to sleep on time, exercising, and taking breaks) and have 40 hours of childcare and a husband who was in Nigeria for the entire week. I can probably go like this for a while, because I am very efficient, but eventually it will catch up with me. I’m brainstorming ways that I can ramp work up a bit more over the next few months, and this will also change as the baby gets older. When I know I can sleep straight through until 6:30 a.m., I’ll be able to work from 8:30-10:30 at night more regularly, then wind down by 11/11:30 or so.

3. What do I want to spend less time doing?

Making meals for people. I feel like I’m in a commercial cafeteria sometimes as I line up all the plates, sometimes with a baby screaming in the background during evening fussy time. It’s never anything elaborate, but still, and it’s even worse when people are ungrateful and argue about what’s in front of them. I want to get my 8-year-old more involved in helping with meals. I think he’s old enough to do so. I’d like to spend less time refereeing fights, and I’d like to shift the balance of how I spend my time with the kids. The baby gets a lot of solo time because he’s the baby. Again, I trust this will shift over time.

Photo: One more Lake Michigan shot

16 thoughts on “The 3 questions to ask after tracking time

  1. These are great questions, and I automatically asked myself a couple of them when I did my time log for a week in June (which I emailed to you!) I like the question of what you want to do less of. I find so much time gets sucked up in obligations like birthday parties for my kids’ classmates or baby showers, and the tasks that go along with that – gift shopping, cards, wrapping, etc. I try to “bulk shop” and buy ahead with cards, but it still feels like our weekends get filled up with weddings, parties, showers and charity events that we feel obligated to attend, especially because so many in our community are so generous and thoughtful to our family.

    1. @Courtney- thanks! I want to see your time log! I just looked through my inbox and I don’t see anything from you with an attachment, any chance you can resend? I’d love to see it! And yes, the shopping can eat up a lot of time. I try to buy as much online as I can…

  2. Isn’t it fun when the things you want to do less of are things you really *can’t* do less of? And I also want to work more, and I think that’s good. I managed to work 33 hours last week, and that’s while solo parenting. I felt accomplished, but didn’t really like the way I had to fit it in. It helps that my kids are back in school, though one’s only half day, but I did a fair amount after they went to bed, and they had a couple of movie afternoons while I sat on the couch with my laptop. I’m lucky, I guess, that they have to be up at 6 am, so they’re down with lights out by 7:30, but I still was up later than I like to be. I find it hard to wind down after working past 8:30, and can’t fall asleep. So I’m trying to work first, and do dishes/other household chores later. I’m lucky this year, though — my kindergartener starts school at 7:30, and it’s in our neighborhood. My 2yo doesn’t start until 9, so I’ve been able to use that hour and change to work out or grocery shop, not to mention the boost from walking or biking to/from school every day. Having an external hard schedule — more hard than just signing up for a class or running buddy — makes it so easy, because I don’t have to decide. It’s just part of the routine. Now, if I could just get back into the tasks I need to accomplish today …

    1. @Meghan – maybe I’ll have to figure out how to strategically skip meal times some nights in order to work 🙂 Not an idle thought, really – I noticed when I tracked my time the week I had no kids with me last summer I worked really hard in the mornings, took the afternoon at a slower pace, then got back into a groove around 5/6 pm and worked into the evening. It’s that second shift that I am not doing so much, but I probably could once a week if I worked on it.

  3. Meals, honey yes. I hate mealtimes with a baby who eats solids but can’t yet self-feed in a high chair. It’s stressful. I usually end up letting my husband eat first while i feed then nurse so we can switch and i can actually taste my food

  4. I’m glad to see you back. I’ve been tracking my time since mid-June. My answers to those questions have changed during that time. Initially I would have said I liked my morning reading time, I wanted more time for myself, and I wanted less crazy time (when chaos prevents me from doing anything useful). Over time, I have greatly improved the last item, finding useful things to do during that time (chaos from kids/meals/just that time of day). I also like how I’ve managed to organize my day better. What I’d like more would be white space – just time to do nothing. Still struggling with that one, though on paper it looks like I get lots of time for myself.

  5. Have you looked into having a personal chef prepare meals for you in bulk that you can just heat at mealtimes? It’s surprisingly not super-expensive, definitely on par or less than eating out. You can find them on Yelp, typically or just search “personal chef” + your city.

    1. @ARC- I haven’t, though I just got the brilliant idea tonight to purchase prepared foods from my supermarket. Did you know they sell rotisserie chickens and salads??? I knew this on some level, but would never purchase them. I need to get over this…

  6. I recently read a book called “How French Kids Eat Everything” and it shared some really interesting insights regarding how to teach kids eat everything, appreciate the food and less picky. I just thought of that as reading your last point. Sometimes it may be extremely tedious to make meals separately for adults and children.

  7. I wish a meal/ingredient service like Blue Apron would work for us. I really liked trying it out, but invariably my kids weren’t going to eat the food and/or it had ingredients that my husband doesn’t do (bell peppers). I really liked the cooking experience and like trying new foods, but the downer atmosphere has me ordering out more than I’d like these days.

  8. Something that Ive been reflecting on lately is the difference between saving time and saving stress. There’s a few things that you pointed out in IKHSDI that don’t necessarily save time – like meal planning and prepping large batches in advance, or picking out clothes in advance – that I do, and I’ve been assessing whether these activities are worthwhile. Cooking up a batch of egg muffins and spaghetti bolognese on the weekend, and peeling a bunch of carrots and slicing celery etc might not save a lot of time overall – but for me its far less stressful to do this on a low-energy saturday afternoon, listening to NPR podcasts, than to come home exhausted after work and class wondering what to have for dinner. Perhaps shifting some of the meal prep to another time might help make the evening fussy time less stressful (and make it easier to get the kids involved)? (Not that I am in any way unsupportive of the excellent home delivery and pre-prepared optons suggested above! And I also support your broader message that no one should feel like a bad parent/disorganized person for NOT having the week’s meals and clothes organized in advance – to each their own!)

    1. @Lily – this is a good point. The problem for me is that the things I’m feeding the kids aren’t really make-ahead stuff. Grilled cheese, basic pasta, scrambled eggs, frozen pizza, grilled chicken, quesadillas, mac and cheese. Re-heating it would in essence double the time I’m spending, and it wouldn’t taste as good. I cut up fruits and vegetables for them, and I already buy a lot of pre-cut stuff. I think it’s just sheer assembly fatigue! I’ve started buying more stuff for me that’s made ahead of time.

      I think the broader point on whether things save stress or save time is a good one. Maybe one to talk about in a future post!

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