Time tracking challenge: Day 4

I ended yesterday’s blog post saying I hoped I slept until 6. I did — to 6:15, but I’ll take it. When P (nanny) came at 8, I mentioned that the baby had slept through the night. She said she figured, since all the children’s backpacks, shoes, coats, mittens, lunches, snacks, etc. were lined up and ready to go. Apparently I have a lot more energy when I’m not up at all hours.

Anyway, the baby played nicely in his exer-saucer while I showered, and the kids and I all had breakfast by 8. Then we had a second breakfast of donuts that P brought to celebrate the baby’s first birthday (which is tomorrow). I did a bit of work before bringing my daughter to school at 9. I was there for a planning meeting for the school fundraiser (I’m hosting a big party as part of the lead-up to the event — much more my style than organizing craft projects for the auction). I stayed until 10:15, came home and worked until noon. I broke for lunch, worked, then took the baby at 12:45. I planned to get him down while P was getting the 4-year-old and a friend from dance class (the friend’s mom had brought them). However, the baby had other ideas, so I wound up playing with him and baking the cupcakes for his birthday. The girls came and I helped with their lunches, then worked from 2-3.

Here’s one thing I’m figuring out from my time log: I am efficient. I am not working that many hours this week. I may hit 40 by Sunday night, but midway through Thursday, with only a few more hours planned in the future, I’m at 32.5. And yet I’ve researched and written 4 articles, gotten started on several others, done several live events, been blogging here daily, turned in the afterward for the paperback of my book, etc.

You can read my essay on The Second Shift here. (Please read it! I think it deserves more shares than it’s gotten — I would appreciate a tweet or FB share). You can read my essay on how to invest $1000 in yourself here. I like the idea of bringing people together. I’m pondering how to make that happen over the next year. It’s really not something that requires winning the PowerBall to do.

Then my daughter’s friend left a little after 3, and I went to Massage Envy for my monthly massage. I may have napped a bit during it. I came home, answered email, then my husband came home from his trip. He took the 8-year-old to swim, and I ran on the treadmill. I’m making progress: I got up to 8.7 mph for 30 seconds, and I repeated that interval a second time. I did a 2-minute sprint at 8 mph, and then two 1-minute sprints at that speed too.

My husband came back from swim and we fixed the broken light in the kitchen, and then he took the baby to go back to pick up the 8-year-old at swim (it’s only 8 minutes away). I made dinner during this time: salmon, asparagus and Caesar salad for us, a hodgepodge of stuff for the kids. We ate it, I played with the 3 younger kids for about half an hour, and now I’m posting this as my husband is putting the baby down. I’m looking forward to some reading tonight with perhaps a tiny bit of work. Then it’s on to a very kid-centric day tomorrow.

I know I have gotten quicker at article researching and writing over the years. You don’t have to work as many hours if your core production becomes more efficient. What have you become efficient at over the years?

14 thoughts on “Time tracking challenge: Day 4

  1. Can you explain how you adopted such a lovely, nonjudgmental attitude towards yourself as you look at your time tracking data? I have found it very hard not to be critical and frustrated that I am not more efficient. I also observe that (especially at night) if I’ve spend an hour on the internet, I tend to think, “what’s three more?” and then the whole night feels shot.

    I suppose some people are like that about food which is why there are so many articles about not beating yourself up for “one slip” and getting yourself back on track. But I never judge myself about what I eat so I’ve never understood why you would feel so bad about a bowl (or even a carton…) of ice cream, etc. However, time tracking! I am so critical of my choices and particularly how much internet surfing I have been doing.

    So, I have two questions: (1) how do you tackle what is a very bad habit in time tracking? (how do you keep yourself focused while writing and not get over to the internet?) (2) where did your lovely optimistic time tracking attitude come from and any suggestions for those of us who are more judgmental of ourselves?

    This has been a very interesting experiment, thanks!

    1. @M – I agree that the food philosophy is good. If you slip back up, get right back on track, rather than the “what the hell” philosophy that says if you’ve had one bowl of ice cream you may as well view the day as shot and eat the carton. There’s nothing wrong with surfing the web for a while. That’s why you’re here, communicating with other fun people and hopefully learning stuff! The question is whether it fits in with other things you want to do in life. So if there is something else you want to do, make sure that’s happening, and then any other “wasted” time is whatever.
      That’s kind of my philosophy. I feel a lot better about “wasted” time if I’m doing plenty of other cool things, and this week has felt that way. I’m talking with interesting people and writing interesting articles, and I’ve run on the treadmill 3 times, gone out with friends, gotten a massage, made banana bread with my daughter… so if I surf the web instead of reading “Working” (the Studs Terkel book I’m hacking through) so it goes.

  2. While comparing my days and yours, I have learnt something that I did presume but definitely did not anticipate at such scale: how much time I’m spending at the office just having conversations. Really, it’s crazy the time that gets lost just by discussing with colleagues and secretaries and department’s heads. It looks like more than half of my work day is lost in such trivialities when what I need to do is very focused work (I am a researcher). The worst is that these constant interruptions are not up to me. I mean that, although I like my colleagues and always enjoy a conversation with them about either family or job, I usually don’t plan these discussions (people/friends just get into my office and share their concerns) and I’m so bad at making them stop – because I do enjoy the conversations, I guess. Anyway, I really need to change this dimension of my life. I’m thinking about going to the library first thing in the morning, taking 1 or 2 days out of the office each week just to avoid my peers, crafting a board that would hang on my door to explain that I’m not available. I am thinking about applying these measures next week, while time tracking, and using my two sheets (of this week and next week) to argue for more flexibility in my job when discussing with my department’s head.

    I also really admire your productivity. Do you have any idea as to how you became so efficient at writing? Do you think that the habit of writing short pieces with deadlines/daily blog posts helped? Do you feel like this competence (crafting short articles) also helped you for book writing – or that both forms of writing are radically different?

    Thanks for this challenge as it really helped me in seeing the obvious…

    1. Hi Alex, I’ve noticed the same thing myself, I am also a researcher. For a while now I have used our institution’s library as a place to retreat to when I need to get my head down. This is especially important for me working in a large, shared office. Even when I am in there alone I often need to get up and walk across the room to answer the communal telephone, although the calls are hardly ever for me! It’s a refreshing 4 minute walk to get to the library and the moment I walk through the doors I can feel my shoulders relax! Good luck with all of your strategies. And thank you so much Laura for inspiring and motivating us all!

    2. @Alex- thank you for this comment. I agree that getting away from your office when you need to focus might be wise. In Cal Newport’s recent book, he mentions a professor who’d put an out-of-office email message on, when he was clearly in the office (people could see him there). The point was that no, I’m not here and available. But then if you are freely available at other times, people don’t feel like you’re cheating them.
      Productivity… yes, writing lots of short articles makes me more efficient at writing them. Being able to write fast makes book draft writing relatively painless. I have a file going of all my articles and drafts and blog posts notes, it’s dated Nov 2, and it’s at 75k words right now. That’s a full-length book. I write one every 2.5 months, apparently! So it doesn’t seem like a lot to bite off. Also, I’d point out that I’m not exactly high art here. I’m not aiming for perfection, just for communicating a few points. And that makes it a lot easier.

    3. Hi Alex, I’m a freelancer who works from home now, but I was an editor/writer in offices for many years, and I had this same struggle, esp. when I really liked my co-workers. I felt that simply shutting my door when I needed to write all day was so effective at keeping me on task and preventing me from getting sucked into fun interactions in the hallway, as well as preventing people from just wandering in. I often put a sign on my door that was friendly and informative that said, “Writing away … Feel free to knock if you need me.” You could modify my office sign to be more clear, something like, “Working on a project … Knock if you need me (work-related only, please).” I highly encourage people who are able to do so to hide out in another office/library or telecommute—you get so much more done that way, especially if like us you are working on mental projects that suffer from interruptions. When I was at jobs with cubicles, I would often reserve a smaller conference room and bring my personal laptop to work, transfer my phone to the conference room and work all day in there. It was annoying that cubicle life forced me to do this, but my solution was efficient and productive.

  3. I wrote a long comment but it doesn’t seem to be posting…. but in essence, what tips do you have for adopting a nonjudgmental approach to the data in your time tracking? You are so accepting of how your day goes, regardless of the challenges. I often see that I’ve wasted time doing this or that (usually facebook or otherwise being online) and then lose motivation for being productive later as the day feels “ruined.” I realize that’s ridiculous but I can see that it’s a trend. (I suppose it’s similar to the attitude some people take towards food, although I’ve rarely felt bad for eating a bowl, or even a carton, of ice cream so that hasn’t so much been an issue for me. However, timing tracking! I find I am very judgmental and negative about myself here.)

    I also echo the comment above – I would love to know how you write so efficiently. I get bogged down in researching and get distracted very easily and then am frustrated about being so slow….

    This has been an interesting project, thanks!

    1. @M – I apologize about the comment thing. I was locked out of the blog for a bit. It’s in theory set up that anyone who’s posted before (as you have) can post again…but it doesn’t work perfectly. My apologies. I’ll answer your wonderfully well thought through first comment there!

  4. Teaching prep! I’ve been running tutorials for several years and it is surprising how quickly things come together now. I think it’s partially because I feel more confident and don’t need to do every single page of the reading and partially because I have a bag of tricks to draw on rather than doing everything from scratch. I’m coordinating a team of tutors this year and it is quite nice to realise how far I came.

    Re time logging – my day yesterday involved helping someone get into a monkey suit. That was definitely not part of my plan today but I enjoyed writing monkey suit on my timelog.

    1. @Cb – love it. Monkey suit! Yes! Teaching prep definitely falls in the category of something that one could become much better and more efficient about. That is a problem with people only teaching for short stints of time…

  5. Laura, I’ve become very efficient at doing interview prep and interviewing people and organizing articles over 20 years. I have to force myself a bit to not procrastinate when it comes time to write the darn article, but this efficiency often means that writing is my most lucrative gig because I get paid per word, not hourly.

    As for your comment about 40 hours, I never aim to work 40 hours a week. I don’t think most of us can compare working 40 hours as an employee to 40 hours as a biz owner/freelancer. When I was an employee, I was in the office for 40 hours a week, but with meetings, chatty co-workers, random hallway discussions and all the other minutiae, I probably only got 4 hours of serious, good work done on a good day. I’m recognizing that with time tracking, I’m also getting about 4-5 hours of good work on those days that feel super productive. The rest of the time is chores, lunch break, playing on social media, reading online, whatever breaks I need. Yesterday, I did have an 8-hour day that I felt great about, with breaks in between, but I don’t want that every day.

    1. @Melanie – as to the 40 hours, I’d say yes…but. As business owners/freelancers we still need to network and connect with people and build relationships – stuff that naturally happens when you’re chatting with co-workers. I’m rarely writing/editing for 40 hours, but when I add in the soft stuff, I’m certainly aiming for 40.

  6. I’ve become more efficient at seeing friends. Basically, if we can’t hook up over errands, a dog walk or workout, it doesn’t happen. Certain friends require a dinner and that’s fine on occasion, but it’s now the exception rather that the rule. I’ve taken your advice on merging activities and it works better for me at this stage of life. No links in paragraph 4, but I am happy to tweet/share on social. No need to approve comment, just FYI

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