Three years ago, in April 2015, I decided to start tracking my time continuously. While I had tracked my time for a few weeks here and there over the years, I was curious to learn what I’d see when I looked at my time from a broader perspective.
I learned a lot. I wrote about year one of time-tracking for The New York Times. That turned out to be a good career move. It led to an invitation to give a TED talk, which has now been viewed more than 6 million times. That 12-minute video has been a great advertisement for my speaking services, and demand definitely went up after the video’s appearance. So in that sense, tracking my time has now changed how I spend my time — not just because I made changes (though I did!), but because it opened up new opportunities.
I decided to keep tracking after that initial year because, well, why not? It doesn’t take much effort. I’d estimate tracking takes about 3 minutes per day, which is the same amount of time I spend brushing my teeth.
Anyway, yesterday was day 365 of year 3 of time tracking. Over the past few weeks I started running some of the numbers on the past year (8760 hours).
One fun finding. While in year 1 and year 2 I slept 7.4 hours per day, this past year I slept … 7.3 hours per day.* In other words, pretty close to the same. It is always interesting to see this number converge on what I have decided is my body’s target. My range is all over the place. I had weeks of 47.5 hours of sleep, and even one week slightly north of 56 hours (56.25 hours. One enlightening discovery of time-tracking is that my body finds 8 hours of sleep a bit much over the long run). My shortest day total was 3.75 hours (a day featuring an in-and-out day trip to Chicago with a very late flight home). My longest was 10.75 (I was sick that day).
Now that I know my body is shooting for somewhere between 7-7.5 hours, I’m more relaxed about being off that for a bit. I am definitely not worried about having a few 7-hour nights, or even 6.5-6.75 hour nights, especially during the week. I can see evidence of that target during weeks when I make it to bed around the same time every night, and haven’t had extremely early wake-ups or middle-of-the-night kid woes. Wednesday night, I turned off the light around 11:03 p.m. and woke up on my own at 6:25 a.m. I know I fell asleep relatively quickly, which puts us right at that 7.3-7.4 number.
My work hour total continues to drift down. Subtracting my 5 semi-vacation weeks (during which I did work some — 52.50 hours total, or a little over 10 hours/week — but such is self-employment) I’m at around 33 hours/week. That’s compared with 40 hours/week during year 1, and 35 hours/week during year 2.
Some of this drift reflects reality. I do the bulk of my work during school hours, and I also run during that time, and I generally aim to limit weekend work. But some reflects the way I count what is “work.” For instance, on that in-and-out-of-Chicago day when I slept 3.75 hours, I only logged myself as working 8 hours. That’s because I do not count driving to the airport, getting through security, eating at Frontera in O’Hare while looking at Instagram, or reading 1Q84 on the plane as work. I did do some work-related tasks on the plane, and some writing while I was in Chicago, in addition to my speech duties, and those all counted in the work tally, but not every minute that I was away from home for a primarily work-related reason is work.
(Curiously my income has been rising as my work hours have been falling, but this isn’t causative. It’s that speaking is a relatively efficient way to earn a living compared with writing articles, and my ratio of speaking to article writing has been changing.)
As it is, using that transit time for other things means that I did a lot of other things. Like reading. I didn’t calculate a reading total yet. I might, but it’s complicated, because there is work reading (e.g. I’m assigned to review a book for the WSJ) and there is leisure reading (e.g. Ulysses). It was a banner year for leisure reading! I made it through, among other things, War and Peace, 1Q84, Kristin Lavransdatter, Moby Dick, Ulysses, and some non-fiction doorstoppers including Team of Rivals, Battle Cry of Freedom, The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, and The Cotton Kingdom (turns out Civil War books are long). I suppose some of this leisure reading could count as work reading in the sense that I write blog posts about it, and made a reading guide that I used as a subscriber giveaway, but I elected not to count it.
I ran at least a mile every single day. I will go in and figure out a mileage total at some point. Sarah and I are going to do a podcast episode on time-tracking fairly soon.
Which brings me to my question for this post: what other statistics should I try to figure out?
It has been fascinating — at least to me! — to look back over my logs. Yes, there is a certain amount of naval gazing in this but the words on the spreadsheets trigger memories in a different way than looking at old journals and photos. A photo is a moment in time. A journal tends to describe how you felt about things, and only covers the highlights. A time log gets everything. It’s also been a good reminder to me that I really like my life. There have been low moments and many mundane moments. But any year when you take the kids to Stonehenge, run barefoot on the beach (several times!), see Brad Paisley in concert, read War and Peace, sing the Faure Requiem, and launch a podcast, is a good year.
In other news: I cover time-tracking in Off the Clock as well. Perhaps that sounds like a paradox — doesn’t knowing exactly where the time is going mean you are on the clock? — but I think these concepts can work together when viewed from the right perspective. If you pre-order Off the Clock, I’ll send you the intro and chapter one so you can go ahead and start reading about this paradox. Thanks for your support!
In other other news: The new website is up! Thanks for your patience with any glitches.
*A time-tracking day, for my purposes, is 5 a.m. to 5 a.m. So “Monday” technically incorporates 5 hours of Tuesday as well. My weeks start Monday at 5 a.m. and go to the following Monday at 5 a.m.