Another 8760 hours: Notes on a third year of time tracking

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.

13 thoughts on “Another 8760 hours: Notes on a third year of time tracking

  1. The new website looks great, congrats! Have you ever shared on the blog a sample time-tracking spreadsheet that you have filled in? I get so caught up in the details and eventually bail–I’d love to see how high-level yours is such that you can get it done in under 3 minutes a day!

    1. @Holly- a lot of it really is entries like “breakfast with kids” then “work” repeated about 6 times, then lunch, then “work” with maybe “ready, run” then “run (3.1)” then “work” a few more times and “kids here, ready, drive to swim” or “dinner with family” “clean up, read” “read, kid showers” “ready for bed, sleep” “sleep” (repeated hopefully many times!) Weekends or travel might be slightly more interesting.

  2. I would love to see if there are seasonal patterns to your life. Do you read more in the winter? Spend more time with kids in the summer? Also, could you write a post about the nitty-gritty analysis of your time logs? Do you use the count function in Excel? Do you semi-code them when you log time? For example, “work” vs. “wrote article for X” or “childcare” vs. “helped child X with homework”.

  3. Three cheers for Frontera at O’Hare! The corn and poblano chowder plus their salad with avocado and cojita cheese makes travel a little less grim.

    As for other metrics to track: maybe new restaurants tried, total flights and plane rides, new-to-you local businesses patronized, items donated/purged (if you find yourself leaning more that way), new recipes tried, ambitious charitable goals met. Oh, and net worth / home equity / retirement savings (understanding that’s private, but man is it fascinating). I love looking back at these metrics over the course of the year; they add a real richness to the passing time.

  4. Wow! Congrats on running at least a mile for 365 days in a row! I went on a kick and read/listened to all of your books the last couple of months and appreciate your perspective & tips. I have been up before the kids to take advantage of walks for 30 days in a row (except Easter!), thanks to some strategies from “I Know How She Does It”. In addition to the welcome exercise and thinking time, I have seen shooting stars, and this morning…a tiny burrowing owl taking a little dip in a puddle. Thank you! And I will continue to follow along your journey and am looking forward to your upcoming books.

    1. @Margaret B – there can be some great moments on those early morning walks. Even just seeing the worms burrowing on wet ground. So glad you found my books and have found something helpful in them!

  5. I’m looking forward to the time tracking podcast. Despite reading your books and downloading your time tracking guides, I’ve still never tracked my time!

  6. Hi Laura – I have been enjoying your podcast and getting different perspectives on how to handle family, career, life!! I do have a question about how you track your time and maybe you have discussed this somewhere. But, do you carry a piece of a paper with you all day, do you have a timer to remember to write it down? Essentially I can’t figure out how you track your time! Thanks!
    Michelle

    1. @Michelle – I use an excel spreadsheet that is on my laptop. Since I have a home office, the laptop tends to live there, and even on weekends it’s not a big deal to pop in there 2-3 times a day to fill in what I did since the last check-in. I tend to take my laptop with me when I travel, so it’s pretty easy to fill it in on the road as well. If I’m going to be away from my laptop for 24+ hours, I take notes on a piece of paper and transfer the time log later when the laptop is available.

      So glad you’re enjoying the podcast!

  7. It’d be interesting to differentiate between ‘focused’ work and non-focused work. Sometimes I can get a whole lot done in 30 minutes, and during other times, I start a project and then ‘get lost’…

  8. How much time are you spending intentionally with your kids each week? I tracked my time and I am not happy with this number (24) but I worry if I am being realistic in how much time that should be. I don’t track time they are around as kid time (like if they are eating breakfast while I am packing lunches), only time I am interacting with them- chatting, cuddling, playing etc. I guess I want to know if I need better perspective or if I need to work to improve how often I interact with my kids. I feel like you would know what the average is for working moms!!

    1. @Reese – 24 hours is quite a bit for interactive time. If you look at the American Time Use Survey, this number is only about 3 hours/day (21/week) for non-employed women with kids under age 6. https://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t08c.htm. For women with jobs, it’s about 2 hours/day (14/week). So you’re definitely well above average!

      So much kid time is multi-tasked – you can be around them 24 hours a day and still spend little time chatting, cuddling, playing.

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