To understand your time, track other people’s time

I have been tracking my time for more than three years now — about 40 months if I’m counting right. No one else needs to track for that long — I’m really into the concept of time management! — but I do think that tracking a week is, for most people, going to be the first step in spending time better.

Recently, blog reader Reese wrote me about a different dimension of time-tracking that she’d found helpful. Sure, tracking your own time provides insights. But sometimes the biggest insights come from tracking other people’s time.

She explains like this. “I tracked my time recently and got upset about my kid time. I only had 26 hours tracked to the [primary childcare] kid category (I use Toggl). I felt like I spend so much time with my kids and this didn’t seem right but also I felt like 26 hours was sad. The mom guilt seeped in.”

[This is Laura again. I want to pause and note that 26 interactive hours is actually a LOT. Reese works full time; according to the American Time Use Survey, the average stay-at-home mom of kids under age 6 spends 21.14 hours per week — 3.02 hours/day — on childcare as a primary activity. Much child time is multi-tasked; doing housework while the kids watch TV, for instance. Also, many kids are in school at least part-time by age 3, and little kids sleep a fair amount, limiting the available interactive time. OK, now back to Reese!]

“So I tracked another week. This time I did my normal tracking but also used tags on the Toggl app to track what my kids were up to. I had less time in the kids category — only 22 hours. But this was the breakdown of what my kids were up to:

*116 hours — they were sleeping or at daycare/camp. They also spent an afternoon at my in-laws’ farm.

*40 hours — I was interacting with them, this included time tracked in other categories like church (where a child was consistently on my lap), a BBQ at my parents’ house that I tracked as extended family time and a trip to visit friends which was tracked as friends time. This was 77 percent of the time they were available. 91 percent of the time they were available and wanted to play/cuddle/read I said yes.

*8 hours — they chose independent play such as playing in their rooms or wanting to decompress with YouTube kids instead of puzzles with me.

*4 hours — they wanted to interact but I wanted to be left alone (cleaning, wanting an actual conversation with my husband, reading).

“I thought this was very interesting. I did the same thing this week with my husband and found while only six hours were alone with him (date night!), we interacted for 26 hours during the week (same stuff like church, BBQ, trip to playground with kids).

“I left feeling good about my time. 40 hours isn’t shabby as a working mother. I managed to put in 43 hours of work, close a few big projects, try some new recipes, host a play date, get to Crossfit four times, paint my nails and I could go on and on. I love the idea of tracking because it puts things in perspective.”

As Reese noted, “Sometimes answers can come by not just tracking your time, but tracking the time of those around you.”

Now this is Laura again: I think this is a fascinating idea. I have not tracked my husband’s time, or my kids’ time, but I know that I — like everyone — go around with various stories I am telling myself. Time-tracking has helped shift some of my own stories (“I don’t have that much time to read, so it’s not worth putting in effort to figure out what to read…”). I’m guessing that tracking my family members’ time would provide some insights too. I’ve been telling myself that my 8-year-old is “always” playing video games, but he isn’t. There is school, camp, family activities, four sports spread out over the year, and enough familiarity with the printed word that he was distraught last night when two books he’d ordered from Amazon hadn’t arrived yet. My husband isn’t “always” traveling; I’ve started paying attention to this and it’s less than a third of the time.

If you’ve ever tracked your time with someone else (a family member, a work team member) I would love to hear about it! What did you discover?

7 thoughts on “To understand your time, track other people’s time

  1. I haven’t tracked other people’s time but I have tracked my own and I just love the entire idea you propose: that we do have time. I am so tired of hearing how busy everyone is and telling myself how busy I am. Well, busy with watching TV or Instagram maybe, but not actually starved for time. It’s still hard for me to integrate this fully into my own thinking but I am so glad I found your books.

  2. I haven’t exactly tracked my family’s time, but I did do something similar: in a quest to make the most of our summer together, I decided in the spring to devote summer Fridays to an activity with my three kids. They’re in middle and high school now, and I’m aware of how quickly time passes. I work from home on Fridays, so I figured it would be easy to fit a museum trip or bowling around my schedule.

    When I checked all the dates that we four would be together, we were left with exactly three Fridays from June to September. It wasn’t that I was busy on the other days–they were. One was flying alone to visit a grandmother for two weeks, one’s band camp started Aug. 1, one was going on vacation with a friend’s family, etc. Older kids just start doing more on their own.

    It was a very freeing exercise, and it allowed me to make the most of those three precious Fridays together with more focus than I might have had if I thought “oh, we have the whole summer to do this.”

    1. @Marie – very true that kids can get busy! Three Fridays is a doable amount, and good for optimizing, because you know it’s not limitless.

  3. So excited to have Off the Clock arrive in my New Zealand letterbox yesterday. Torn between devouring it tonight or savouring it one chapter a day…

  4. Wow, this is insightful! I have been tracking my time for over two weeks now, and I learn a lot from it. Will apply this as a next step! Thanks Reese and Laura!

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