I have been tracking my time continuously since April 2015. I am often asked about this in interviews: the logistics, what I record, what I do with the data. The other day, a podcaster posed a question that I thought revealed a fascinating, though I think common, perspective on time.
“So what happens on weekends, or vacations?” he asked (I am paraphrasing here). “Do you just draw a line through the log on those days?”
Inherent in this question is that there would be no reason to track time on weekends (or holidays). These days are (or should be) exempt from any accountability. Or perhaps it’s that time-tracking is associated with work (e.g. billing time to clients) and hence there is no reason to think about issues of productivity on days that don’t feature clients.
It’s not an uncommon view. When I’ve had people track their time for corporate workshops, some simply don’t track the weekends. If this were about privacy, I would understand, but often people share fairly personal details of things that happen during the week. They simply assume weekends are exempt or of no interest. If you ask people to recount a “typical” day, almost no one will describe a Saturday or Sunday, even though these days comprise 29 percent of the week, and weekdays themselves may vary enough that no given one should obviously be “typical.”
Or there’s this: I often note how, with 168 hours in a week, if you work 40 and sleep 8 per night (56 per week) there are 72 hours for other things. So the idea that, say, a mother with a full-time job would never see her kids (a frequent assertion) is false. One of the first times I wrote this, a letter writer responded that “Yes, but almost all this time is on the weekend.”
Inherent in this thought: weekends don’t count. This isn’t real time.
But why would this be true? Time is time. And weekends represent a lot of time. There are 60 hours between that 6 p.m. Friday beer and that 6 a.m. Monday morning alarm clock. Assuming 8 hours/sleep per night still gives you 36 hours of waking time. Any vision of time that fails to account for these 36 hours is going to be incomplete. Writing them off creates false scarcity (“I have no time to read! I have no time to exercise!”)
Embracing these hours shows just how much time we have.
So I responded to the interview question that no, I still track my time on weekends and vacations. These are part of life, and I’m trying to get a good picture of my life. To me, time-tracking doesn’t have the negative connotations of billing time to clients in 6-minute increments. It’s more like keeping a journal. Perhaps more importantly: it only takes me 3 minutes per day. This is the same amount of time I spend brushing my teeth. I don’t think “boy, I can’t wait for the weekend or a vacation so I can stop brushing my teeth and really relax.” It’s just not a big deal, and there’s a pretty big payoff: no cavities on the teeth front, and pretty good weekends, both because I’m conscious of this time, and because the logs help me remember this time afterwards.
Last Saturday, for instance, I went for a run in the morning. We went in the pool together as a family right before lunch. Then we loaded the car and drove an hour north to Kutztown, where we went to the local agricultural fair. For $10 a person, we got unlimited rides (pictured: my 8-year-old went on this wretched “Super Round-Up” spinning thing 7 times — yikes) and saw a reasonably good ventriloquist perform (plus lots of animals!) We drove home in early evening, got the 3-year-old to bed, and then my husband and I did an in-home date night. He made crab cakes and we had a tomato salad from the garden. I read a lot of Infinite Jest.
If I didn’t acknowledge and account for this time, it might be easy to tell myself different stories about my life. I might emphasize the 11 fairly intense interviews about my book that I’ve crammed into the last two days. With a complete time log, I know that’s only part of the picture. Because weekends are real days too.
In other news: I am on vacation next week and though I will be tracking my time, I will probably not be blogging. If I can get access to Wifi I will try to post about the podcast next Tuesday, which features a great interview with KJ Dell’Antonia, author of the new book How to be a Happier Parent. We recorded the interview from her hotel room in Philadelphia when she was here last month. Even if I can’t get Wifi, I hope you will check that out, and check out her book too!