Every half hour for the past five years

Since I started writing about time, I’d tracked my time here and there. I’ve looked at thousands of other time logs over the years, so this only seemed fair! But then in April 2015, I began a larger project: tracking my time, continuously. I originally planned to do a month. That stretched into a year. (I suspected I could write about it somewhere…and I did!)

I am about to hit the five year mark now. Yep, I have a record of how I’ve spent every half hour for the past five years. Time tracking has become just a part of my life. I don’t find it onerous. I generally have my spreadsheet open on my laptop. I check in a few times per day, and write down what I’ve done since the last check-in. If I don’t wish to open my laptop for some reason (weekend/holiday/etc.) I’ll keep notes on a piece of paper and then transfer them in later. I can reconstruct up to about 24 hours with reasonable accuracy, though I tend not to let it go that long.

There are some interesting parallels between now and five years ago. I have had babies both times who are about the same age (3.5 months). I can see their feeding/sleeping schedules settling into something more regular. Of course, back then I actually left the house on occasion, something that’s absent from my current life. On the plus side, though, we’re eating family dinner seven days a week, with a reasonable number of family lunches and family breakfasts too.

For the past two years, I haven’t really been adding up totals for hours spent on various categories. At this point my logs serve more of a diary function. It was fun to look at the week of spring break last year to compare it to this one. While I vaguely remember plenty about that week, seeing the log makes the memories far more concrete. I’m also glad I have a record of exactly how I spent the first few weeks of kid #5’s life. It’s the sort of data that’s seldom collected — but could be of interest in the future.

If you’ve never tried tracking time, I highly recommend it. (That link will take you to my time-tracking spreadsheets that you can download). You don’t have to track five years (though you could! It really isn’t that hard!) But tracking a week is good. Tracking a week every few months could give you a good picture of life — and preserve memories that you can then conjure up later.

Photos: The top one is kid #5, the one in the post is kid #4…bit of a brotherly resemblance! 

14 thoughts on “Every half hour for the past five years

  1. I have tracked my time for over 20 years. Having started my career as a management consultant, I simply applied the time tracking I did for my job to my personal life, and it was eye-opening. On the personal front, I could see if I was really focused on exercise, family and other priorities that are too easy to overlook. On the professional side, once I went into business for myself, the time tracking told me whether I was really spending time on sales or general marketing or, worse, operations that don’t bring in business. I also could see how long projects really took so my proposals got more accurate over time. Time tracking is a game changer.

  2. Every time I read your post on tracking time, I am motivated to do it! But how do you keep consistent with this habit? I keep starting and restarting.

    1. @Keeptrying – I just check in 3-4 times a day and write what I’ve done since the last check-in. It might help to set a cue (like every time you get up to go to the bathroom) or set an alarm to remind you. This is especially important on weekends when it’s harder to remember.

  3. Ah I’ve always been curious how you tracked your totals. Big Excel nerd here and I use your spreadsheet and then have sum counts at the bottom that catch key words such as “work” “kids” “drive”. Makes it really slick to track pattens (for me the goal is mainly how much time I am really working and how much time I am with my kids), but I don’t do the diary piece which would be super fun to have a record of too. Maybe I will have to try that for a week!

    1. @Maria – yes, I decided that the diary part was interesting enough to forego some of the ease of data capture. Different people will make different choices on that.

  4. It is SO awesome how much you have tracked!!! Love this kind of stuff. Would love to see a post (or maybe podcast episode?) about “cool” things you have on your log from the past five years – like maybe events that only showed once, for one half hour and then never again or something. Congrats on 5 years!!

    1. @Molly – thanks! And interesting idea- what have I done for ONLY half an hour in the past five years? Maybe ice skating…

  5. Hi Laura, I did some time tracking a while ago and it was so eye-opening that I will do it again. It made me realise how much time I really do have with the kids, that time isn’t actually my limiting factor (despite working, running 2 businesses and having 3 kids), mental energy is my limiting factor. I am terrible at predicting how long things will take and suspect I am frittering a bit of time away again so will re-start the tracking – especially if I am going to make progress on my list of 100 (or maybe 48) dreams!

    1. @Megan – it is eye-opening! Yep, I often see that there is time, it’s just that other things aren’t in alignment. Which is good to know!

  6. I am coming close to my 2-year mark of time tracking (since I read one of your books at the time), and was feeling like it was worth celebrating a little. Congrats on your 5 years Laura! and thank you for the post, I enjoyed reading it.

  7. I always feel so motivated when I see you post about time-tracking but am quite confident I wouldn’t stick with it. I can’t even make a guess at how many diaries I have started and abandoned. I hate feeling like I’ve failed, so have opted not to even start the official time-tracking, though I probably should.

    BUT – and I realize this is not the same thing as time tracking – I have been doing monthly family updates for years now. When something interesting, big or little, crops up in our lives, I go in to the current month draft in my e-mail and write it down. The day my littlest rode his bike without training wheels. Documented. The fact that my daughter’s soccer jersey number just happened to be her lucky number. Documented. That new cool trail we found and hiked as a family. It’s all there. I send a selection of fun pictures from the month as well, and circulate it out to interested family and friends (my mailing list keeps on growing!). It’s about 2-3 pages single spaced in the end. Then I copy and save the text in to a Word Doc.

    I’m currently in the process of collating all these e-mails in to Blurb book (I’ll print a few copies for the kids to have when they’re grown/myself). I’m also going to include our yearly Christmas update letters, and the monthly updates I did on each of my kids during their first 2 years.

    Maybe it’s because of my Obliger tendancies, but because I know so many people are expecting to receive this update e-mail, I always follow through.

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