Tracking time — care to join?

Welcome back to the first work day of the new year! There will be 8760 hours in 2021. We are approximately 81 hours into the new year as I’m writing this. Have you thought about how you’ll spend the next 8679…?

I’ve put some thought into it, though probably not as much as I could. However, I know that, come 2022, I’ll most likely know how I spent all 8760 hours, because I’ve been tracking my time for almost six years now. I write down what I’m doing on weekly spreadsheets, with 336 cells representing half-hour blocks of the 168-hour week.

If you’ve never tried tracking your time before, I highly recommend it. (You can download my spreadsheet templates here.) Time passes whether we think about how we’re spending it or not. So it’s very easy to spend time mindlessly. We also develop stories about our lives that may or may not be true. When we know where the time truly goes, we can make wise choices about it.

You don’t need to track for six years to get reasonable insights. A week is a pretty good picture of life. Even if you track your work time religiously, tracking your non-work time is useful too. Not because I believe in playing “gotcha.” I will be the first to admit that I waste plenty of time. Instead, tracking time has helped me see that I do have time for things I want to do. Back in pre-covid times, time-tracking helped me see that I did have time to sing in my church choir. I could also tackle big books. It was possible to run every day for three years.

In any case, I’m running a time-tracking challenge this week. I’ll be posting some aspects of my logs, and what I’ve learned, on this blog. If you’re reading this, now is a good time to start. My time logs start Monday at 5 a.m. — so what have you done since then? Write this down. Check in again today around 5 p.m., and then again before bed. Then tomorrow, do a mid-morning check in, a 5 p.m. check in, and one before bed. Keep going until next Monday at 5 a.m. and then you can figure out what you like (which you can celebrate!) and what you don’t. Simple as that.

If you’ve tracked your time before, I’d love to hear what you’ve learned! Apparently I need 7.3-7.4 hours of sleep per day. My averages year after year wind up right in there….

Photo: Time log. Every week it starts blank…it will be filled with something. What will you fill your 168 hours with?

11 thoughts on “Tracking time — care to join?

  1. Hi Laura, I am joining your time tracking challenge. I have previously kept a log for a week at a time and I would like to go a little longer this time, perhaps a month. The photo above is a 30-minute time block. Have you tracked your time in 15-minute blocks and why did you choose one over the other? Thanks.

    1. @Shari – I have always done 30 minute blocks. I feel like my life isn’t so regimented that 15 minute blocks make sense. People who have tighter work schedules might benefit from the 15-minute blocking. I also will use plenty of slashes and commas — when I do more than one thing in a 30 minute block, I just write more than one thing! To me, being consistent is better than being thorough.

      1. At https://mana.ai, we’ve built the best tool in the world for doing this time tracking challenge, especially if you’re looking to go for a whole month Shari! Inspired in part by Laura’s work, I’ve been tracking my time for 4 years now, and we’ve worked through all kinds of fun challenges around making it easier to track using AI/automation and integrations with things like calendars, being able to understand your data to have insights, and dealing with multi-tasking as mentioned by another comment. I’ve come a long way since my spreadsheet days =)

        Completely agreed with Laura that consistency is key, and 30min is sufficient especially early days. Mana allows you to set your default intervals, and even change them on the fly so you’re not locked in. If you end up establishing a time mindfulness habit, what I find is that people tend towards specificity once it’s easy to do so that the data is more accurate and useful to them. Think of it like anything else though, you’re only hurting yourself if you try to start at a super advanced level, work your way through the beginner steps to establish the habit, and then ease into it.

        We’d love to hear from you at Mana, you’re welcome to schedule times with our Guides for a personalized coaching session to talk through your goals https://mana.ai/guides, learn more about us at https://mana.ai, and watch this 1-min video from our feature on AMC’s NewsWatch to learn more https://newswatchtv.com/2020/11/27/mana-newswatch-review/. Good luck!

    2. I like everything to fit on one page and 15 minute blocks do not (easily) so I made the columns as wide as possible and if needed, I draw a vertical line in the middle. Apparently a lot of stuff happens at :15 and :45 for me because half way thru the first day, I already have 4 blocks split!

      Also, I’m thankful for the reminder post! I signed up in early December and of course completely forgot!

  2. By tracking my time, I realized I spent too many minutes lying in bed scrolling. I bought an alarm clock, the phone found a new home in the kitchen, and I have more time to read books at night and in the morning with my coffee before the kids wake.

  3. Let’s make the most of the time we have. I’m so excited to be a part of this, Laura & all. I’ve found Toggl (through your recommendation) and it now even syncs with Google Calendars, so really, what’s my excuse? 🙂 Wishing you & your family a happy & healthy 2021. Thank you for all that you do for us. xo

  4. I tracked my time for a year from Sept 2018-19. Many good insights! At the time I was coming off an extremely busy work season and had just found out I was pregnant with #3. My first thought was that I was going to have to make a major change to my work life, but before making any moves I wanted the objective data about my life and time so I set out to track a couple months.

    One insight is that I definitely think many people overestimate how much they work (in my corporate environment). I may have worked a really long Monday & Tuesday, but then left early Friday, took a couple hours off for a kid appt on Thursday, and then subtract a few mid-day workouts and the work week was actually really reasonable. The long days/nights can get amplified in our memory so it’s really helpful to see the objective picture here. I know you have written a lot about this.

    Another is that I spend a lot of time with my kids! This made it easier to say leave for an hour or two on the weekend for a workout class or something with a friend, something earlier in parenthood I would have felt guilty about. This is especially true looking over a year when you add up vacation times and school breaks. One observation though was that for me kid time and work time were inversely related, i.e. a heavy work week didn’t affect my sleep or exercise totals, but it did reduce kid time.

    Lastly I think tracking my time may lead to seeking more “four way wins” (a concept from Total Leadership). A walking meeting would count as both exercise and work, biking with the kids both exercise and kids. Overall it also helps shifting to thinking about time on a weekly basis vs daily which you’ve written about and I think is a total game-changer for feeling like you have more time.

    1. @Maria – glad to hear all of this! Yep, many of us overestimate work hours because those long ones stick in our brains. We also underestimate kid time because everyone *knows* that working mothers are neglecting their kids, right? Turns out, not so much. It is OK to go to the gym for an hour on a Saturday. Definite Stew Friedman fan over here so I’m glad that you are using the concept from Total Leadership!

  5. I keep trying to do the time tracking– but I am sure I have the same problem/question as many people. How do you account for the near constant multi-tasking? Or is the time chart supposed to identify and help stop the constant multi-tasking? I am often making breakfast, checking work email and drafting responses, discussing plans for the day with my husband, and trying to get dressed. That’s just 7:30-8:00.

    It doesn’t get “cleaner” with the work day beginning my kids are remote learning as I remote work and I am often stopping what I am doing to help them, make them a snack, but also I stop to search something on the internet, renew library books online once I get a overdue email notice refill my coffee, and text with me sister. How do I account for that in 9:30-10am?

    Do I keep it general or specific? Am I overthinking this?

    1. @Elena- try not to overthink it. Lots of people multi-task I don’t write down every email check or every time I get up to get water or go to the bathroom or anything like that. I try to think about what I generally did. And if there is definitely more than one thing going on, I’ll use a slash (/) or commas. As in, “H feed/read/scroll” – this tends to be when I’m nursing the baby and reading on my phone and checking social media.

  6. This is not the year for me to try this challenge but I would like to next year. I’m on maternity leave with a newborn so life is vastly different than it normally is and I am watching a ton of Great British Baking show since I feel pretty trapped on the couch for much of the day. Ha! But I am still making time to read so it’s not a total loss of productivity! 😉

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