And we’re off!

A warm Monday welcome to everyone who is participating in the September 2023 Time Tracking Challenge. The goal is to track time from now until Sunday — 168 hours — to see where the time really goes. When we know where the time really goes, we can celebrate what’s working and maybe change some things that aren’t.

My weeks — for time tracking purposes — always start at 5 a.m. Monday morning. I’m usually not awake then, but that’s when my time log begins. You can download a time tracking spreadsheet here if you’d like (I use the 30-minute Excel version).

Today is in some ways a typical Monday, though it’s also a day of remembrance. Last night my high schooler asked for my 9/11 recollections as part of a class assignment (to ask your parents where they were). I remember waking on that Tuesday morning with the too-blue sky 22 years ago in my apartment in northwest DC. As I got on the Metro that morning, people were talking about the planes, sharing the news. I arrived for my internship at USA Today, which was then located in Rosslyn, VA. Shortly after taking the elevator up to my floor, a colleague told us that his wife, who was at home near the Pentagon, had heard a plane come in low. We heard on the TV news that the Pentagon had been hit. So, we walked to the window — and saw the Pentagon on fire.

It was a chaotic day and a chaotic next few days in DC. We were evacuated from the building — as no one knew what other planes were coming in — but then were allowed back in. The Wednesday paper that had been planned was, of course, completely redone. As the section editor noted, “there’s only one story.”

I remember that day very specifically, but most of time does fade over the years. That is one reason I have kept time tracking, long past any desire to know how many hours I spend reading or doing chores or what have you. Looking at my time logs helps me call back up memories. As I archived my Sept 4 2023 time log this morning (last Monday was the 4th and I name logs for the Monday start) I looked at my Sept 4 2017 log (the last time the 4th was a Monday). We did a family picnic on that Labor Day to a local park where my then 2-year-old actually picked up dog poop (ah, parenthood) and I remember going out to New Jersey later that week for a friend’s child’s bar mitzvah, among other things. I haven’t thought of any of that consciously in a while, but when I see it, it is there.

Anyway, this morning (after not sleeping terribly well – sigh – I don’t think I can still blame jet lag but maybe) I woke up at 6:30. I went to check that my 16-year-old was getting up. I usually shower, but didn’t since I did last night as part of dying my hair (yep – I do my own). I made my coffee and then made a grocery list for our nanny to pick up while the little guy is at preschool.

The 16-year-old and my husband left shortly after 7, at which point I woke up the 11-year-old. Normally I would have gotten the 13-year-old up too, but he had an 8 a.m. orthodontist appointment, so he could sleep a tiny bit later. I ate my breakfast (fried eggs), then got the 13-year-old up, and got the 11-year-old into the van just as my husband was returning from the first run.

I drove her down to the bus stop at 7:32 (we have a really long driveway – so even though the stop is in front of my neighbors’ it takes the kids a while to get there or else they’re tromping through very wet grass). As she was getting out she announced “My trumpet!” Yep, it was forgotten. I told her to get out and get on the bus if it came but I would try to be back in time. So I hustled that van back up the hill, ran in, retrieved the trumpet from the mudroom, went back down the hill and got it to her. Phew! (With a reminder to bring it home, as she has a lesson later today.)

When I got back to the house, my husband was bringing the dog out, and the 8-year-old and 3-year-old were on their way down to the kitchen. I got them breakfast as my husband took the 13-year-old off to his orthodontist appointment. My 8-year-old isn’t really allowed on electronics in the morning, so he got the bright idea to play with the 3-year-old’s Kindle with him — I was OK with it because they were playing nicely together. I got the 3-year-old dressed, and our nanny arrived shortly after 8. I chatted with her about the day’s schedule, and was in my office to start work at 8:15…

…at which point I remembered that the 3-year-old was supposed to take apples to school, so I re-emerged to get those packed up. Then he had to go potty and insisted I take him. So it was back to the desk at 8:20. Still, not too bad (my goal is to be sitting down to work by 8:15 every morning).

I finished the previous week’s time log (and looked at 2017’s), did my “rituals” (2 lines in the sonnet plus reading Jane Austen – I’m almost done with Sanditon, an unfinished work), organized my day, responded to a few things and now am posting this around 9:30.

If you are tracking your time this week, it’s a good idea to start filling in your log before lunch time. Most people can remember the past few hours pretty well. Past that it gets a little more challenging. So you might want to set an alarm for mid/late afternoon, and then one for evening as well.

That said, even if you do forget to log some time today it’s fine to approximate what you can and just keep going. Getting a holistic look at an entire 168 hours is more important than the details of a few hours on any given day. Good luck!

Photo: Just a tranquil picture, nothing related to this post…

7 thoughts on “And we’re off!

  1. I’ve had an on and off relationship with time tracking for decades. It’s certainly not new to me, learning about the idea from Peter Drucker at an IBM project management training in c. 1975. But it’s always been a challenge (no pun intended) for me in several ways. The root of my difficulties with time tracking is ADHD (mostly attention deficit), which I finally had diagnosed very late as an adult.
    My solution, which is almost reliable and certainly better than anything before, is a software tool of my own creation.
    But regardless of the tool, I’m in this challenge for the whole week, beginning at 5am, when I eased into the nearest chair for my first meditation of the day. So far, so good.

    1. @Laurence – nice work on the 5 a.m. meditation! Yep, ADHD can make recording more difficult. But I also think knowing how time is spent can help people with ADHD make choices and adjustments, so it can be worth at least attempting. I’m glad your software is making it easier!

      1. Laura, Just back from my morning walk and saw your reply. Thanks.
        While walking, I remembered that time tracking helps support good planning and sticking to plan. That ties directly into what I was having trouble with when I decided to be evaluated for ADHD.
        The ADHD evaluation process and follow-up counselling underscored the importance of systems and tools to help me stay on track. A futile search for a useful time management/tracking tool, and dramatic improvements in “no-code” app development tools pushed me to begin building a tool that works for me.
        But the reality of ADHD and some weaknesses in my app still present hurdles to staying on top of my time tracking.
        I *know* that time tracking helps counteract ADHD to get more done every day, and ADHD is the primary barrier to time tracking, but this 168 hour challenge is the right thing to help me stay on track, at least for this week.

        1. Any tips on keeping up with time tracking would be most welcome! I’m supposed to track for work and it’s such a bear. I really struggle to keep up with it.

          1. Lily,
            I’m not sure what level of detail you need to track for work, but I’m reminded of a banker and friend who simply kept a composition notebook with her at all times (at work).
            She started each new day on a new page, and whenever she transitioned from one meeting or activity to another, noted the time, any closing remarks about what was just finished, and what was being started. For her, it had become part of muscle memory to pull out the notebook at every transition and interruption.
            That didn’t work for me, but it might be helpful for you.
            With this approach, at any significant break, you can eyeball the amounts of time for key categories and enter them in the time tracker sheet.
            Just one perspective on making it easy so it can become a habit.

          2. @Lily – if there are any natural break points in your day you could always make a habit of tracking then – like when you sit back down after a water/snack/bathroom break you write down what you’ve done. If you have planned out the day closely that can help with tracking – not that life always follows the plan, but you generally know that you were planning to work on X from 8:30-10:30 so most likely your log will say you worked on X. Maybe some lawyers here can check in with their strategies for making the 6-minute increment tracking work…

  2. I like the bit about how looking back at your time logs helps you call up memories.
    I just finished reading Ray Bradbury’s Dandelion Wine, and there’s a scene at the end of the book (the end of summer, coincidentally) where the grandfather is saying how all the days blur together as you get older. The ten-year-old grandson is recalling all the fun things he did each day that week and saying he’ll always remember (but we know he won’t).
    I guess that’s another unexpected benefit of time tracking. It’s nice to be able to look back and remember when I had ice cream at that place on the boardwalk, or the day I noticed the leaves begin to turn. I think it makes life more meaningful and keeps the days from all blurring together.

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