About once a year, I do something somewhat tedious, but so worth it because of the insights it brings me.
This is something I do with all of my clients to help them understand where their time is going. To help them get a baseline.
And I also like to make sure I practice what I preach.
Now, if you’re hiding in the corner when you hear me say “time tracking” you wouldn’t be alone. But read on anyway!
Time tracking can help you to get some insight that you can’t get on gut feeling alone.
If you tell me you know where your time is going, I’m not sure I’m going to believe you.
Why? Because time is subjective!
When you’re doing fun stuff, time flies. Hanging out with your friends? 5 hours go by in the flash. Doing your taxes? An hour feels like an eternity.
So, why else should you track time?
There are 4 key reasons tracking time can be a useful tool:
- It helps you to identify non-essential and/or time-consuming tasks.
- When you track your time you’re able to see, over time, the types of things that are taking a lot of your time but which actually don’t feel like a great use of your time. Once I had a client who realized she was spending 2.5 hours a day driving and most of it was driving her husband to and from work. Once we realized that, we could come up with a solution. The solution? Her husband could take the bus!
- When tracking your time you can start to identify what you can delegate, outsource, or even stop doing altogether.
2. It helps you to understand how much time you spend on tasks and projects.
- In fact, here are a couple of extreme findings from some of my clients:
- I worked with someone once who realized he was spending 4 hours a day on reddit and youtube in 2 minute chunks. He thought it was a lot. But he thought “a lot” was around an hour. In tracking his time he was shocked.
- I’ve also seen results go the opposite direction. Once I was working with an attorney who felt like he wasn’t spending much time with his kids. When he time tracked, he realized he was spending about 3 times more time with his kids than he thought. It’s just that that kiddo time is fun, so it goes quickly.
- And here’s the thing, even without the flux in time perception, humans are notoriously bad at time estimation. When you track your time, you can learn to make better estimates. If your estimates are really off, here are a few reasons that might be.
3. It help you stay focused.
- In the wise words of Peter Drucker, “What gets measured, gets managed.” Tracking your time heightens your moment to moment awareness of where your time is going. And increased awareness can help you make better decisions. If you’ve ever tracked food, you know that you’re a bit less likely to eat that cupcake if you have to write it down. (And also, for the record, this is a no-shame zone. If you want that cupcake, eat that cupcake!)
- Same thing goes for your time. When you track your time, it’s not as though you can’t do things that might qualify as the “cupcakes of time”, you know, like Instagram and Tiktok. But you’ll do it more mindfully. You’ll do it on purpose. If you’re tracking, you’ll likely feel better about how you’re spending your time because you’re going to be more intentional about it.
- In fact, for this reason alone, many of my clients continue to track their time even after we’ve got the data we need to do an analysis.
4. It help you to ensure how you spend your time is aligned with your goals and values.
- When you’re done tracking your time, you get to ask yourself a few questions that will help you take action and make some changes. The questions I like to ask are:
- What were you surprised by?
- What do you want to be doing more of?
- What do you want to be doing less of?
- When were you stressed?
- What did you stress about?
How often should I track my time?
Now, you might be wondering, “How often should someone track their time?”. You might be wondering if it’s something you should do ALL the time? Or you might just want to know how often I do it personally.
YMMV, but I don’t track all the time. Personally, I think that the data I get from periodic time tracking is very useful. But I find time tracking itself to be just a little bit tedious. So I track my time about 2 weeks a year, just to level set.
But if you’ve never done this before, start with 1 week and see what you learn.
What I learned from my most recent time tracking experiment
And, I recently tracked my time for a 2 week stretch and I thought you might be interested in the data.
Here are the highlights:
Childcare: average of 25 minutes a day
- This was a real shock to me, but man, these teenage years are different. The kids are so self-sufficient now. Both my kids get themselves to and from school on public transit. One thing I noticed that was interesting is that instead of classifying time with my kids as “childcare” as I used to when they were younger, I was much more likely to classify this time as “leisure — hanging with friends and family”.
- Chores: average of 52 minutes a day
- This is an interesting one. My kids do A LOT of the household chores in our house. They clean the kitchen daily, they deal with all the garbage, recycle and compost, they do their own laundry. But, somehow I’ve still got almost an hour a day of chores on my plate. Next time I want to dive deeper. What chores am I still doing?? And how can I get rid of them??
- Goofing Off (Facebook/Internet Rabbit-hole/Etc.): average of 37 min/day
- I’m not a big social media person. But I do have an unhealthy obsession with TikTok. So much so that I have some very strict, brightline rules around it. I don’t allow myself to open TikTok during the workday, or on weekday evenings. I know from experience that I just don’t have the self control to stop once I’ve started. So I only let myself go there on weekends. Hence, this is probably more like a couple of hours a day on the weekends vs. 37 minutes a day.
- Leisure: average of 5 hours 12 minutes per day
- I was delighted by this. This feels good to me. Recently I wrote this article about the recent study around the sweet spot for free time. I’m a little over the top edge.
- Also, I’m tracking weekends as well, so while this is the average, I’m getting a lot more leisure on weekends than I am on weekdays. It’s about 2–3 hours a day on weekdays.
- What do I consider leisure? For me it’s reading, tv/movies, social activities with friends and family and crafting/making (most recently, I’ve been down a crochet rabbit-hole).
- Exercise: average of 20 minutes per day
- I wish this were more, but this seems accurate. I typically exercise for about 45 minutes, every other day.
- Sleep: average of 7:42 per day
- I feel this is a good amount of sleep but it’s actually more like 6.5 to 7 hours on weekdays and 10+ hours on weekends. I wish I could get more consistent sleep, but I’m a night person and it’s hard for me to fall asleep before 12:30/1am AND I have to be up at 7 on weekdays to get my kids breakfast and get them out the door.
- Work: average of 7.5 hours a day 5 days per week
- This feels alright but was actually a bit more than I expected.
What I’m going to change or experiment with based on this data
There’s no point in tracking if I’m not analyzing the data and making some changes for the better. So, what am I going to do with this knowledge?
- This feels good. No changes.
- I may track what chores I’m actually doing, so I can see if these are things I can outsource. In my ideal world, I’m not doing chores :)
- Goofing Off (Facebook/Internet Rabbit-hole/Etc.)
- This also feels ok. I’m at peace with my love of TikTok and my current boundaries seem to be working to keep the scrolling in check when I need to get other things done.
- No change! Very happy about this.
- I’d love to get this up to 30 mins per day. I’ve been meaning to do some more strength training exercises, so perhaps I can work in a couple of strength training sessions on the days I don’t run.
- I’m going to add this to my calendar and experiment.
- I’d like to be more consistent here. I’m not sure I can make myself go to sleep any earlier (trust me, I’ve tried), but maybe, maybe I can shoot for 30 minutes earlier. I’m going to try to just have my light off by 11:45 every day and see what happens.
- And I just set a “get ready for bed” alarm for 11pm.
- One other thing that I’ve been experimenting with is taking a nap after my kids go to school. So I’m up with then from 7–7:30, and then I take a nap from 7:30 to 8:30 and get ready before my first clients at 9am. Its not ideal, but it’s getting me a bit more sleep time on weekdays
- I’d actually love to work a bit less (don’t we all?!) so I’m going to add some additional time boundaries in my calendar.
- In the past, I’ve felt that 30 hours a week is my sweet spot. (I know, I know, this is an incredible luxury.) When I worked for others as a W2 employee, I worked with my employers to work out a 30 hour schedule at 75% pay. That trade off was worth it to me. Now that I work for myself, and it’s a similar tradeoff. The less I work, the less I make. However, this tradeoff still makes sense for me, and helps me to be in that sweet spot for leisure time without giving up sleep or exercise.
So, now you have a window into my world and how my time gets spent.