One of the best time management tricks I’ve ever read is to track your time for one week. What you do is keep track of alllll the things you spent your time on for an entire week, whether it’s Facebook scrolling or your weekend nap. It sounds like an onerous task, but it’s more than worth it. I’ve done this exercise more than once, and in different seasons of life, and I always learn something new. Here’s what I learned from tracking my time for a whole week this time around. You can find my best tips and tricks for tracking your own time at the end.
What happened in my week:
- Doctor – 1h 40 minutes
Last week I had to do allergy testing, which meant I had to go to the allergist several times. I’m honestly surprised that it didn’t take up more of my time, though the commute isn’t included in this. In my mind, it felt like this big, giant thing that took forever, but apparently I only spent less than two hours in the office. Though I DID spend at least that amount the week before too.
- Blog – 19 hours
I was really proud of myself for this one. I used every spare moment I had for the blog and it really paid off. With time, I’ll get better at making the time I do spend count for more.
- Drive- 7 hours
I expected this to be much longer. I’m wondering if I forgot to log a couple trips. It also might be shorter because I work 9 hour days so I can take every other Friday off. Normally I think I spend about 9 hours in the car, which is a clue that I should make sure that I put it to good use.
- Reading – 17 hours
This is another one that really surprised me. I really didn’t feel like I spent that much time reading. This also includes audiobooks, but only if I wasn’t multi-tasking. This means that the audiobooks I listened to while driving for 7 hours and while cleaning and doing dishes aren’t included, so total number of hours spent reading was probably like 28 hours. We can thank the lack of Netflix for this number.
- Sleep – 59 hours
An average of 8.4 hours per night, but that includes the multiple naps I took, which almost never happens. Laura Vanderkam shares that she’s learned through tracking her time for years that she averages about 7.4 hours of sleep each night. It seems our bodies tend to have ways for making us catch up on sleep after a while.
- Internet – 4 hours
I didn’t really keep track of what I was doing on the internet, just that I was. So this could include blog reading, social media, random research (like how to grow an avocado tree), and so on. Four hours doesn’t look too bad, but I know it’s not the whole truth. I have this app on my phone, which tells me I’m using my phone between 1-2 hours a day. Those few minutes of Facebook scrolling at a time really add up.
- Cleaning – 5.5 hours
I was surprised by how much this was because I don’t feel like I usually clean this much. This includes anything from dishes to doing laundry and putting clothes away. The good news is that I can stop feeling like such a slacker.
My Biggest Takeaways
I always learn SO MUCH when I track my time. There are always things that surprise me. Here are my biggest takeaways from the week of tracking my time.
I’m terrible at estimating how much time I spend on things
We go through life with a general feeling that we’re not spending enough time doing such and such or we’re doing too much of this thing. Impressions can be MUCH different than reality, however.
I overestimated unpleasant tasks
I honestly thought that it took me fooooorever to do the dishes after dinner. This is one of my least favorite tasks and I always dread slaving away at the kitchen sink for what feels like forever. When I started tracking my time and became more aware of how things took, I realized that it only takes like 10 minutes tops to do the dishes AND clean the entirety of our tiny kitchen. What seemed like a huge task really isn’t.
Many of the things that hung over my head and felt like huge tasks really weren’t in the end. There was an email I agonized over for two weeks. When I finally sat down to do what I thought would be excruciating work to send it out, it only took 15 minutes, and that was with me procrastinating for the first 5 minutes the timer was going! Those two weeks of worry were a lot of wasted energy.
I underestimate time spent on pleasant tasks
Just as much as I overestimated how much time tasks I didn’t like took, I underestimated how much time I was spending on things I loved. I love reading and never feel like I do it enough. Before tracking my time, I’d probably bet that I spent about an hour a day reading. And yet I spent 17+ hours reading in one week. Even more if you count the audiobooks I listened to during my 7 hours of driving and 5 hours of cleaning. That’s a lot.
I also always feel like I’m never doing “enough” for my blog, and yet I spent almost 20 hours working on it last week. With a full-time job and the general demands of life, I doubt I could squeeze in much more time. That means I can stop feeling guilty for all the things I’m not doing.
I gained more realistic estimates on how long it takes me to complete a task
Once I figured out how bad I was at estimating how much time I spend on things, I began to figure out more realistic estimates. This is beneficial for two reasons:
- It makes my planning sessions more valuable
- I’m able to plan outcomes rather than just what I’m working on
When I’m writing out a to-do list and planning out my day, I kind of write out a wish list of things I want to get done and pray it actually happens. Really my plans are more like a hail mary than an actual plan. But now that I have a better idea of how long things take, I can write my to-do list with realistic expectations and actually cross things off at the end of the day.
One time management tip that I learned from Natalie Bacon is to plan out what you’re going to accomplish in each time slot rather than what you’re working on. For example, instead of planning to “clean” you would plan, “dust and vacuum the house.” I think this is really solid advice because it makes it so much easier to take action. The downside is that my estimates for how long things will take have been SO off and then I get frustrated I didn’t achieve the result I planned. Tracking my time has definitely helped with that.
A couple minutes of minutes of Social Media here and there really add up
I don’t feel like I spend much time surfing the internet or scrolling Facebook, but my time logs and the moment app give me a different story. I’ve heard of people who will download the Kindle app and read a book when they would normally scroll through social media. They end up finishing way more books than usual. Like a book a week. Little blocks of time here and there don’t feel like a lot, but they really add up. The key is to make them add up to the things that matter to you.
I am not very good at single-tasking
Productivity experts say that multi-tasking is one of the least productive things you can possibly do. Probably because your brain isn’t actually capable of doing more than one thing at a time. So when you think you’re doing lots of things at once, you’re really just half as effective at both the things you’re trying to do. The only time multi-tasking is actually productive is when one of your tasks is pretty mindless. For example, you can easily listen to a podcast and fold laundry at the same time.
The benefit of time-tracking is that I was forced to realize how much time I “multi-task” but really just hop from one thing to another without making much headway in any category. For example, I usually have about 10 different internet tabs open and hop from one to another to another, while also texting a couple people. It makes me feel so frazzled and takes me forever to read the article or finish the email or whatever the different things are.
Single-tasking is definitely the way to go. When you track your time, it’s hard to account for 20 different tasks in a 30-minute time block, so I automatically became more aware of how much I multi-task and started working on that right away. I accomplished so much more.
How to track your time
The way we spend our time is so personal. By far the best way to figure out how to improve your own time management is to figure out what’s happening with the time you have. Here are some answers I’ve picked up along the way to all the questions I had when I first started tracking my time.
What method should I use?
Hands down, the easiest way to track your time is to print out a spreadsheet that has 30 minute blocks of time to fill out. You can get one from Laura Vanderkam’s website here.
If you’re like me, you probably think that technology must have developed a better way to track your time than by carrying around a sheet of paper. It has and it hasn’t. I used Toggl because I wasn’t very good at remembering to write stuff on the paper, and I wanted the flexibility to track more exact amounts of time, like 10 minutes instead of just 30 minutes (I’m an overachiever that way). But Toggl isn’t the most intuitive thing to use, especially if you have to backtrack and add things you forgot. The benefit, however, is that it automatically puts together reports for you at the end so you can see where all your time went. Experiment with both and see what works best!
What if I forgot to write something down?
If you forgot to track your time for a few hours (or even a day. It happens….) then the first thing you should do is start filling in what you remember. Most of the time this jogs my memory of what I did before or after and I can fill in whole days this way if I need to.
It’s tempting to completely quit if you get behind, but the information you’ll glean is so valuable, so don’t fall into the temptation! If you missed a day or two and don’t want to bother backtracking, just skip those two days and tack on a couple more at the end.
I finished tracking my time for a whole week. Now what?
Now is when you sift through the data, tally up how much you spent on what, and analyze the results. It might be tempting to skip this step, but this is where the gold is. Until you add up how much time you spend driving or Facebook scrolling or whatever it may be, your estimate is probably going to be way off. Take some time to look through where your time went.
- Give yourself a pat on the back for all the great ways you spent your time.
- Think about solutions to potential time drains.
- Think about what you’d like to spend more time on and how you can fit that in to your week.
Time management isn’t one of those things that can improve overnight, but tracking your time for a week is about as close as you can get. Just the act of writing things down makes you more aware. Analyzing the results at the end helps you come up with creative solutions to your time management woes. Most importantly, the longer you stay consistent in being aware of your time and improving how you spend it, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Before you know it you’ll be spending your days doing only the things that matter most to you.
Have you ever tracked your time? Are you going to try it now? Leave a comment and let me know what you learned!