As a longtime tech professional in Silicon Valley, I have come to appreciate the value of good data. I have mined thousands of data points for insights, creating various reports for work. I also love apps like MyFitnessPal that help me track and monitor the amount of calories I consume. I especially like Orange Theory Fitness for its detailed monitoring and reports on calories burned and time spent in various heart rate categories.
So when I heard about people tracking their time, I was game to give it a try and determine how wisely I spend my hours. While Instagram can tell you how you spend your time in that app, there is no shortcut to tracking all your time other than to keep a detailed spreadsheet and be as diligent and honest as possible about entering your hours. I began with a head start, because I already track my hours for work, and I have a format I prefer. I decided to categorize my hours very carefully to make sure I could analyze my tasks, breaking out work clearly from other activities. For example, I categorized all tasks with columns like laundry, cooking, cleaning, driving, reading, watching TV and spending time on my phone — and carefully noted how much time I spent on these activities each day. Mining data professionally has taught me that you need crisp and clear categorizations, and writing a list describing how I spent each 15 minute increment in my day would not provide me with the best insights.
The downside? Tracking your time is VERY tedious, and I would not want to do it every month. However, I think I gained enough useful information to make the exercise worthwhile. And, I have made some changes based on my learnings. Here are my key takeaways:
1. I drive more than I thought I did
My kids go to a school that is not within walking distance. They also have after school activities I drive them to. But because these activities are relatively close to each other and our home (with the exception of my daughter’s ballet), I didn’t really notice that 15 minute drives multiple times a day add up. On average, I drove about one hour each day of May. During drive time, I often listened to podcasts and had conversations with the kids. But primarily I drove. I realized that it is important to factor driving into my daily routine.
2. I spend too much time on my phone
It begins innocently enough. I’m winding down in the evening. I check my work email, then my texts. Then I check social media, then I see an article that interests me, and BAM. Thirty minutes later, I am still on my phone, rooting for raccoons climbing skyscrapers. This is not time I meant to spend, and it’s not what I would deem “quality time.” I spent almost one and a half hours on this nonsense every day in May, and I want my daily phone time to be less moving forward.
3. There’s a difference between watching TV with someone, and watching it alone
Part of my “winding down” at night routine is watching Netflix by myself. I don’t think my current obsession of re-watching every episode of “Parks and Recreation” is a great use of my time. But, TV I watch with others feels like time well spent. The problem is it’s harder to agree on something to watch together; there is so much quality TV that serves so many different niches. There literally is some kind of TV programming for everyone, so decision fatigue can set in when you try to choose something everyone wants to watch. Be that as it may, watching “Downton Abbey” with my daughter or “Babylon Berlin” with my husband created a sense of closeness and fun. Which is probably better than watching Ron Swanson drive off in a huff with a grill tied to his car, yet again. Probably. This month I am trying to watch more TV with others than by myself.
4. I sleep an average of 8.25 hours a night – and that’s OK
A while back, I got a chance to ask Arianna Huffington (author of The Sleep Revolution among many other things) how parents should cope when they are up at night with a sick kid, then have to work the next day. This was not a hypothetical question–I had spent the night before struggling with an ill child. She stated her research showed something like 90% of the world’s population needs between 7-8 hours of sleep. Ever since then, I have not felt like a loser for needing my sleep at night. I generally go to bed pretty early (9:30 PM) and I don’t feel badly about it anymore.
5. I am most productive in the morning
I wake up early, and it turns out I produce my best work during the morning hours. For whatever reason, I am able to think critically, decipher and write about complicated concepts and generally push through the most difficult tasks before the noon hour. There were several instances in May when I stared at my screen for an hour during the afternoons, struggling to write even a few sentences. I am also at my best for meetings and calls in the morning. Knowing that I am a morning worker helps me plan my day accordingly. Working from home also helps me to be more flexible; I roll out of bed at 5:30 AM, work until I make the kids breakfast then complete most of my work before my brain starts to tire (at about 2 PM).
6. The time I spent with friends stands out
In May, my college friends and I met up for our annual girls weekend. The time I spent with my friends during that full weekend of activities is what I remember most during the month of May. There was so much rich conversation, community and bonding. I am so grateful I can spend time with friends I have that kind of history with.
7. I didn’t spend enough quality time with my husband
I only spent 38 minutes a day with just my husband. While we spent lots of time as a family together, the two of us didn’t have much alone time, and that’s not what I want. This month I’ve made sure we have regular date nights. I’m also trying to spend about an hour watching TV with him before I head off to bed.
8. I “cook” more than I thought
The word cook deserves to be in air quotes, as I typically prepare things like scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, salads, steamed vegetables, pasta, and other types of low-maintenance foods (while my husband grills seafood and meats). I also heat up various Trader Joes products. So, we’re not talking Julia Child level cuisine. Still, what I do takes more time than I thought, as I spent roughly 1.3 hours cooking a day. I don’t know that there are any time saving lessons to learn here, but what I noticed is we don’t go out to eat pretty much ever as a family, and we eat most dinners together. I think our dinners would be more special if I was trying out new recipes more frequently, so I should work on that.
I listen to the “Best of Both Worlds” podcast, and one of the hosts (Laura Vanderkam, whose blog I linked to above) published a new book on the subject of time management which looks intriguing. One more small lesson I learned from tracking my time is I don’t read enough. If I could substitute my phone time for reading time, that would be ideal.
Have you ever tracked your time? Why or why not? Do you think you would be surprised by what you found? Do you also watch too many reruns on Netflix? Would love to hear your thoughts.