Three Lessons I Learned from Tracking my Time for Two Weeks
Updated: Dec 18, 2019
"The bad news is time flies. The good news is you are the pilot."
How often do you wonder at the end of a day or at the end of a week where your time went?
Over the last couple months, I had many days when time would just fly. I felt like I never had enough time for the activities that I wanted to do and which were important to me.
I was also trying to find a balance between several priorities, all of which competed for my time.
This motivated me to do a time experiment for several weeks and track my time on an hourly basis.
While there are numerous apps available to track time, I decided to do it manually on a piece of paper. I created a table with a separate column for each day of a week and a separate row for each hour in a day. The total table had 168 cells, representing 168 hours in a week.
I also entertained the idea to track time in smaller increments (15-minute blocks or 30-minute blocks), but it felt cumbersome. Thus, I decided to use one-hour slots and split them in two parts when necessary.
I used several broad categories to capture my activities throughout the day (sleep, work, business development, writing, personal time, social time, exercise, personal development, etc.).
I calculated how much time I spent on the activities in each of those categories every day and then summed up totals for the week.
I admit that recording everything I did every day was challenging. At the beginning, there were hours when I kept forgetting to write things down and would have to go back and figure out what I did. However, by the end of the first week it became easier and more fun.
"Track every action that relates to the area of your life you want to improve. All winners are trackers."
Below are the three lessons that I've learned as the result of becoming more aware of how I use my time.
Align Your Time Allocation with Your Goals
By tracking my activities for two weeks, I could see exactly how I spent each of my days. This data allowed me to reallocate my time to better align it with my goals.
Currently, I am working full-time, building my own business, dating, studying for nutrition and personal trainer certifications, while also trying to keep a consistent workout routine and maintain my social life.
I do find it challenging to balance all these activities.
Some areas of my life, which are important to me, do not get enough time and attention.
No matter what you say your priorities are, what you actually spend your time on is what you are choosing to make a priority in your life.
We all have the same 24 hours in a day and it's up to us what we do with that time.
When you clearly define your priorities, you can take actions by structuring your schedule around those priorities.
I discovered that my time allocation was not completely aligned with my goals. While I did spend significant amount of time on my work and building my business, time allocated to my social life and dating was not enough.
I also realized that some of my tasks were taking considerably more time than I expected and some of the days were just filled with the tasks that were unimportant and unrelated to my priorities.
After the first week of tracking, I started correcting misalignment between my activities and my goals.
By making small shifts in how I spend my days, I've started allocating more time to the tasks that are connected to my goals and that matter most.
"How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing".
Manage Your Energy to Improve Your Productivity
Everybody has ups and downs and some days are more productive than others.
I discovered that my productivity depends mostly on my energy levels and deadlines I need to meet.
There are four types of energy: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual.
Your sleep, nutrition, exercise routine and rest determine your physical energy. Your emotional energy depends on your thoughts and emotions.
Mental energy is expressed as creativity, staying focused, problem solving and decision making. Spiritual energy depends on getting into flow and finding the purpose in what you do.
All these types of energy are interconnected and they influence each other.
By tracking my sleep, I was able to see a very strong connection between my sleep hours and productivity the following day.
Going to bed earlier, getting 7.5–8 hours of sleep, working out and eating healthy meals not only enhances my physical energy, but also improves my productivity, focus and creativity.
I also noticed that my energy fluctuates during the day. My mornings are better spent on mentally demanding tasks, administrative tasks are done more easily in early afternoons and creative tasks in early evenings.
I work in 1.5–2 hours intervals and take short breaks between those work sessions. Several times a week I go to the gym during lunch breaks, which replenishes my energy and makes me more productive.
"Manage your energy, not your time."
Kill the Time Killers
It was a bit uncomfortable to find out that I was wasting more time that I realized. My main guilty pleasures were spending time on social media and checking my emails.
By using the screen time function on my iPhone, I was able to see how much time I spent daily on my phone and how many times I checked it during the day.
I recognized that every time I checked my emails or my phone I got distracted from my primary activity and it took me some time and energy to regain my focus.
According to the study from the University of California Irvine, it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task after resuming an interrupted work.
The best way to get rid of these time killers is by becoming aware of the wasted time and its value.
I've started setting downtime time on my phone during business days and usually keep my phone in my bag while I'm in the office.
I've also set boundaries for myself around social media by scheduling short social media breaks couple times a day. Similarly, I've become more intentional with when I check and respond to my emails.
It's productive to take short breaks to recharge, but those breaks need to be intentional as opposed to be driven by the impulse to check social media while working.
"Space I can recover. Time, never."
I found it interesting that tracking time activated the Hawthorne Effect, also referred to as the observe effect.
This effect suggests that individuals change their behavior when they know they are being observed. Recording all my activities made me more aware of my behaviors and helped me figure out how to allocate my time more intentionally.
While tracking your time could feel overbearing and you might feel that you waste valuable time by tracking it, I strongly recommend that you try it for a week (or at least for a couple of days) to become more aware of how you spend your time.