Have you ever found yourself wondering where your time is going? What is the one thing that takes up all of your precious productive time? Or, why you don’t get that many things done, even though you aren’t that busy?
Well, I have. I’ve been piling up on work lately, and I’ve reached a point where I don’t clear tasks as fast as they come. And, to make things worse, I already haven’t been feeling very productive lately. I actually wanted to take on more tasks and jobs, but it seems like that is harder than I thought.
To answer that question, where my time is going, I decided to do a week-long time log. That means tracking where every single minute of my time goes for a whole week and then categorizing each interval into specific categories. This way I’d be able to extract insights on how I currently spend my time, how I organize it, and what changes I can make to be more productive.
Why do a time log?
Whenever you want to tackle a new problem or make changes to your habits, you first need to establish a baseline. The same way that, when first starting to train for a marathon, you need to figure out how many kilometers you can actually run. It’s really important to know where your time is going, if you want to become more productive and find more time for your learning and your hobbies.
While establishing a baseline can happen in other ways, a time log offers really valuable added benefits. To begin with, something very common for everyone is overestimating how long certain tasks take. That leads to a false sense of business and productivity, and sometime might get you to work on a task longer than necessary. Through doing a time log, you can establish exactly how much time each task takes, and plan accordingly from then on.
Another common thing is to underestimate how much time you spend on other tasks, especially entertaining ones. It’s easy to think that you are playing video games for only 1 hour per day, but then track it and find out that it’s more like 3 hours. The same goes for TV, social media or mindlessly browsing the web.
In essence, doing a time log is a great tool to figure out how much time you spend on various activities. It is also a great way to find out how well you structure your day, and whether you allow yourself to have big blocks of time to focus on work or learning.
Using time logs in crazy/intense days/weeks
An unexpected use of doing a time log that I figured out while doing it, is that of a helper in crazy weeks. In the week I was time logging, I actually struggled to operate the way I usually do.
By being aware of where my time was being spent, I was less likely to start procrastinating, or at least to keep at it for long. This time I actually tried to operate as I normally would to gather the best data possible, but if I ever have a crazy, busy day or week, I will certainly do a time log as an awareness and accountability tool.
My own time log
To provide you with some examples of what to look for in your data, as well as what types of insights you can extract, I decided to share with you the results of my own time log.
In total, I tracked 175 hours and 49 minutes, which is a few hours more than a week. I labeled each interval with a main, a secondary, and sometimes a tertiary category, to extract as valuable insights as possible. The main categories were, for instance, “Work”, “Commute”, and “Relationships”, while secondary categories would include, for instance, if I was alone in my commute or with company.
Below you can see how my time was actually spent. Underneath the image, I share with you the insights I gathered from reviewing my time log.
My insights from 1 week of time logging
- I seem to spend a lot of time in bed after waking up, more than 30 minutes every day! That is a lot of time, which I’d prefer (and plan) to spend on a morning routine involving more exercise and planning the day ahead.
- The category called “chill” is actually all the wasted time in a day, for instance when you are sitting on the couch aimlessly browsing on your cell phone. Getting that to zero is an unreasonable goal, but I plan to minimize it as much as possible, at least halve it.
- I found out I have an unreasonable amount of commute, of which I was unaware! I’m going to try and structure my day differently to minimize how much time I spend driving.
- My alone commuting time is mostly comprised of 10-25 minute intervals at a time. Due to how short these are, I didn’t know they add up to a total of 5 hours! I’m definitely going to start listening to podcasts again when I’m alone on the road. I might also use another of these techniques.
- My sleep average for the week was 6:36 hours, when I thought it was close to 8 hours per night. I need to add at least half an hour of sleep daily, which I’ll get from entertainment. I choose entertainment because the time I spend there is usually late at night, at the expense of my sleep. To enforce it, I plan to set a certain time (probably 2 am) to go to bed no matter what.
- A short one: I need to exercise more!
- I’m watching too much TV for my taste. TV Series is a great diffuse late in the evenings, but all of the hours watching the normal program (which is also crappy) have to go!
- And, last but not least, by going through the raw data, I found out that I face TOO many distractions when I work. I actually had only 1(!!) interval of work that exceeds the 2-hour mark without major distractions. I don’t even want to think about minor ones. To fix this, I will start planning my day in my morning routine, to ensure I allocate enough continuous time to the tasks that need it.
How to do a time log
Now that we saw why you should do a time log and what insights can be extracted, let’s see how you can actually do one. To begin with, there is no need for you to do a whole week. The minimum is 1 whole day, but even that much can be enough. Personally, I chose to do a week-long one to capture all the non-daily activities in my schedule.
As far as capturing the data is concerned, the best and easiest way, in my opinion, is to use a small notebook to track down each interval. I wrote down the start time, the end time, and a short description for each interval, and that’s it. Note, that, while my personal preference was a physical notebook, you can perfectly do a time log on your phone as well.
You can either write down an interval every time you switch tasks, like I did, or set a timer every 15 minutes to write down what you’ve been doing since the last remainder. After you’ve become experienced in doing the time log, you could even increase the interval to make it less annoying.
To get good results, you need to be honest and meticulous in your process. Make sure you consistently put down what you’ve spent your time on, even if it feels boring or you feel bad about what you have to write.
Finally, tracking what you do is quite easy, but it can get tricky when you want to find out what you do in front of the computer. For that, I recommend using RescueTime, a tool that automatically tracks what you do on the computer and provides easy-to-analyze reports for you to review.
How to analyze your time log data
After you’re done with your time log, it’s time to get it into a spreadsheet program, like Excel or Google Sheets. Assign at least a main and a secondary category to each interval, and then summarize and review the results, the same way that I’ve done in the screenshot above.
Your goal is to look for all the time-sinks that you devote most of your time to, as well as anything that deviates from your personal goals and dreams. Go through the raw data too, not just the summary, to see how you organize your day as well.
As soon as you identify all the insights that you can, you will probably have many changes in mind. It is important to change one thing at a time, so that you stick with it and reap the benefits. Personally, I suggest going with the new change for 1-2 weeks, and then do a short time log again (e.g. 1 day). If everything goes according to plan, move on to the next change.
By doing a time log, you will establish a robust baseline on how you currently structure your time, and where you spend it. Using these data, you will be able to gather insights to actually identify potential changes that will make you more productive and give you the time to do what you want.
So, what are you waiting for? Grab a paper and a pen, and start finding out where does all of your time go! After all, if you were losing money, wouldn’t you want to know? Why not do the same with your time?
Call to Action
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends. Also, if you do a time log, let me know, and feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Post on the Facebook group, or contact me directly!