I view time as a limited resource. We only get 24 hours a day, 168 hours a week, and typically 2,920 hours a year. I want to make the most out of those hours as possible.
I’m technically a part-time working mom who puts in 30 hours a week, so I feel like I should have a good balance between my work and home life. After long days at work, though, I was finding myself drained, frazzled, and upset that I wasn’t getting the “balance” I thought I signed up for.
My lack of energy in the evening was putting me in a rut. I’d stop working, get the kids and chores taken care of, and collapse onto the couch in a comatose state until way later than bedtime. I can easily find myself staying there scrolling mindlessly through Facebook or Reddit or binging one of the myriad of TV options out there. And all of that to wake up and do it all over again the next day.
I’d had enough. I followed Laura Vanderkam’s advice and tracked my time for a week. (I actually tracked my time for several months, just to look for trends.) It was an interesting exercise that only took a few minutes a day.
Basically, I used an Excel spreadsheet that broke down a week into 30-minute intervals. I then jotted down a few words noting what I spent my time doing in each interval (e.g., took Mr. 4-year-old to school, worked, made dinner). Vanderkam suggests looking at any given week’s time to see if you’re spending your hours the way you want to live your life.
I took Vanderkam’s technique a step further. I classified the time using various colors in Excel to track my mood or perspective of what I was spending time on. For instance, work was all orange, chores were yellow, time with family was green, and self-care activities were pink. I wanted to see if work and chores were really taking over my days, or if I really was getting a good chunk of time with family and personal pursuits.
I was not hard and fast on the rules for classifying activities. The classification was based on how I felt. Some days, making dinner was a chore. We were rushing to get it done before soccer practices or Cub Scout meetings. Sometimes, the kids played together and I could try a new recipe while listening to a podcast. In those cases, making dinner was self-care. If my husband and I made dinner together while chatting about our day, it was family time.
What this exercise showed me is that when you look at the whole week, I was actually getting more balance than I realized on any given day. Sure, I may have to work late one day a week, but that’s because I took time out of another workday to visit my son’s school. That’s a great perk that I should recognize and appreciate!
I also learned to better monitor my energy. I have a tendency to put 100% into whatever task I start for the day, which is often something work related. Then, by the time my family sees me, I’m totally drained and they aren’t getting my best self. To counter this, I’ve been trying to end my work day just a few minutes earlier so I can reset my energy before diving into family time. (The added complexity to this is that I work from home, so I was falling into the routine of working until the exact minute I need to run and pick up kids…always moving, always frantic.)
This exercise also gave me a chance to reflect on whether I’m spending my self-care time on the right activities. I quickly realized I didn’t like the life story of my TV and social media rut. I had more time for hobbies than I realized. I just wasn’t leveraging it.
The time study I did for myself is a big reason why this site exists today. I’ve always fancied myself as a writer. This notion in my head that I’ll get to it someday isn’t going to happen if I wait for some magical, miracle moment to appear. I can make the time with the right priorities on my time.
I say all this to show you how time tracking benefited me and added a new perspective to how I manage my time these days. I would recommend that others take Vanderkam’s time tracking challenge and see what you uncover about how you spend your time.