My husband thinks I’m nuts, probably for several reasons, but this week’s justification is my detailed time tracking exercise. I’ve talked about this practice before. I tracked about three months of my time in 2019, and it gave me a great perspective about where my time was going throughout the day. And, bonus, it convinced me I really did have time to start blogging.
I view time tracking as no different from budget tracking. There’s only so much money to play with in my budget, and there’s only so many hours in my day. Time and money are both limited resources. I want to use them in the best way possible.
If I want to make the best use of my hours, then I need to know where my time is going. I’m not completing this exercise to maximize my productivity but rather to maximize my happiness. It is a helpful reflective exercise for me. Am I spending my time on activities that are shaping my life’s narrative in the way I want it to be written?
I track my time in a simple Excel file with the first column dedicated to every 30 minutes of the day. Then, each remaining column is a day of the week. For each 30-minute cell, I note what I was doing at that day and time.
I also shaded each cell based on how I perceive that time in the moment. Some activities are always coded the same way. Naps and sleeping are always blue for “sleep.” Any time I’m doing activities for my job, it is “work.” Other activities vary from day to day. For instance, when I make dinner while my husband is playing with the kids outside and I can listen to music or a podcast, then it is “leisure.” If I’m making dinner while kids are complaining they are hungry, my husband is watching TV, and the dog is under my feet, it’s an “obligation.” If the kids help me, then it’s “family time.”
I was really curious on how my weeks look now in 2020 with virtual school while working from home. I feel so much more drained, but why is that? So I set out to explore what’s going on. I tracked the week of October 19 both in 2019 and 2020.
When I compared this one week in 2020 to how my time was spent on average in 2019, it’s not strikingly different. I’m getting the same amount of sleep and spending the same amount of time on planning activities. For the most part, my time spent working and with family is largely unchanged. At first, that was a bit surprising because I feel like I can’t separate from my family right now with us home all of the time.
There are a few notable differences. First, I get a bit more leisure time, up an additional 36 minutes per day. Second, my daily obligations dropped some, which appears to be because I’m not driving people to school or activities every day. That’s saved me about 24 minutes per day. There’s a correlation here that suggests perhaps that fewer obligations means more leisure time for this mom. I’ll take it! I’m speculating that because my children are getting older, I can use that free time for leisure while they are home because I’m not constantly on top of them supervising every move.
For a more detailed look, here is the week of October 19, 2019 and 2020 side by side (with the color coding only so my life is still a bit of a mystery).
During this week in 2019, I took a day off of work on Thursday to join my younger son for a school field trip. (Remember those?!?) Our nights were filled with watching the World Series, and the weekend included birthday parties, shopping trips, and soccer games. A different world.
In 2020, my work is largely broken into two-hour shifts with exceptions and flexibilities along the way. There’s a family trip to Skyline Drive within the Shenandoah National Park and some outdoor events with friends and family included to break up the week.
When I dove into the narratives for each week, I saw that I spent 2.5 more hours reading and 4 fewer hours watching TV this one week in October 2020 than I did this same time last year. That wasn’t too surprising to me because I’ve already doubled the number of books I’ve read this year compared to 2019. Reading and watching TV are both leisure time activities (most of the time), so if one goes up, the other likely goes down.
What really surprised me (though it probably shouldn’t have) is how much LESS time I have by myself in this pandemic world. The week of October 19, 2020 provided me with 20.5 hours of alone time (that’s 18% of my awake hours); whereas the same week in 2019 gave me 45 hours of alone time (a whopping 40% of my awake time). That’s a HUGE difference to this introvert.
Now, logically, this is not surprising. I used to work from home all week while my husband was typically commuting 1.5 hours away and my kids were in school. I was still home a lot, but there was silence. There was focus and a time for deep work. Today’s required multi-tasking and division of my attention is what is eating away at my energy. (Exhibit A: I have spent almost two hours writing this blog post and have been interrupted by virtual schooling kids approximately 50 times to help brainstorm writing assignments, see what shade of black a crayon makes, let the dog out, see another student’s “cool” selfie icon, let the dog in the house, etc., etc., I’m tired. It’s surprising this post makes any sense at all.)
So what are my takeaways?
I’m going to plan more “off duty” time and actually take it! My husband and I already give each other a night off a week, but maybe we need to do something more like that?
I also need to lower my standards during school and work hours. (Shocker, my standards are too high!) I’m finding it extremely frustrating to try and write and focus on something while being interrupted constantly, so I need to reframe my perspective on these shifts with the kids. My goal is to help the kids. It is a bonus if I get anything else done. I better move my writing time to another part of the week.
I’ll probably conduct this exercise again in the future when I fill particularly balanced or overwhelmed to see how life has changed. Here’s to more balanced days ahead!