168 Hours: What I Learned After Tracking My Time for One Week

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I recently quantified my life in 30-minute chunks for an entire week in order to see how I spend my time and notice any patterns. What inspired me to undertake this project? Laura Vanderkam, a time management expert, recently wrote an article in the New York Times about this topic, and after reading it, I was motivated to track my time to gather hard data on what I really do throughout the week.

I kept a record in a Google spreadsheet and updated it periodically throughout the day. Here’s a copy of the spreadsheet.

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There were a couple of anomalies in the week I did this. Twice I had to leave work earlier than usual because of appointments in the late afternoon. Normally I work from 8:30am to 5pm. And I also had to do daycare drop-off/pick-up a couple times, which I don’t do normally. Other than those activities, it was a typical week for me.

When I set out to do this experiment, I had a vague sense of what I do day in and day out, so I was looking forward to discovering my false beliefs about how much time I spend doing certain activities. Mainly, I was keen to quantify how much time I actually spend reading and doing household chores (which includes cooking meals, cleaning, and getting groceries). The “lies” I tell myself are that I don’t have enough time to read and that I spend too much time cooking. Well, time-tracking proved me wrong!

In one week I spent a whopping 10.5 hours reading (this is a rough estimate since I didn’t time myself exactly). I mainly read the news (print and online), typically in 15- or 30-minute allotments. It’s rare that I get to sit down for an entire hour and read. It would be nice to be able to read a novel for an hour straight, but that’s a luxury now (and frankly I don’t know if I have the patience to do so nowadays). When I was on maternity leave I used to read a book a week! Now that I’m a “working mother” (which still sounds comical to me), reading novels has gone down my priority list. These days I’m lucky if I get to finish a novel within a month.

The other “lie” I’ve come to believe is that I spend too much time cooking. The Dude and I share the responsibility of cooking meals, but I feel like I spend waaay more time than he does cooking. It’s probably true that I spend a little bit more time, but the data shows I definitely do not spend as much time as I think I do. Prepping food roughly took 4.5 hours of my time during the week. That’s not even an hour a day on average. So I’m going to stop lamenting the fact that I spend too much time cooking because in reality it’s not a fact at all.

Besides cooking, I spent roughly 5.25 hours on other chores during the week. The bulk of it was grocery shopping since I like to pick up fresh food every couple of days. I do one big grocery shop per week, which involves borrowing a car from Modo (our carsharing co-op), and I do smaller shopping excursions throughout the week (usually on my way home or during lunch breaks). I’m thinking of eliminating the weekly big grocery shop so I could fit in an extra fitness class per week. I tell myself I don’t have time to exercise, but I know better. I can fit in exercise during the weekend if I get groceries delivered instead. It will be more expensive, but when you take into account that I have to pay for the car rental and spend the time to go to the grocery store, in the end the price difference between going myself and getting groceries delivered may not be significant.

In the future I’d like to track an entire month. It would reveal how I actually spend my time, and based on the data I can make informed decisions on what needs to change. I get a 168 hours every week – no more, no less – so I want to make sure that I manage my time well.

Would you try tracking your time? Are you afraid of discovering the false stories you tell yourself about how you spend your time?

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