Tuesday, January 18, 2022

I tracked my time for a week and this is what I learned

I've been a follower of Laura Vanderkam, an expert on time management, for many years and I listen to her podcast about balancing work and family life, Best of Both Worlds, which she co-hosts with Sarah Hart-Unger. I've read two of her books, I Know How She Does It (my fave of what I've read) and Off the Clock. One thing Laura is known for is tracking her time in a spreadsheet. I can't remember how long she's done it, but it's well over 5 years! Over the years, she has shared a lot of insights from her time logs and has encouraged people to track their time. But I was always turned off by the idea of doing that, even though I LOVE excel. It just seemed like such a pain and not worth the effort. 

But when she announced a time tracking challenge in January, I decided to bite the bullet and participate. I feel like I have a pretty good grasp of how I track my time, but I figured it would still be helpful to see exactly how I spend my time. 

The challenge took place during the week of January 10-16. Over the years when Laura has encouraged people to track time, her mantra has been that there is "no normal week." So if you hold off on tracking your time until you have a normal week, it could be put off forever! 

Well, the week of January 10-16 was certainly NOT a normal week. But what even IS normal for my family these days? Surely someone is always sick and it feels like we can't go a week without a doctor's office visit. But the week of January 10th was especially abnormal! Will got tubes on Monday morning, I took Paul to get a covid test on Monday morning so he could return to school on Tuesday, Will came down with yet another virus and was home Thursday/Friday and had a fever high enough that I needed to bring him into the pediatrician. So I only had 2 days where both kids were at daycare. I took Monday off since Will had surgery that day and I didn't want to try to balance working and caring for him/helping out with Paul. I worked full days on Tuesday and Wednesday, and then Will was home with us on Thursday and Friday. Phil stayed home and we traded off kid duty during the day when Will wasn't napping, but that means I ended up working in chunks. 

There are a lot of categories here, so I won't comment on all of them. I already addressed the fact that I worked far less than I normally do. But I will say that when I was working, I was SO FOCUSED. The first weeks after quarter-end are really busy for me, but I still managed to meet all of my deadlines despite working about half as much as I normally do! 

Dual-tasking: I lumped together all of the time I spent on two things at the same time. The biggest categories were car/kids which is time I spent in the car with the kids driving to/from school or doctor appointments and work/kids. But it includes other things like reading/kids (I read while Paul watched a movie), car/errands (time spent in the car/running errands), exercise/kids (time I spent on walks while pushing Will in the stroller), and home organization/kids (I worked on a small organization project while Will played with kitchen toys next to me). Dual-tasking is not optimal, but it's just part of mom life, at least for me.

Kids: We spent a lot of time with our kids. Granted, I spent more that usual with Will since he was home with us 3 of the 5 work days. But on the weekends, I spent 15 out of 48 hours, or 31% of my time, with one or both kids. And that time was what I would consider high-quality time meaning I was playing, reading, doing puzzles, sledding, etc. I feel good about the amount of time we spend with our kids and feel that they are truly getting the best of both worlds by having 2 working parents. It is such an individual decision, of course, but our boys learn so much at Spanish Immersion Daycare, from independence to colors, ABCs, numbers, etc. 

Will Up at Night: The time I spent up at night with Will was the 6th largest category - totaling 5.5 hours. Seeing this in black and white supports how exhausted I felt last week. I think my sleep category total is really misleading. It looks like I got a lot of sleep, but that doesn't factor in all the time it takes to fall asleep. When you are up and out of bed 2-4 times, you lose a lot of time getting back to sleep!

Social Time: I am glad I had some social time last week as that doesn't happen every week. My social time last week was spent with my parents when they brought us lunch when they were in town and on a zoom book club meeting!

Meal prep: This was unusually low because we were able to make do with lots of leftovers for much of the week, and I had MLK Day off on Monday, so the meal prep I normally would have done on Sunday happened on Monday. 

Home Organization: This is a category that normally wouldn't show up much during a typical week, but I'm doing the Apartment Therapy January Cure challenge, so I spent a lot of time organizing cupboards, cleaning out drawers and closets, and cleaning our fridge. Phil took care of the kids while I worked on these projects.

Exercise: Oof. This is depressingly low. I spent 30 minutes exercising. I did spend 2 hours walking while pushing Will in the stroller which fell into the dual-tasking category, but overall, exercise just didn't happen last week. On a normal day, I would fit a workout in during a quiet time of the day but I did not have that luxury last week when I was trying to cram as much work into the day when I wasn't caring for a child.

A person may look at this and ask - when did you spend time with Phil? Admittedly, in this stage of life, we are spending very little time together without the kids around. For the most part, the TV category is the only time on here that I spent alone with Phil, aside from when we are sleeping! But, we are together during meals times and most of the weekend kid time is spent together. Would I like more one-on-one kid-free time with Phil? Yes, but in this stage of life and with a pandemic going on (we aren't eating out/going on dates), this is what life is going to look like for us. I'd like to shift some of our TV time to doing some else, like playing a game together. When I organized our game closet over the weekend, I found some card games that have a 2-player minimum so my goal is to play games at least once a week. And I remind myself that it won't always be this way. Our kids will get older and require less hands-on supervision and the pandemic will end (eventually?) and we'll be able to return to going on dates once a quarter, which was how often we went on dates pre-pandemic.

So what did I learn? I learned that I'm happy with the amount of time I'm spending with our kids. I learned that the data bears out how exhausted I felt since "up with Will" was a significant category and that it's worthwhile to nap/lay down when he naps in the afternoon (the rest category = napping/laying down during afternoon naps). I learned that I really don't watch much TV. And I learned that we spent a lot of time in doctor's offices/the hospital and that I would not want that to be part of a normal week!

Overall, there wasn't much "surprising" about the time log. But perception and reality can be very different and this confirms that my perception of how I spend my time is pretty accurate! 


I think I would like to do this on an annual basis as being able to compare how I spent my time will probably be pretty eye opening. I think that's about as regular as I would want to do this, though, as it is kind of pesky to keep track! I tracked using an excel spreadsheed with 30 minutes blocks that was provided by Laura, and then I used countif formulas to make summing my time easier. I hope that if I do this next year, it will show 0 time up with Will during the night, far less time in doctor's offices (like 0), and more time reading. 

Have you ever tracked your time?


Elisabeth said...

Life is busy, eh?!
I'm very much hoping for a lot less time at the doctors/up at night in the near future. Based on my experience, this should happen.
I tracked my time with Laura once before and should (maybe?) do it again. There is not a lot I want to cut or change; I feel like it would more like what I do with our finances - I track everything but don't set firm budget targets. It's more a general monitoring of things, which I feel I already do with time in some senses with my daily journal, monthly family updates and daily planner.
That said, it is interesting and would be neat to see patterns over the course of a few weeks. Maybe next year if she does the challenge again?

NGS said...

This is an interesting exercise. Maybe I'll keep it in the back of my mind for a second quarter goal just to see if I'm spending my time in things that I want to prioritize. Maybe just for a week, like you did, and not for much longer than that!

Stephany said...

Ooh, this looks very interesting! It would be a good exercise to do on a yearly basis, just to see how your time looks different from year to year. That's why I liked doing week in the life on my blog, even though it was a lot of work. But now I really like looking back on those posts and seeing how different my life looks from year to year! One year I was living in Tampa with my best friend, another year I was sick and dealing with Dutch's end-of-life issues... it is crazy how things change!

Jeanie said...

This is really intriguing to me. I have an idea that I would flunk housework and overkill computer time!

Grateful Kae said...

I have definitely tried tracking my time before- a couple years ago I got into attempting to do it more long term, to really keep tabs on my time/ time wastage. But it is REALLY hard for me to keep up!! I used a program called Clockify which I think is really designed for employee to track project time at work, but I was able to easily tweak it work for just general time tracking (my different categories just became "projects" on paper). I did like that I could then just click to filter to see totals for the different categories, all electronically! There was a free app, too, so I could update it from my phone OR my desktop.

Anyway, I also really struggle with the dual category thing when time tracking. Also, I would find 30 minute blocks insufficient, to me, to really always capture what I was doing. And then I'd get frustrated! (This is partly why I gave up on the spreadsheet option and went to Clockify, because on there I could type in my exact times that I did something.) For example, in 30 minutes I would maybe walk 15 minutes back and forth to meet the kids from the bus (walk/ exercise category! But also KIDS Quality Time category..) and then spend 10 minutes cleaning up the house or prepping dinner and then another 5-10 minutes texting my Mom back and forth...you get the idea! So how do you classify all those different categories in one 30 minute block!? Haha.

In Clockify it did allow you to select a general overarching "Project" and then you could also click "tags" for the same time period- which is where I could then select various categories. And then to filter, you could select more than one project or tag, so it would allow you to say look at every block "tagged" with Kids- even if that also was, say, Household (cleanup) at the same time. Anyway! I haven't done it in a while because it does get a bit overwhelming. It is interesting, though! And sometimes can be rather eye opening.

San said...

This is super-interesting and I do hope you'll spent more time sleeping and less time up with Will or at the doctor's office. Hopefully the surgery took care of that.

I am very intrigued to track my time for a week as well, just to see if there are any patterns I don't recognize. My days look very similar from day to day, so I don't know how much I'd learn, but then again, you can only find out if you try.