Life tracking

About 6 weeks ago, I listened to the audio book “Off the Clock” by Laura Vanderkam. I was completely struck by a statement Laura made that she tracked her time for a year or more in a spreadsheet. A YEAR?!? How on earth did she do that, and why? It turns out, she tracked her time for a year so that she had data. She could look for patterns, and see how she was spending her time. 

Intrigued, I decided that I wanted that too, so, I started doing the same. Here’s what I have learned after setting up the system, tracking every hour of every day since October 1, 2018 and reviewing the first 4 weeks of data.

Setting up in Harvest

Very quick notes on how I set it up, just to establish some parameters in case you want to do this too. My setup:

  • Setup a free Harvest account. A free account gets you 1 client, and 2 projects (also, that’s an affiliate link, and I have no idea how I feel about that, or if it’ll even be useful)
  • One client: me!
  • Two projects: Home and Work
  • Setup about a dozen tasks for each project I thought I’d most likely use
  • Mark all tasks and both projects as non-billable
  • Setup time tracking to use start and end times rather than duration

That’s pretty much it. And I started tracking.


There are 168 hours in a week (with some exceptions which we will talk about later). How was I spending them? 

At a high level, I’m working close to the hours than I thought I was (somewhere around 60 hrs a week),  sleeping more than I thought I was (around 6 hrs per night), and travelling exactly as much as I thought I was.

Here’s the highlights of a month of data. All figures are in hours:

Oct 1-7Oct 8-14Oct 15-21Oct 22-28

1 day on site with client + travel to
Return fromAn Event
London: UX Live and
a11yLondon meetup
London: UX Live and
a11yLondon meetup

My week needs more:

  • Time with family members as individuals
  • Time for work related reading
  • Time for writing

My week needs less:

  • Driving
  • Travel (see also “Needs more time with family members as individuals” — yep. Related.)

What did I learn?

Working in Harvest and tracking the entire day has had an interesting impact on my days so far. Here’s the most significant things:

  1. I have data on how I’m spending my time… not just for work, but home too. Straight up tracking has been hugely beneficial. I can see how much laundry I did in a week, or how much time I spent cooking meals, or on the morning school routine. I can point specifically to my contributions to home life (or lack thereof in certain weeks).
  2. I’m doing more single tasking to get things done. Through the month I see that I’m doing less task/context switching. I can’t say for sure, but I think because I’m ridiculously conscious of and committed to tracking every moment in Harvest, I’m holding myself more accountable, and I’m working for longer segments. In week 1, I tracked 6 work blocks where the task lasted for an hour or longer. In week 4, there were 12 such blocks. I’m going to keep my eyes on this.
  3. Changing my work behaviours from one week to the next is hard as so much is already scheduled and planned. The insights from work related data help me reprioritize and think more carefully about my upcoming schedule, but that seems to be more likely/able to impact things weeks and months in the future as compared to the immediate short term.
  4. Changing my home behaviours from one week to the next seems to be easier compared work related things. The insights from home related data seem to allow me to re-prioritize personal things in the short-term and adjust my personal time more immediately. That’s likely for the best!

What’s next?

I’m only just getting started, and I don’t know how long I’ll keep at this, but the insights from the first 4 weeks make me want to keep going. I know the data isn’t 100% accurate. Sometimes I forget and I have to approximate what time I left home to drive the kids to dance, or what time I stopped working to prepare and eat lunch. But that’s ok — this doesn’t require the very highest levels of precision. As of right now, tracking like this is accurate enough to help with insights and making some changes in how I’m doing. I’ll report back after month two…

I wish I’d known…

We had the floors redone in our house after some water damage. We hired several contractors that knew what they were doing. They were specialists in their fields. A hardwood specialist; carpeting specialist; tile specialist. Cabinets, countertops and plumbing too… all specialists.

Photo of our kitchen floor during our renovation.
Tile floors in our kitchen — they’re a large 24 inch by 24 inch tile, greyish and white coloured striations running the length of the tile. They’re laid out in a traditional square-block pattern (as opposed to a diagonal-diamond pattern). Here they’re shown pre-grout.

The tiling was complete and as the tile contractor was just finishing up the grout in between the last few tiles, I turned to Kathryn and said “This looks awesome… I suppose we should get someone in to seal the grout, shouldn’t we?” She said “Yes!” emphatically, as we’d lived through getting the grout cleaned and subsequently sealed at our previous house. It neededto happen, because life and children and things.

The tile contractor looked at us and said:

“You should have told me that you were going to seal the grout earlier. I could have mixed the sealant into the grout”

Say, what now?

How were we supposed to know?

We didn’t even know that mixing the sealant into the grout was an option. I mean, it makes perfect sense, now that I know it’s a thing. But until that very moment, I had no idea.

I wish I’d known.

And I really wish that the tile contractor had told us it was an option. Or asked us more questions. He asked a few other questions as part of the process: what colour will the grout be? in which direction do you want the tiles laid?

But we didn’t know what we didn’t know.

I envision the conversation going something like this:

Him: “A lot of the home owners that I work with seal their grout so that it doesn’t stain. You have 4 kids, so I’m guessing things’ll get pretty messy in here. Were you thinking of sealing yours?”

Of course, I would have said “Yes!”

He follows with “That’s usually about a $300 job to do that after I’m done for an area this size. If you’d like, on my way to your place tomorrow to start the work, I can stop and get a container of sealant, and I can put it directly in the grout when I’m mixing it. No charge — just whatever it costs for the sealant.”

He would have made us incredibly happy, appreciative, and he’d have earned himself an easy $100 tip.

We didn’t know what we didn’t know, but he did, because he is the professional.

In your business, what’s your equivalent to the sealant in the grout question? What do many or most of your clients ask for that someone may not even know to ask about? Hunt those things down and start asking your clients about them as early as possible in the process.

It’s better for your customers, and it’s better for you.

This was originally published on Medium.

Change of pace

As teachers and speakers, when we deliver a talk, a workshop, a class, or other type of teaching session, we need to think about how to structure a class. We need to think about how people learn — and one of the things we do to ensure people can learn effectively is to create change of pace in our classes.

You can’t talk at someone for 45 minutes and expect them to stick with you. You need to change pace so that they’re paying attention, aren’t bored with the material, and stay engaged in the conversation.

For many speakers, trainers, and teachers that means switching up what is happening in the class. From the teacher’s perspective it often goes something like this:

  • I will tell them something
  • I will show them a demo of the thing
  • I will show them a photo/video of a thing
  • I will tell them some more things
  • I will share resources with them

The idea is that we are putting different things in our slides or on the whiteboard, and changing it up. Change of pace.

But it isn’t.

That is a change of pace for you, the teacher. But not for the people that are learning. Look at that list again — what are the learners doing in each of those examples? Listening to you. Watching you. Listening to you. Watching a video. It’s all variations on the same theme.

I have been working on this concept in my teaching for almost 25 years. I owe this cornerstone of my teaching to my friend and then Professor of Education, Peter Chin. I remember the revelation in his science teaching methods course at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, Canada.

What does a change of pace really look like?

Change of pace is about what the learner is doing, not what you, the teacher, is doing.

Particularly for longer classes or workshops — think 90 min blocks or half or full day workshops — change of pace is really important.

Sure, there’s always some listening, but what else could they be doing? There’s a lot of options. Look at all these verbs!

  • watching
  • analyzing
  • testing
  • drawing/sketching
  • creating
  • reading
  • thinking
  • laughing
  • writing
  • sharing
  • presenting

Next time you’re planning a talk or a workshop, take a look at your outline and your slides. What are the learners doing when you’re on each slide? How have you blocked out the time so that they can partake in different activities that aren’t all just listening?

Use different verbs. Change the pace, and keep your learners engaged.

This was originally published on Medium.

How you should REALLY use bullet points in a presentation

I’m headed to the American Banker’s Association Regulatory Compliance Conference (yeah, that’s a mouthful…) and I’m thinking ahead to the slides I can almost guarantee I’m going to see there from other presenters. And I think of the slides I’ve seen from other presenters at other recent conferences.

I’ll see a lot of walls of text. Death by bullet point.

Image of a slide in PowerPoint showing a title and bullets. The bullets read "There will be bullet points here, bullet points there, bullet points pretty much every where. You can go on, and on, and on… AND! When you run out of room, you can simply split your content in two and create TWO slides that have bullet points. Because of course everyone wants more bullet points."

It doesn’t help that most people that are asked to do a presentation or even volunteer to do a presentation don’t have a background in teaching, or presenting, or even in communication. Couple that with the fact that most PowerPoint and Keynote templates encourage and facilitate this behaviour, and that it’s just easier to use the default, and you’re headed for trouble on the slide front.

So, what should you do? You need to make a change by taking one simple action.

Move your bullet points to the speaker notes

When you move your bullet points to the speaker notes, you’re treating your bullet points properly. Let’s be honest — those bullet points were really just you taking notes on what you wanted to talk about on that slide; you typed out those bullets so that you could remember them. They’re things you wanted the audience to know.

You’ve used the bullet points on your slides as a note taking device and memory aid for you, and as a reference for the audience for later. But you didn’t use it as a communication device.

So change that up. Write your bullets, and then move them to the speaker notes. Next, summarize all the things in those bullets with a single phrase, and put that on the screen. When you produce a copy of your slides, give out your speaker notes. That’s where the bullet points should live.

Your audience will thank you.

This was originally published on Medium.

Getting the most from a speaking mentor or coach

Many speakers–both new and experienced–work with mentors or coaches. In addition to running a business and speaking at conferences around the world, I’m also a fitness instructor. I teach Body Attack and RPM for Goodlife Fitness. In the last 4 years, I’ve been both a mentor for new instructors and been mentored by some pretty incredible people. Asking for and providing feedback that is useful and actionable is an art.

In fact I think you shouldn’t ask for feedback.

You should ask for something more.

Ask something very specific. “I’m trying a few new examples today; can you watch how I present them and give me feedback on how appropriate they are and how well I present them?”

Don’t ask “What did you think?”

Ask “Can you look for opportunities for me to improve the way that I’m framing the entire presentation? I’m not sure that I’ve got it quite right…”

Don’t ask “How did I do?”

Ask “Can you give me three things that I can work on the next time I give this talk?”

The flip side, of course, is that when you’re acting as the mentor, provide actionable feedback. Work with the person to address issues directly rather than speaking in vague generalities.

Be specific

Next time you’re asking a mentor or coach about your speaking performance, be as specific as you can. Look to uncover actionable items for improvement.