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.

168

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
HOME10610712290.25
Sleep41.547.745.944.6
Driving911122.5
Exercise4.64.43.73.9
WORK57.559.54182.5
Growth21.5277.344
Teaching0.5313.59.4
Meetings7.5567
Writing0200
Travel24.417.312.417.4

1 day on site with client + travel to
Orlando
Return fromAn Event
Apart
Orlando
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…

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