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What I Learned From a Week of Tracking My Time

Last week, inspired by Laura Vanderkam’s book, Off the Clock, I tracked everything I did every 15 minutes for seven days. Needless to say, it was quite eye-opening! In this post, I’ll share what I learned…

First off, I have to say that I have heard of the idea of time tracking for years. But up until I started listening to Off the Clock, I was not convinced it was worth the effort. It just felt like a lot of extra busywork.

If you’ve followed here for awhile, you probably know that I use a hybrid of Google Calendar + a Daily Time-Blocked To Do List to stay on track. I’m fairly efficient and productive by nature and tend to have a pretty high capacity and accomplish quite a bit most days.

In Off the Clock, Laura shares how beneficial it can be to actually see and track what we’re doing every minute of every day, instead of just going by what we feel or think we probably are doing most of the day. I was curious if tracking my time would reveal areas where I could improve or if it would just be a lot of time spent filling in little rectangles on a paper for a week! I wouldn’t know until I actually tried time tracking, would I?

My philosophy is, “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it!” So I downloaded my trackers and got started. Here’s what I learned:

1. Overall, I use my time pretty wisely.

I was encouraged overall by this exercise. I realized that my Google Calendar + Time-Blocked To Do List Method really does help me to (mostly) maximize my time each day so that I’m not frittering away a lot of hours or spending a lot of time on things that are just mindless. The majority of my day is focused on areas that are my priorities. This was good to know and a very positive outcome of this exercise.

2. I spend a lot of time on Instagram.

The surprising result of tracking my time? How much time I spend on Instagram! I love Instagram, it’s a big part of our business strategy, it’s life-giving for me, and it brings in a lot of income for us. But I still was really shocked to add up the hours and realize how much time I was spending on Instagram in a week!

3. I check Instagram more than I realized.

This was my biggest takeaway, by far! I had no idea that I was often checking Instagram 3-4 times per hour!!

Sure, there are many times when I’m with a friend or at church or in a meeting or hanging out with my family and I’m completely offline and not looking at my phone. But, at least during the working hours of the day, it wasn’t uncommon at all for me to be checking Instagram multiple times in an hour.

And, even more surprising, those times when I thought I would “just check in for a minute” often ended up being more like 3-5 minutes of time on Instagram or even longer! While most of my time on Instagram is spent engaging with my audience (it’s fairly common for me to respond to 300-600 messages/comments every day) and producing content, I also do get sucked into mindless scrolling.

What I’m Changing As a Result of Time Tracking

Overall, I decided I don’t need to change that much, but I do want to be much more aware of how much time I’m spending on my phone — especially on Instagram. I want to be able to continue to write and record content and stories there and I want to continue to engage with everyone who comments or messages (even if it’s just liking the comment/message as I often do, to let the sender/commentor know I saw and read it), but I feel like I can do this without needing to check in 3-4 times an hour!

So here’s what I am changing/am working on;

  • I set a timer on Instagram for the amount of time I want to spend per day. This is just to remind me to be cognizant of the amount of time I spend on Instagram.
  • I’m trying to leave my phone in the other room more often so I’m not distracted and just mindlessly picking it up.
  • I’m working on paying attention to when I’m picking up my phone to check Instagram. Is it because I’m trying to avoid doing something I need to do (“productive procrastination”)? Is it because I’m feeling lonely or sad or bored? Is it to find some sort of affirmation? Is it just out of habit?

I’m also realizing that I can get a lot more done if I pick up the phone and check in for a 10-minute block of time every hour or every other hour than I am getting done by checking in 3-4 times an hour for 5 minutes each time. I also realize that this is helping me stay more focused on the non-Instagram tasks at hand and get more accomplished — and have more free time and wiggle room in my work day!

How to Get Your Free Time Trackers

Laura Vanderkam offers free time tracking downloads on her site when you sign up for her email newsletter. You’ll get a 15-minute tracker and a 30-minute tracker — and you’ll have them in PDF, Google Sheets, and an Excel file. Pick which one works best for you. Or, pick the one you think will work for you, stick with that for a week, and if that doesn’t work, try another one!

I chose to use the 15-minute PDF because I’m more of a pen and paper girl and really avoid spreadsheets if I can help it. (Although I have to admit that the fact that Laura has tracked her time for months and months on spreadsheets and can tell you exactly how much time she spends on pretty much every single category of her life is pretty inspiring! It almost made me want to reconsider my “I don’t do spreadsheets” stance… just because it would be really cool to have those stats!)

One thing I quickly learned is that tracking your time in 15-minute increments means you do a lot of tracking. I mean, 15 minutes goes by pretty quickly! This week, I’ve been using the 30-minute spreadsheet and it feels more doable. However, it also feels like I sometimes have a lot to put into each line because you can fit a lot of little tasks into 30 minute increments!

Have you ever tried tracking your time? If so, I’d love to hear what you learned from it!

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  • Billie Jean Bryan says:

    You’ve made me realize that I’ve been picking up my phone way too much! This time-tracking thing sounds brand new to me. I just better get with this program and try the time-tracking sheets for myself. Thanks moneysavingmom!

  • Lisa says:

    I love this! Several years ago when I was taking night classes at college, working three part-time jobs, and had two boys to run around, Laura Vanderkam did a study of my time and gave me great suggestions. I re-read her blog post she wrote about my schedule, and I am not sure how I did it all. But, Laura’s tips were super helpful for me during that time.

  • Need Anap says:

    I haven’t chosen one but there are several apps that track what apps you spend time on when you’re on your phone. I’m afraid of what the results would be but might be helpful if you’d like to track that area. 🙂

  • Beth says:

    I did this once as a new mom. I felt guilty that I wasn’t getting”anything” done. Recording my time helped me realize how often my cranky infant needed me. This helped a lot with the guilt. It also helped me reorganize my time. Instead of not being able to “clean the bathroom” because I wanted to do the entire task (15-20 minutes) at once I broke my tasks down into things I could do in 5-10 minutes. At that time 5-10 minutes was all I had without getting interrupted by a cranky baby. My task list looked more like “clean the toilet”, “clean the sink’ “clean the shower”. Eventually by the end of the day (week?) the whole bathroom would get cleaned :).
    For some it can help them see where they’re wasting time, for others it can take off some guilt because they really don’t have “their own time.” Or a combo.

  • Rose says:

    Maybe a silly question but how much time do you spend tracking your time? It seems like it would be very tedious!

    • I think the week that I tracked it it maybe took an additional 5-10 mins/day? It was worth it for what I learned!

      • Meaghan says:

        I’m daunted by the idea of tracking my time (but have been wanting to do it for years!)… WHEN do I write these things down? It seems like I’d be writing “tracking my time” in a lot of the blocks lol.

        • It literally can take 15 seconds (or less) to write a few words every 30 minutes to an hour. Just set your timer to remind you to jot down in a few seconds what you did the last 30 minutes.

          • Meaghan says:

            Smart 🙂 I love setting reminders for things 😀 it’s funny how even though you think something, it’s different to hear someone else say it out loud. Thanks!

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