Where Does Your Time Go?

You have 168 hours every week. Is hard to believe? It doesn’t seem like it can possibly be that much time. Even if you work 40 hours a week, sleep 8 hours a night, and spend 12 hours commuting, you still have 60 other hours to work with. So, what are you using your time for?

Self-Awareness

No matter what your answer to that question is, you’re very likely wrong. People are prone to drastically overestimating how much time they spend actually working and underestimating many of their other activities. Laura Vanderkam, time management guru, admits to complaining endlessly about her 60-hour work week until she discovered that in actuality, she was working much closer to 40. If you’re hard on yourself about not spending enough time on your family or yourself, this could be you.

Take a second right now to get out a piece of paper (or a smartphone or a blank Word document) and write down how many hours you think you’re spending on various parts of your life. Some categories to get you started — work, sleep, social media, email, family, friends. From that estimate, what would you like to spend more time on? What would you like to spend less time on? For ideas on that, consult what you wrote about living your ideal life — how can you get closer to that, based on your time estimates?

The Real Deal

Now, here’s the real trick — finding out where your time actually goes. For the next week or two, record in detail what you’re spending time on every half an hour. I find this easiest to do with a portable notebook I stick in my purse, but there are also apps that do this, or you can just make notes on your phone. Here’s a sample from my time journal from last week:

4:00: Brain dump, planning, create to-do list
4:30: Make housing inquiries
5:00: Make housing inquiries, drive
5:30: Eat dinner
6:00: Drive
6:30: Drive
7:00: DSA Film Festival

Yes, it’s tedious, but it’s necessary to do it as you go along so that you don’t fudge what you really spent your time on later. Check Facebook a couple time? Write it down. Take a call? Write it down. I stopped short of writing down when I went to the bathroom, but going into detail will make this all the more useful to you later.

Using Your Data

After the week is over (or two), you have a treasure trove of information about where your time really goes. You can be more or less of a data geek with this, but at the very least, add up the actual totals for all those categories you guessed about at the beginning. Your totals will be guesstimated since you only broke things up by half-hour increments rather than task, but try to make all those hours add up to 168 so you’re looking at something fairly realistic. (If you really want to, you can also try this exercise but writing down whenever you switch between tasks. However, it’ll take a lot more time, and most likely what you’ll mostly take away from it is that you task switch/multitask too much.)

Now put these two sets of numbers next to each other. What do you notice? What surprises you? What did you overestimate or underestimate?

For me, one of the greatest realizations was that I spend an obscene amount of time bouncing around email and social media — far more time than could possibly be useful to me or anyone else. I spent around 15 hours of my week (almost 10%!) in the car. I wasted a good bit of my week hitting the snooze button. On the positive side, I spent quite a bit more time writing my novel and creating content on my blog than I had realized. I also spent a good amount of time with friends and family.

I would encourage you to do three things with the information that you learned:

  1. Choose one category where you’re spending less time than you would like, and implement one way to increase it. For me, even though I was spending more time writing than I thought, I still wanted to increase it. This week, I’ve been getting up in the morning and writing with my mom (instant accountability!).
  2. Choose a category where you’re spending more time than you would like, and find one way to decrease it. As a start to curbing my social media addiction, I installed the Chrome extensions “News Feed Eradicator,” which allows me to access my notifications and posts on Facebook, but prevents me from falling down the News Feed rabbit hole.
  3. Choose a category where you’re closer to your goal than you thought, and give yourself a high-five. Time management is tough! If you discover you’re spending a good amount of time on your family, you’re sleeping enough, or a particular distraction isn’t as much of a problem as you thought, take a minute to be grateful.

What about you? Have you ever kept a time journal? Did you find it useful? Planning to try it out now? Let me know in the comments!

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