A few weeks ago, I began an experiment where I tracked my time to see if I was acting in line with my priorities.
I used a great free app called Now Then (for iPhone). I could customize all the categories and assign subcategories wherever I chose. It gave me enough line items to be able to break some tasks into sub-tasks, but not enough to get unnecessarily detailed. I recommend this app to anyone wanting to try this experiment in their own lives. In fact, I would recommend that anyone even remotely interested in trying this do so. You might be surprised to learn some things about yourself.
Here’s what I learned:
- My productivity increased as I focused on one thing.
Since I couldn’t categorize my time simultaneously into more than one task, I had to choose my primary task. For instance, if I draft a blog post on the bus, is my primary task writing or commuting? Generally, if I was being productive in an area of my life, I assigned the time to that task. The point of this experiment was to see where my time was going and how to maximize my productivity after all.
Also, when I sat down to a task at home, I was less likely to get sidetracked knowing that I was tracking my time. If I sat down to do something, I didn’t follow a stray thought to the presentation I needed to put together or the minutes that I needed to compile. If I was satisfied with the work I had done and had a plan for when I was going to finish it, I would make a conscious decision to switch tasks. Then I would focus on that thing. I increased my productivity by simply being more attentive to the task at hand. Shocking, right?
- I spend a LOT of time “commuting”.
I take public transit and walk so I’m able to really make the most out of a lot of that time, because I need to pay less attention than a driver. I won’t kill anyone in a moment of inattention as long as I look before I cross the damn street. While on the bus, I would often divert the time to another task. If I decided to spend the time reading a recreational book, I assigned the time to “Entertainment”. If I needed to read up on something to assemble a presentation or approve minutes for something, I assigned the time appropriately.
Even counting only those times that I was unable to repurpose that time (say, I had my hands too full and the bus was too crowded to really do anything else), I still spend a lot of time commuting between various meetings/errands, employment, gym, social outings and home. I took a look at this and thought about how it might compare if I drove. All things considered, I think I break even with all the time I repurpose during travel.
- I get more sleep than I thought.
Before I started tracking my time, I had the vague idea that I got between 5-8 hours of sleep per night. I was sort of right, but I get much closer to eight hours more often than I get closer to five. This doesn’t count the times I am in bed but reading (“Entertainment”) but when I turn off the light and put my head down on the pillow. In an average week, turns out I get an average of 7.2 hours of sleep. How responsible of me to care for myself. Speaking of…
- I spend a decent amount of time on self-care.
Everyone needs time for self-care. Self-care is important to maintain balanced mental and emotional health. Apart from the very basic things (morning/evening routines, etc.), I put myself in my own schedule. I try to set aside one whole day (Sunday) where I disconnect and don’t answer my phone or texts, check emails, or make myself be really productive. I take care of meal preparation often for the whole week, grocery shop if I feel like leaving my home (some days I just really don’t want to get dressed), do some light cleaning and mostly just spend my time taking care of me however I want that to look. It is my unstructured day and when I am not able to take that whole day, I try to make sure that I can at least set aside several hours on an evening or two later in the week.
- I am terribly disloyal to my employer.
This didn’t come as a surprise to me, but the extent of it got me questioning my integrity. I am underpaid at my day job (I have overheard others discuss their salaries and for my tenure and experience, I am still being underpaid by several K/year after just negotiating a significant raise). The stark truth of this is that my day job is just that. It isn’t a career, so it isn’t very important to me beyond making sure I do enough to receive good reviews and collecting my paychecks. I have no desire to move laterally to another employer without excellent enticement, so I stay and spend my other time setting things in place to move ahead when the time is right.
In the end, I have a few things I neglected more than I’d like to divert a few hours weekly and I know where I can “find” that time. This experiment has shown me that for the most part, my time usage actually does line up with my priorities and that I’m already a pretty productive person. Even on a few weeks where I felt like I got nothing done, this proved that it wasn’t true.