How to Track Your Time

Takeaway: Keeping a log of how you spend your time, even if just for a few days, makes you aware of whether you’re spending time on what’s actually important to you. Keeping a time log sounds like a hassle, but it takes less time and attention than you might think. Plus, doing so lets you discover how many hours you actually work, step back from the stories you tell yourself, makes time feel richer, and may end up being the push you need to change how you spend your time.

Estimated Reading Time: 3 minutes, 45s.

Podcast Length: 36 minutes, 50s.

Time tracking is something I often write about on ALOP, and rightfully so: tracking your time helps you gain perspective on your life, so you can determine whether the way you spend your time is true to your priorities and what’s important to you. On this week’s episode of Becoming Better, my special guest Laura Vanderkam and I dig into the intricacies of managing and tracking your time—including how and why you should keep a time log, the stories we tell ourselves around how we manage our time, and what Laura has learned from tracking her time every single day for years.

The episode is well worth a listen—and there’s a link to play the episode at the bottom of this post—but as always, in case you don’t have the time to do so, here are the best nuggets from our conversation, including how to track your time, and why you should do it.

How to Track Your Time

Tracking your time is a pretty simple practice (here’s a printable PDF and an Excel template that’ll let you track a week). Each half-hour, you jot down how you spent your time during that previous half-hour. Once you have about a week’s worth of data, you look it over.

In looking over your time log, Laura recommends asking yourself a few things:

  • What do you like about your schedule? Make sure you celebrate your wins, and the things you’re doing right already, instead of just picking apart all of the ways that you could do better.
  • What do you want to do more of?
  • What do you want to do less of?

Different people will want to track different things. For example, depending on your situation, you may be interested in paying special attention to things such as how much time you spend:

  • Doing housework and errands;
  • Watching TV;
  • Spending leisure time unintentionally;
  • With people and family;
  • Working.

You don’t have to make a pie chart and account for everything, but you’ll want to look out for whether you’re spending your time intentionally, in ways that are important to you.

Tracking your time takes less time and attention than you might think. It takes just a few seconds to jot down what you worked on during each half-hour chunk of time, and once you settle into the practice, you can update your time tracking sheet every hour or two, recalling what you just did.

Why You Should Track Your Time

There are countless benefits to tracking your time. Here are just a few of them:

  • You can see how many hours you actually work. As Laura explains in the episode, we tend to overestimate how many hours we work by a significant margin (sometimes by as much as 20-30 hours). A time log lets you see, at a glance, how many hours you truly spend at work and at home. 
  • You can separate from the stories you tell yourself. We tend to tell ourselves things such as that we have no free time, that we spend very little time with our family, and that we work far too many hours. Tracking your time lets you verify if these stories are actually true.
  • You discover what your priorities actually are. It’s one thing to believe that something is important to you; it’s another to invest time in what you consider to be important. Keeping a time log lets you see how many hours you’re spending on things you deeply value, and how many hours you spend on tasks that are convenient and easy to do.
  • Time feels richer. Much like how keeping a food log leads you to eat less, keeping a time log lets you bring greater awareness to how you’re spending your time. In practice, this feels great: meaningful activities like spending time with family feel more meaningful, because you’re able to reflect on their value to you. You feel more productive working on important tasks at work, because you notice how much time you spend on them. Time feels richer when you’re aware of how you spend your time.
  • A time log can lead to real change. Noticing that you spend 10 hours each week commuting may lead you to work from home more often, or find a job closer to you. Noticing that you spend just a few hours a week with friends may lead you to reach out to them more often. Noticing that you have more leisure time than you think you do may lead you to spend your leisure hours more productively.

There are countless other benefits, but these are a few of my favorites!

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