Friday, July 17, 2015

Time Diary Experiments

For the past two weeks, I've been keeping a time diary.

What is a time diary? Why would I keep one?

Great questions! Glad you asked, because it's been an interesting little experiment. Basically, a time diary is just keeping track of and writing down what you do all day long. There are tons of different time tracking methods out there. I flirted with using an app (Toggl) before settling on the more boring-but-better-for-me Excel spreadsheet (I really liked the idea of an app that could crunch numbers and spit out graphs for me, but alas, I needed something that could let me be more descriptive).

So, what's the point of this activity? Why would I do it?

I've been reading and thinking about time diaries for a while now (since before my Day in the Life post), but then I finished reading Gretchen Rubin's book Better Than Before recently, and that gave me the push I needed to actually do this. Her book is not about time diaries, it's about habits, but one of the things she recommends as being a good strategy for controlling habits (good and bad) is to monitor them. We tend to be so busy that we forget to pay attention to things unless we monitor them. Rubin monitors her food intake and keeps a food diary (something I'm considering, perhaps for another phase of life). But I was interested in a wider understanding of how I use and waste my time.

Do you ever get to the end of a day and feel like you've done nothing?

Especially as the mother of young children, I feel like this every day. I have all of these hours I spend at home, but nothing actually gets done. Why is that? Where is my time going (certainly not to sleep)? What am I doing with all those hours? Some days are just completely lost in a hazy fog of forgettable trivialities.

So, I really wanted to take a scientific look at how I spend my time, with the hope of being able to figure out how I can use it better. After two weeks of monitoring, here are some of my observations:

1. When you monitor your time, you are automatically more judicious in how you spend it. My use of social media has plummeted in the past two weeks, simply because I don't want to have to record that time wasted on my time diary. I see this as a positive thing (the only downside being that I'm almost completely cut off from current events. I only hear about news from my twitter feed.)

2. I spend far less time on housework than I thought I did. It's interesting how much we overestimate the time we spend on unpleasant tasks, and underestimate the time we spend on pleasant ones. If you had asked me two weeks ago if I spent more time cleaning or reading, I would've thought it was cleaning. but actually, I spend a great deal more time reading than cleaning (I'm actually happy about this revelation, it makes me feel like I'm spending my time where I want to be spending it.)

3. I do, however, spend just as much time as it feels like on food prep. Between meal planning, grocery shopping, food prep, eating, and clean-up, I average around 4 hours a day on "food". Maybe that isn't a lot, but it kind of feels like a lot.

4. My day is defined by interruptions, and even in a time diary as detailed as the one I kept, these are hard to record and quantify. I'm sure this is where the "fog" of my lost time is coming from. I am constantly being interrupted for little child-care related things: potty breaks, or discipline, or melt-downs, or crying baby, or diaper changes, or whatever little immediate emergency that needs to be handled now. Most of these distractions take only a few minutes of my time, and don't feel worthy of recording, but added up over the entire day, they have a huge impact. They are the reason I spend such an inefficient amount of time on almost every task. In theory, it should only take me ten minutes to do the dishes and start a load of laundry, but when someone has a mini-meltdown in the middle of that, it takes fifteen. This is the story of my life as a mother right now.

5. I am a creature of routine. I knew this before, but I thought I kind of had only a loose structure for how I like my days to go with lots of flexibility for whatever comes up, but it was so funny to look at my time diary and see the same activity listed in the same time slot every single day. What can I say? I like order, structure, and routine.

6. I'm averaging seven hours of sleep, and it is HARD for me to get more, mostly because my baby's wake-up time is still very unpredictable, but also because I'm not consistent with my bed-time. Monitoring actually helped me improve marginally in this area. I now know that I need a firm cut-off time of 10 PM for all evening activities if I want to make a 10:30 bed-time, but even then, I get distracted talking to my husband about our days (it's often the only time we get to be together through the day).

7. Except for a couple hours in the evenings after the kids' bedtime, I have no uninterrupted "me" time during the day. I used to have a very set afternoon quiet time in place which I loved and lived for every day, but I had to stop doing quiet time with my oldest for potty training (for some reason, he thought quiet time was "free to pee your pants" time). Considering how I want to move away from computer work in the evenings (to help me fall asleep earlier, and spend more time with my husband), I'm kind of desperate to reinstate a new "me" time hour at some point. I would love that hour to be in the morning before anyone else wakes up, but in this stage of life with the baby, I'm not sure that's a feasible idea. I'm looking at trying to reestablish quiet time now that potty training is more established, but my three year-old is fighting that hard (understandably so). This is a work in progress.

All in all, it was rather informative and motivating to monitor my time like this. It's made me more conscious of making sure that I'm using the time I have well, instead of wasting it. Also, I liked seeing my routine mapped out in a way I hadn't realized before. Now, once school starts again next month, my whole routine is going to be disrupted and I'm going to have to try this all over again, but I'm actually looking forward to it. I like having this kind of motivation to use my time well, and make sure I'm spending my time on the things I want.

Have you ever kept a time diary (or similar account of how you spend your time)? Are you interested in the idea? What would you like to learn about how you spend your time?

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