Nicky's Blog

Time Tracking

One of the most common pushbacks I hear from people starting a self-improvement journey is ‘How will I find the time?’

It’s a fairly understandable problem, although some will make it sound easy to solve. Assuming you sleep 7 or 8 hours a day1, work another 8 (or longer if you’re commuting), that leaves 8 or 9 hour a day for you to get stuff done, and 16 or 17 hours on your day off. Loads of time right?

Except in that time, you’ll also be doing chores, looking after pets, eating, drinking, cleaning the house, showering, paying bills, talking with friends/family/housemates, etcetera, etcetera. These things are all 15 minutes here, 30 minutes there, type activities, but they add up. Then, because they small and incidental, they avoid your mental accounting of your time.

This presents a problem. Let's say you want to spend half hour a day exercising. You think you've got two hours in the morning before you start work, so you'll do it then. Except making an eating breakfast might be 15 minutes; showering and getting ready about 10 if you're quick; walking your dog another 20, maybe 30; and now traffic's picking up so you need to leave earlier to make it on time. Not so realistic anymore.

Bottom line: if you want to make a serious attempt at spending time on self improvement, be it studying, exercise, or mental health, you need to understand how you're currently spending your time.

I'm at that step now, and here's how I'm managing it.

First, get a free Toggl account. There are many time tracking applications out there, but Toggl is free and works well enough for what you need. You can set your start of the week (I personally use Sunday, as it's when I do my reviews), set a bunch of projects/categories for your time, and get weekly reports and breakdowns of your time. For free.

If you're an iPhone/iPad user, you can also get the premium app Timery. Comes at a small yearly subscription cost, but it works with your Toggl account and comes with additional (and better) widgets and shortcuts.

Next, create a project for each overall category of time. Mine are:

That last category is important, and the only one that I'd strongly recommend you use as a must have. I use it to track how long I'm just browsing stuff on my phone or iPad, and even how much time I spend on the toilet3. This is the category where brutal honesty is required, making it difficult to follow, but it's also going to show which blocks of time you have that could be better used for your goals.

Then it's just tracking your time. Keep the app always available so you have easy access to it. If you want to get more granular, you can add descriptions to each time entry. For example, I have a description for each ticket category at work, so I can see how long each type takes me.

I'm early in my current tracking cycle, but already I'm noticing areas for improvement. For example, when I get up in the morning, I'm almost immediately grab my iPad and chill on the sofa under a blanket. I always tell myself it's just for a short while while I get warm, but realistically it's 30 or 40 minutes, and it's why I've been skipping my morning yoga.

Again, this is why the unintentional category is a must have. It forces you to see just how much time you're wasting with brutal clarity. Not that you can't sit around and chill out, but when it's preventing from making healthier choices, or from doing what you want to do in life, then maybe something needs to change.

Another thing I've noticed is how much time I'm spending past my shift on work. We have half hour lunch breaks, but a flexible approach to it: if you go on lunch for longer, you add it to the end of your shift. Problem is, that now cuts into my evening, and means shorter workouts, or cutting them out entirely, in favour of the other things I've got going on. If I want my evenings back, I need to be more hardcore with my lunches.

If you're feeling stuck, or unable to make a change because you're not sure how you'll fit in it, give time tracking a try. You might just find you have more spare time that you think, or perhaps that you're spending more time on an area of your life than you want.

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  1. And unless you’re a super sleeper, you should. Don’t sacrifice sleep at the cost of productivity; you might get a short term boost, but end up with long term losses.

  2. No, I don't call her Wife in the project; I use her name. I'm not that guy.

  3. Only because I fall into the stereotype of the man who spends way too long watching stuff on YouTube while doing my business. One time, I was there 20 minutes.