Last month, I set a goal of tracking my time. As many of you know, I love to track just about anything because I feel it gives us an unemotional, black-and-white perspective that is otherwise elusive due to emotions, fatigue, wishful thinking and lack of perspective.
So, this month, I tracked my time. I made a list of my daily chores (an actual handwritten list) and then completed those chores and logged the time it took at least three times.
I also tracked a few of my days, from wake-up to hitting the sheets at night.
The whole thing was fascinating. Fascinating.
What did I learn?
I can sum it all up in 5 Major Lessons:
1. I am late to 90% of my appointments. Yep, 9 out of 10 times I have to be somewhere on time, I am late. I am typically late by 4-7 minutes.
2. I spend hours on my laptop throughout the day, which surprised me, as I only 'counted' the time I was actually working on something. Turns out, throughout the day and evening, when I go to check email real quick, I easily spend 20 minutes clicking links I had no intention of clicking. Laptop time logged in around 4 hours per day, only 2 hours of which was truly useful work time.
3. My chores take far longer than I thought. For example, I estimated making my bed to take 2 minutes. It takes 6! (I have a lot of blankets and am obsessive about hospital corners.) I estimated folding laundry to take 5 minutes; it takes 8-10, depending on the amount of shirts I have to fold into little envelopes (KonMari style). Cleaning a bathroom takes 40 minutes (master); I'd estimated about 20. No wonder I always feel behind the eight-ball.
4. I have a weird anxiety that hits when I'm about to leave the house. I suddenly want to unload the dishwasher, fold laundry, flat-iron my hair or some other random chore just as I'm about to head out for an appointment. Seriously. It's weird. I am often right on time and then stop to throw a load of laundry into the washer or tidy up my son's room, which has been a mess all morning and never bothered me once.
5. My days are utterly random. There is no flow. I spend my days usually in a state of reaction, playing defense instead of offense. I don't practice time chunking, which means I am doing a load of laundry while also researching an article while also trying to read a chapter in a new book while also thinking about what's for dinner and wondering when I'll workout. There is a lack of focus, which I became aware of after reading Deep Work.
In light of these observations, I've concluded:
1. My anxiety overall is exacerbated by being late; it's a bit of a chicken-and-egg scenario. I noticed, this past month, that while I'm driving to appointments, I am usually short of breath and anxious. I'm aware I'm late, which only adds to my anxiety. You can imagine how much fun it is to ride in a car with me. My poor children.
2. I try to do too much, daily. By under-estimating the amount of time it takes me to complete chores, eat a meal and drive to appointments, I had a distorted vision of what was possible each day. I felt like I was always failing, always less-than, always lazy because I wasn't able to complete my to-do list. Now I understand the basic math behind the whole equation. There are only so many hours.
3. Anxiety is a huge part of my life, created and fed by unrealistic expectations, lack of awareness and a deficit in time and structure. When I think of a well-spent day, I do not think of rushing, being late, trying to cram things in, failing to appreciate the moment and being exhausted and overly stimulated as the day ends. There is a tendency in modern life to think anxiety is beyond-our-control. A doctor once described it to me as like having any other chronic health issue, for which medication was necessary; diabetes was the example she used. Her message was clear: my anxiety was simply part of my make-up and not my fault, and I needed medication to control it. This time tracking experiment tells another story, one I plan to follow up on.
All of this makes me want to Make Some Changes, including:
1. Leave for appointments 10 minutes early. I tracked the time it takes me to get to my most routine appointments, so I have a good idea of what this time should be.
2. Plan my days and focus my efforts (mental and physical) using time chunking so that I'm able to work deeply and more efficiently.
3. Do less. This sounds a little weak and unambitious, but given the time in each day and the quality of work I want to achieve, I can't do it all. The anxiety and feelings of failure that arise when I constantly underperform (based on shoddy expectations) is exhausting. I'd rather do less but do it well. I'll be making a list of things I need to cut in order to focus on what really matters.
This month of tracking was hugely useful and illuminating. I have thought of time management for years, but nothing has been so concrete and black-and-white as actually writing it down. I can see, now, the root of some of my anxiety and, more importantly, what I can do to make it better.
If you want to track your time, you might consider the following suggestions:
1. Write it down. Use either a spreadsheet or just a little journal or even a sheet of paper. But write it down. You can't possibly store it all in your head.
2. Before you begin, get clear about what you're tracking. I chose to track only a few key areas of life (chores, appointments, daily schedule). I didn't track everything (food, water, mood, weather, etc.). I focused. If there is an area of your life you feel uneasy about, track that area and get specific. It's amazing what you'll discover.
3. Be open to the results. It was hard to see, on paper, how much time I spent online. But I am open to the results because I know that the information could help be make positive changes. We're wired to view ourselves in the best possible light (self-enhancement bias). This sometimes not only does us no favors, but it can dull our ability to make necessary changes to better our lives.
It's amazing what we can learn and 'see' once we get specific, log the data and take an open step back.
I hope everyone is recovering from holiday festivities and planning all sorts of detoxes, resolutions, goals and epic workouts. On that note, I'll be posting later this week about what happened when I did pushups for 30 days straight.
Until then.....Happy Tuesday!