Tracking Your Time

At the end of a day, have you ever thought “Where did that day go?” “Where did the time go?” “What did I accomplish today?” It’s frustrating when you want to have a productive day, but you end up going to bed having gotten little work done.

Keeping a log of what you do during the day and for how long is a great way to start. Create a list where you write down each activity you do, its start time, and its end time. Hopefully, you’ll end up with a list with entries like: “17:32–18:20 — Dinner.” If you track where you spend each minute of the day, you’ll realise what you’re doing that is taking up so much time.

I’ve been doing this every day for many months, and I’ll often find many days where I’ve spent over three hours on YouTube. I don’t really watch much entertainment on YouTube, but mainly videos on self-improvement and various viewpoints on a variety of today’s issues. When I’m watching the videos, I believe that I’m spending my time well because I’m learning about the world; though it isn’t actual work that needs doing, it has become a means of procrastination. I’m making myself busy while not getting proper work done, but I try and justify it because it refines my mental model of reality, which in turn helps me write better articles.

This method also tells you what you aren’t doing. If you don’t track your daily/weekly habits, writing down where you spend all your time does the job for you. You can see how long you’ve spent exercising each week, making you realise that you aren’t doing enough. You can adjust your effort level to each habit you are trying to keep to, depending on how much time you spend on it. You’ll also notice your bad habits, such as how you’ve spent five hours over an entire week browsing social media. Tracking your time makes you realise your positive and negative habits; helping to encourage you to improve them.

It’s useful to start tracking time from the moment you wake up, otherwise you’ll let yourself be lazy in the mornings. I notice my failure in this regard, sometimes I’ll only start tracking time a few hours after I wake up; as if it wasn’t time I could have utilised better.

So, how else can we make sure that we get the important things done each day? For this, I’d recommend writing down what you need to do that day, either as part of your morning routine or before bed the night before. Consciously set your intentions for the day, e.g. think that you are going to have a productive day, starting from 9am; or you are going to spend the day focused on socialising with others, or even decide to spend a day relaxing. Setting specific times to start doing a particular task will also help, so you don’t spend all day distracted by other things; not getting anything started.

For some time-tracking software/apps, I use RescueTime, which automatically tracks how much I use each app on my phone, the time I spend using each application on my PC, and how much time I spend on each website too. I also use Toggl, which is a digital version of manually using the technique I described earlier, where you enter what activity you are doing, when you started, and when it ended.

Tracking your time is one of the first steps to gaining greater control over it. With each entry in your time log, consider whether it is a necessary task, or whether it is meaningful. Imagine the terrific benefits of having more time each day. It’s not a magic spell that will instantly give you more time, but a tool to self-reflect with and to understand yourself better.