A Week Long Time Diary

09 Jan / James Eastham

Time, something we never seem to have enough of! How many days have you woke up, then gone to bed, and felt like you got nothing done? We’ve all been there. Stuck in the rut of being super busy and super stressed with no forward movement. I picked up the idea for keeping a time diary from Scott and Caroline over at Costa Rica FIRE (@costaricafire). In essence, Caroline tracks every single thing she does every day in 30-minute blocks and has done for the past 20 years.

This got me thinking… Could seeing how I spend every minute of every day help me be more productive?

Would it scare the life out of me seeing how much time I waste?

Would I be proud of the amount of time I spend doing useful things?

One of the key realizations I have come to recently is that having clearly defined goals is immensely powerful for focus. Tracking how you spend your time keeps you truly accountable to if you are spending your time chasing these goals. Or, are you simply binge-watching the next big thing on Netflix (Bird Box anyone?)

A Time Diary? Is that not a waste of time?

Granted, I did think this at first. If I’m spending my time filling in a time diary I’m not spending that time being productive. In the end, I figured putting in a small amount of time could have huge ramifications coming out. At this point, I put my software developers head on and tried to make it as intuitive as possible.

Slightly off topic just for a moment. I don’t know how many people reading this use Gmail for their emails. If you do, that means you have access to Google’s suite of office tools. Docs, sheets, and slides being the main three (think of them as Word, Excel, and Powerpoint in the cloud). They are immensely powerful FREE pieces of software that can be accessed wherever you are in the world. I would highly recommend at least signing up for Gmail just for access to these tools.

Anyway, back to the point. One of the great things that come with GSuite is the ability to create custom forms. These forms can be accessed on a public web address and the responses auto filter through into a Google Sheet.

A google form showing the time diary entry screen

Now we are talking, a simple way to enter data into my Time Diary from any device anywhere in the world. Time well spent setting this up? Absolutely.

Recording the data

The data recorded through the form made its way into a Google Sheet. As I mentioned, sheets are simply Excel in the cloud. Which means you have all the complicated formulae and graphs you could possibly want. You can view a read-only and slightly edited version of my spreadsheet here.

As you can see, some parts of it are instantly intriguing. Only 23.8% of my time was spent at work (winner!) and I only spent 9.4% of my time being unproductive (god damn you Bird Box). Of my actual working hours spent, the time was pretty evenly divided. With Client 3 taking the biggest share of my time.

The graph just underneath the 2 pie charts simply shows how much time I am logging each day. I do think on some days I under/overestimated exactly how much time I spent on a given task. But as a rough estimate of exactly what I am doing every day, it has certainly helped.

If you want a copy of the spreadsheet for yourself, simply open this link and go to File > Download As > Microsoft Excel and go from there.

What have I learned?

It’s been a fascinating process, I can certainly say that much. In all honesty, it’s made me feel pretty good about how I spend my time. I want to make 1% gains in a couple of key categories; self-improvement and exercise I’m looking at you. Just improving ever so slightly, would make me much more effective and continue my journey of growth.

The benefits of keeping a time diary

The bigger benefit I’ve found is that I am now so much more conscious of what I am doing. On an hour to hour basis I find myself thinking about the diary and asking myself if what I am doing right now is moving me towards my goals?

It has also made me realize, that being completely unproductive is ok. Every minute does not need to be spent on the go. Taking some time every day to sit down and just cut loose, however that may be from person to person! Don’t worry about your goals, or your future and for an hour or two just switch off.

It takes quite a lot of introspection for this to work at it’s best. A true understanding of what is valuable to you as a person. How you categorize your own time could massively skew the results. I could quite easily have entered my TV time under wellbeing or daily activities. Choosing to admit that they are hours I am spending in a way I am not happy with is my own choice. In a similar vein, I have split traveling out into its own section. Most of the time, sitting in a car is completely unproductive. Since recently finding the joy of podcasts, this has become some of my most productive times. The whole thing is relative.

I want to keep my own time diary, any advice?

I’m a computer nerd at heart so after spending a week tracking my time I took my keyboard and got to work. Taking what I learned from tracking this data in a spreadsheet and applying that to a piece of software, I now have a beta version of the Uppd Time Diary application. If anybody is interested in trialing a time diary or is just interested to discover how they are spending their time, feel free to follow this link and signup now.

Sign Up
The app is free now and will be free forever, think of it as my gift to you. If you have any feedback for the app, drop me a message on twitter or email me at [email protected]

I’d also love to hear from you in the comments if you have ever kept a time diary, or logged your time in any way. How did you find it? Did you kick yourself or were you pleasantly surprised?

Time diary pinterest image

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