Yesterday, I put up an image Daniella sent me on Ben Franklin's Time Tracking.
After that, we got into a bit of a good discussion on the topic. We shared some thoughts on chaos and structure, and I wrote this -
Re: time tracking, it took me a few attempts and a few false starts before I started doing it. I've gotten a lot out of it, but I'm a big believer that your tools should serve you; you don't serve your tools. Track as much as makes sense for you so you get gains out of it. I'm naturally an unstructured person actually - I try to build structure and routine in the areas that I think it benefits, while letting creativity and chaos reign where it does well. My blog is actually more on the chaotic-just-let-it-flow side - I don't have an explicit pattern or schedule for posting. I just write something every day based on whatever I'm thinking or reading or corresponding about. I try to add more structure/order in areas where it helps a lot - even after doing it for a long time, I still forget to breathe and meditate a little at the start of my day if I don't refer to my time tracking. Likewise, tracking food and spending gives me a pretty good idea of what I'm eating and where my money is going, which adds a lot of value to my life. But again, it should serve you. Try it a little if you want to improve an area, make it work for you, make it yours. If it's not serving you at that time, discard it. I don't know if I'll track forever, but I'm still seeing big gains from it.
D writes back -
Thanks for the quick reply! Have to run to a concert now, but a question did pop into my head as I thought about the unstructured person living a semi-structured life and read your response. I guess I maybe resisted time tracking because it felt like I was self imposing structure on my daily life, which would "bind" me to it in a way. I'm the type of person that naturally resists structure but when I do have it, I do my best to succeed at it.
So when something so intimately permeates your daily life, which it appears to me that time tracking does, doesnt it get tiring? The days I was tracking, I felt like everything I did was guided by the fact that I was tracking time, if that makes any sense. That i didnt do it just because I wanted to, or whatever, but because there was the voice in my head that was constantly reminding me that that day was being tracked.
Isn't that exhausting? Do you ever take a day off?
Good questions. Great questions actually.
I do think your tools should serve you; you don't serve them. Likewise, tracking my time serves me.
Have you heard of the "Hawthorne Effect"? They were doing some experiments on productivity at the Hawthorne factory outside of Chicago, testing whether higher levels of lighting or lower levels were better for workers.
They increased the lighting... and productivity went up.
They also tried lower lighting... and productivity went up.
Actually, what they found was that just paying attention and measuring caused productivity to go up. As Drucker said, "What gets measured, gets managed."
So yeah, right away when you start tracking anything - your time, what you eat, what you spend - you're going to want to change your routine so it looks better on paper. You're not going to want to record that you ate, for instance, 7,000 calories on a day you weren't weightlifting or training at all.
I was staying with a friend of mine in Beijing who eats a lot of high carb and high calorie foods - pizzas, granola bars, crackers and peanut butter, etc. My diet changed quite a bit from the eggs/chicken/whole-wheat/vegetables/beans/nuts diet I was on at the end of my time in Saigon, and oftentimes I was hungry at the end of the day even though I'd eaten 2,400 calories already.
You know, I didn't want to eat another 700 calories and get up to 3100 - but I only knew that because I was tracking my foods. It didn't feel like I was eating too much early in the day, because I was hungry. (High calorie high carb low fiber foods do that to you - you eat a lot of it, and you're still hungry later)
Is that a good or bad thing?
Well, I'm cutting right now, so I take it as a good thing. Though, some part of me does get a little aggravated that I'm aware of this. "Damn it, I'm hungry. Frigging tracking..."
But it's not the tracking. The problem is that my life was out of sync with what I'd ideally want, with what serves my goals. The tracking just sheds light on that particular area.
But I know what you mean. It can feel cumbersome, or like it's too much. You don't want that, you really don't. The tracking should serve you and enrich your life and add far more than it takes from you. See, here's the latest version of my time/habit/life tracking, v5 -
START OF DAY ROUTINE:
Total sleep (hours/minutes):
Other time-sensitive things:
Key habit today:
What assets could I build/improve/acquire today:
DO BEFORE GOING ONLINE:
Vitamins (C, Fish oil, Calcium/D):
Review Life Goals:
Review "Current Targets":
DO SOMETIME DURING THE DAY:
Listen to audio:
Email in box, start:
Empty inbox completely:
Look at to-do List:
Do one thing on to-do list:
--> Subtotal Excellent:
--> Subtotal Good:
--> Subtotal Okay:
--> Subtotal Bad:
Did I start the day in my planner instead of online?
Did I only check email when I was ready to write back immediately?
Did I only check a site once, then done with it?
Did I check "Current Targets" if I caught myself wasting time?
Did I prioritize books/good learning instead of mindless surfing?
Did I keep surfing under 60 minutes for the day?
Did I make war on procrastination?
Did I act on my key habit for the day?
END OF DAY:
What are my key life goals? Spend 5 minutes on this.
Expenses for the day (estimate)?
Cash gotten or worked towards today:
What did I do right to move me towards my goals?
What would I do differently if I had the day to live over?
Make a request of my subconscious:
But I totally recommend against starting with that much.
It'd kill you. You'd quit. Anyone would quit if they went from zero to trying to track 30 things at once. Don't do that.
It's not how I started. I posted two videos on the topic, one with how I recommend you start in this thread - "Two Videos on How to Do Time Tracking"
I add things as it serves me. If something isn't serving me any more, I delete it from my list.
But now, it's super handy. Why do it every day? Well, honestly, I still forget a ton of things that are on my list if I don't refer to the list.
Is it exhausting? Just the opposite actually, I get far more energy and time and life back from the tracking than I put into it.
I screwed one of my knees up a few years ago lifting weights with bad form. Since then, I've got to stretch every day to keep my muscles loose. I was never able to remember to do it every single day - when I got busy, I'd always miss a day or two or three in a row, and then my knees would start to hurt. Then I'd start again.
Same with vitamins. I'd buy vitamins, take them a while, then forget to take them.
Same with planning my day at the start of it. I'd do it for a while, get a big boost, then forget to keep doing it.
Now it's all on my little sheet there. Every day I remember to stretch, take vitamins, plan my day in the morning.
Updating the actual time-tracking part of the sheet can take as little as three minutes throughout the day. I don't need to get it exact, I can estimate the numbers a few times throughout the day. It gets easier the more you do it. Here's April 5th -
9:10AM: (15 maintenance, 10 general-life)
11:40AM: Call with Bren and Ben. (150 A-task)
3PM: (50 maintenance, 150 surfing)
5:20PM: (30 exercise, 30 general-life, 80 relaxing)
6:40PM: (60 maintenance, 20 surfing)
1:20AM: (160 social, 210 A-task, 30 general-life)
--> Subtotal Excellent: 390
--> Subtotal Good: 365
--> Subtotal Okay: 70
Surfing/wasting time: 170
--> Subtotal Bad: 170
The subtotals/categories are already there so that's simple. I only made six entries for the day - at 9:10AM, 3PM, 5:20PM, 6:40PM, and 1:20AM. Since I do this a lot and it's fast, it probably took me 4-6 minutes total. That's way worth it for me to look at the current trends in my life.
If things get off-track, I can see where I'm doing good work, where I'm doing bad work, etc. If I wind up putting a lot of time into surfing the net, I notice fast. You can't have 2-3 days in a row of spending 5-10 hours doing garbage and not notice it if you're tracking your time. Again, filling this out took me six minutes MAX. That's totally worth it to know where my time went, and to remember to do all the little things I want to do.
So, is it constricting to do it every day?
No, not really. For me, it's like brushing my teeth or putting on clothing every day. It's just blended into my life, and I get a lot more back than I put into it.
But is it for everyone, all the time? No, probably not. You shouldn't start with some big unwieldly thing anyways, you should probably start with 3-5 things until you're getting a high success rate with those.
As for the actual time tracking part of it, I don't know if I'll continue forever. Maybe not. Right now, I'm getting much bigger gains out of it than I put into it, so it makes sense. It serves me and what I want to do in the world. If it serves you to do for a while, go for it. If you fall off after a while, no big deal. I aim for only a 70% success rate with things I'm working on, and I reckon brand new initiatives/habits will often take 3, 5, 10, even 20 false starts or failures to get going, depending on how hard they are. If it seems worthwhile, you keep trying to do it and eventually break through. If it doesn't serve you at this point in your life, you discard it for now and maybe try again later.
I love what I get back fro time tracking. Like, really love it. It's one of the best things I've ever done and it's brought a hell of a lot of understanding and clarity and focus to my life. But again - it should serve you, it should get you to where you want to be. I don't serve the tools, the tools serve me. It's a powerful tool if you use it to get what you want - but it should serve you; you don't serve it.
Great questions and great corresponding, Daniella. Drop a line any time, and thanks for the Ben Franklin link and the great discussions.