Tracking My Time: How I Found More Hours in My Day

Since arriving home to Portland at the end of June, I’ve felt frustrated. There’s so much I want to do but never enough time to do it. At the same time, I feel like a total whiner. I mean, how lucky am I to be in this situation? I have tons of free time, no job, and I’m really able to do whatever I want. I’m damned lucky is what I am.

Yet it feels like I never do what I want. It feels like I’m always doing things I have to do or things for other people.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking with my friend Paula Pant about this problem. “I wish I could figure out where all of the time is going,” I said.

“You should do a time inventory,” Paula said.

“What’s a time inventory?” I asked.

“Well, you know how the first step to losing weight is tracking calories? And you know how the first step to getting out of debt is logging how much you earn and spend? Well, a time inventory is sort of the same thing. For a certain length of time, you write down exactly how you’re spending your time. Here. I’ll send you a link.”

Paula pointed me to Laura Vanderkam’s website. Vanderkam offers free downloadable PDF forms and spreadsheets to help people track their time in fifteen-minute increments. As you go about your day, you jot down what you’re doing at various intervals.

Paula recently performed this time inventory exercise in her own life and found she was wasting almost eighteen hours a week on mindless stuff. Sounds like a lot, right? Well, last week I logged exactly where my time has been going. I’m afraid my results are worse than Paula’s…

The Good

First up, let’s look at what I’m doing right. The results of this experiment weren’t all bad, after all.

For instance, I’m getting an average of one hour per day of exercise. Last week I went to Crossfit three times, yoga once, and enjoyed a few bike rides. That doesn’t include all of the times I walked to do errands or took the dog for her exercise.

Note: I haven’t mentioned it here, but Kim and I got a dog. Near the end of our trip, we stopped to visit my cousins in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. They had a littler of seven puppies, and Kim fell in love with the runt. We adopted her, named her Tahlequah, and brought her along for the last three weeks in the motorhome. Since returning to Portland, Tally has probably been the dominant theme in our lives. Puppies need a lot of attention.

Speaking of the new dog, Kim and I also adopted two kittens recently. According to my time inventory, I’m spending a full 2-1/2 hours per day with the pets. The cats don’t require much effort, of course (although they’re happy to play with humans), but Tally takes 3-5 hours each day, which Kim and I split between us. She needs two daily walks and plenty of play around the house. So far, we’ve been great about engaging with her. We hope this produces a happy, healthy dog in the long run, one that needs less time. (Fingers crossed!)

Finally, I’ve been averaging one hour per day with family and friends. On paper, that doesn’t actually sound like a lot, but turns out it’s actually quite a bit compared to most people.

The Bad

I wouldn’t be writing this post if I were doing a good job with time management. I’m not. I’m wasting more than thirty hours each week on non-productive activities. Like what?

Like, I spent an average of 2-1/2 hours each day watching TV and movies. Yikes! For a guy who says he doesn’t watch much TV, that’s an awful lot of TV. All told, that’s 17-1/2 hours I could have used for something more rewarding. To be fair, seven of those hours came when Kim and I decided to have a movie night. And two more were devoted to watching my Portland Timbers defeat the Seattle Sounders. But still…

But that’s not all.

I also frittered away thirteen hours and fifteen minutes on what I consider computer-based time-wasters: browsing Reddit, playing Hearthstone, and so on. That’s nearly two hours per day of time lost. Not good.

Aside from thirty hours of total wasted time, I lost hours in other ways.

For example, I spent a total of four hours in the car last week, which is just over half an hour per day. That might not sound like much, but it’s a lot for me. That’s time I’ll never get back.

It took me over eight hours to do chores and errands last week. That seems like a lot. Now part of that was because I did a deep clean of the house on Thursday, it’s true. And another part is because I tend to walk for my errands, which means they take a bit longer. All the same, this seems like a lot of time to have used for menial tasks. Maybe I can find ways to be more efficient?

Finally, I averaged nine hours and twenty minutes of sleep per night. WTF? When did I start hibernating? In the olden days, I was perfectly content with 7-1/2 hours per night. And often I could get by with six hours per night. I’ll bet that I could still get by with less sleep, but I got into the habit of sleeping tons during our roadtrip.

The Ugly

So, that’s where my time is going. And it’s not pretty. But perhaps even worse is where I’m not devoting my energy. My stated number-one goal is to build and promote Money Boss, my new financial blog. But am I doing that? No, I am not.

Last week, I only spent 7-1/2 hours writing material for Money Boss — and most of that came on Sunday morning. I consider this my top priority, yet I’m not treating it as such. This needs to change.

I spent another 7-1/2 hours working on Money Boss business matters last week: answering email, preparing talks, tinkering with the website. That’s a total of fifteen hours devoted to my business. I want to double that. I want to spend 30-40 hours each week on Money Boss and related projects.

Meanwhile, I’m not taking care of me. Over the past seven days, I allocated a mere four hours to personal care and self-improvement — and most of that was stuff like showering and shaving! I did take an hour to practice Spanish mid-week, and I took my usual hour to work on my personal finances on the weekend. But that’s it. This too needs to change.

Time to Change

In order for an exercise like this to be useful, you’ve got to be completely honest about your habits. And you can’t try to make changes during the assessment period. When you initially log your spending, your eating, or your time, your goal is to document what you’re doing in normal day-to-day life. If you try to make changes during the assessment period, you’re defeating the purpose.

Now that the assessment period is over for me, it’s clear what I need to do.

First up, I’d like to find at least two hours more per day to devote to Money Boss. And I’d like that time to be structured so that I know it’s there and I can use it productively. Those are two separate problems.

I feel like there are several ways I can approach the first part of the problem. Just as you should tackle the big things in your household budget before trying to pinch pennies on the smaller line-items, I’m going to start by trying to trim the biggest timesinks.

I can create more time in my day by:

  • Sleeping less. I should be able to easily move to 7-1/2 hours of sleep per night, which would free up nearly two hours per day. Boom! There’s fourteen hours per week — almost the amount I want to find for working on business.
  • I don’t want to eliminate TV, movies, websurfing, and videogames from my life. I like spending a bit of time on those hobbies. But do I need to spend four hours and twenty minutes per day on these things combined? Hell no! If I budget two hours per day for time-wasters, I think that’s plenty.

With these two changes alone, I’d free four hours and fifteen minutes each day to spend on more important things, such as business and personal growth. For instance, if I take three of those hours for Money Boss, that’ll give me 36 hours per week of work. Perfect. And if I use the other hour and a quarter I’ve freed up to work on becoming a better person, that’ll give me nearly two hours a day for self-improvement. Nice.

The second part of the problem is more difficult. Where do I put this time in my schedule? The ideal situation would be to wake early or go to bed late. I like going to bed with Kim, so that means my only option is to wake early. I’ve done well with rising early in the past, but by that I mean 5:30 or 6:00. To do what I want to do, I’m going to have to wake even earlier. I’m going to need to get up at 4:00 or 4:30, make coffee, and get directly to work.

Another option is to wake at 4:30, go to the 5:00 Crossfit class, come home and walk the dog, then sit down to work from eight until noon. Actually, thinking out loud, that’s probably the best option. It’ll suck at first — no question! — but in the long run, I’ll be much more productive.

The Ideal Schedule

So, there you have it. After all that, I’ve arrived at an “ideal schedule”. It looks something like this:

Monday, Wednesday, Friday
04:30 wake
04:45 drive to gym (sorry, Mr. Money Mustache)
05:00 Crossfit
06:15 drive home
06:30 take the dog for a walk
08:00 grab breakfast and sit down to work
13:00 end work, eat lunch (with somebody, if possible)
14:00 personal development
16:00 go into evening mode

Tuesday, Thursday
04:30 wake, grab coffee, start working
06:30 take the dog for a walk
08:00 grab breakfast and resume work
13:00 end work, eat lunch (with somebody, if possible)
14:00 personal development
16:00 go into evening mode

Look at that! With this schedule, I’ve built in 29 hours of work — and that doesn’t count afternoons or weekends. I love it. I’ve also built in ten hours for self-improvement. Yay!

I like this schedule because:

  • I’m free to do as I please after four o’clock every weekday afternoon.
  • Aside from Crossfit on Saturday mornings, my weekends are entirely free.

The challenge for me is to be militant about protecting my mornings. That’s my time. No meetings, no appointments, no errands. Only my priorities. It can be done. (I’ve done it before!)

Today is my second day on this ideal schedule. Yesterday morning, I woke early and went to Crossfit. I didn’t make the 5 a.m. class, but I did make it to the six o’clock session. Then I came home and walked the dog. Then I worked until one. And this morning, Kim and I got up together at 4:45. Here, two hours later, I’m done with this article and ready to take the dog for a walk. (She’s ready too!)

I have high hopes that this ideal schedule will allow me to get stuff done and give me plenty of time left over for play.

Note: By chance, my pal Chris Guillebeau recently published a related article: Eight ways to have more time.

What’s the Worst That Could Happen? Using Action and Momentum to Achieve Your Goals

Tyler K and Katie, sailingLast night I met long-time reader Tyler K for dinner at a local Portland restaurant. Tyler is a software engineer and a sailing nut. He’s also a man of strong (and vocal) opinions. As sometimes happens during these meetings, a casual conversation about something unrelated provided a flash of insight about personal finance.

Over Khao Soi and caramelized pork, we talked about goals and having direction in life. Tyler’s not a big fan of my mission statement concept — hey, nobody’s perfect! — and he thinks too many people have big dreams without taking action. I agree. A wise man once said, “Faith without works is dead.” So too, goals without acts are dead.

Action is the cornerstone of achievement. Consider:

  • Action creates luck.
  • Acton builds confidence.
  • Action destroys fear.
  • Action manufactures motivation.
  • Action is character.

That last point is so important. You aren’t what you think or say. You are what you do. If you never did anything, you wouldn’t be anybody. If you have goals but don’t work toward them, those goals don’t mean anything.

Tyler told me that he meets lots of people who dream about sailing around the world. “It’s almost a cliché,” he said. “Tons of people share this dream. They have a romantic notion of what it’d be like. But nobody ever does anything about it. They don’t take sailing lessons. They don’t save to buy a boat. They don’t do anything to make it happen. All they do is dream about it.”

“Why do you think that is?” I asked.

“People are afraid. They make excuses,” Tyler said. “They’re not afraid of what might happen at sea — although maybe they should be — but afraid of what might happen at home. What would happen to their job? What would happen to their friends? You know, that kind of thing.”

“I think the same thing prevents a lot of folks from doing long-term RV trips,” I said.

“Exactly. But in reality, the worst-case scenario isn’t that bad. People imagine it’s terrible but it isn’t. What’s the worst that could happen? You’d probably end up back where you started. Maybe a little behind.” Continue reading