If time is money, why invest it blindly?
That was my philosophy behind tracking every minute of my life in 2019. As mortal beings, time is one of our most precious resources, and I wanted to know where mine was going, down to the second. So, when the clocks struck January 1st, 2019, at midnight, I hit the “record” button on my time-tracking app and didn’t look back — until now. Here’s what happened.
Originally, I took up time-tracking in 2017 as a way to keep tabs on my freelance writing work. However, once I got curious about how much time I was spending in the bathroom, I discovered the value of tracking other areas of my life. Soon enough, my time-tracking habit spread to activities like cooking, eating, and sleeping. It was only a matter of time before I started tracking everything.
From 2017 until now, the TimeLogger app for iOS has been the method of my madness. The app revolves around creating “Tasks,” which are actually timers. You can start timers whenever you’d like — even simultaneously — and they’ll continue tracking time until you stop them. Pretty straightforward.
TimeLogger doesn’t restrict you to any pre-set categories or tasks, so you’re free to track anything you’d like. Here’s how I decided to categorize my time:
- Freelance writing (paid writing work)
- Entrepreneurship (time spent creating/managing Kratomaton, my internet business)
- Sleeping (self-explanatory)
- Bathroom (pooping, peeing, and ilding on my phone)
- Cleaning (house cleaning, laundry, dishwashing)
- Eating/Cooking (eating meals and meal prep — I categorized snacking outside of normal meals as “free time” because I almost always snack while doing something else)
- Exercise/Stretching (any time spent heading to the gym, being at the gym, or exercising/stretching at home)
- Hygiene (showering, shaving, trimming, facial care — I classified bathing as “free time” because it’s non-essential)
- Adulting (unpaid, non-recreational activities like banking, paying bills, going to health and finance appointments)
- Free time (any unstructured time with no particular goal in mind or time that doesn’t fit into any of these other categories)
- Out (recreational time spent outside the house that didn’t fit into any of these other categories)
- Writing/researching (unpaid writing, blogging, sketching, etc.)
TimeLogger is pretty easy to use, so getting in the habit of tracking my time wasn’t difficult. The main challenge is remembering to start/stop your tasks when you stop doing one thing to do another. I can’t count how many times I left in a hurry for the gym only to realize that I was still tracking “Work” halfway through my workout (d’oh!).
Thankfully, the app allows you to manually correct tasks by changing start/stop times, so when I did screw up, making the necessary corrections was simple.
Okay, so some admittance here: technically, I didn’t track every second of 2019 because I’m writing this in late December, and the year isn’t over yet. However, given that this is a retrospective post, I wanted to write it up before the start of the new year.
With that brief disclaimer out of the way, here are the results! Tread with caution: this is a long post. Feel free to skip to “The Takeaways” section if you’re not interested in my data.
I’m not an expert in data visualization by any means, so I just cobbled this chart together in MS Word/Excel. A few notes:
- Boring life obligation categories are colour-coded in shades of grey
- Relaxation and recreational categories (including unpaid writing) are colour-coded using shades of blue
- Revenue-generating work categories are colour-coded with shades of green
I don’t know about you, but given the colour-coding, the first thing that stands out about this chart is that my time is split into three distinctive chunks: obligations (~50%), work (~25%), and free time (~25%), with the latter two categories occupying a nearly even amount of time. I added up the percentages, and sure enough, all of the obligations/life categories add up to 57%.
Here are some highlights and observations:
With so much to do, work was a big priority for me in 2019. However, if you’re wondering why my numbers suggest that I barely work at all, note that I only logged work time when I was actually working. If I stepped away from my office to do anything else (visit the bathroom, cook/eat, etc.), I stopped the timer. This method of time-tracking is particularly effective at revealing how many hours you spent at work not working.
- Freelance Work: I did an average of four hours of freelance writing per weekday. Given that I did more freelance work at the beginning of the year before dialing back my hours as the year progressed, that average isn’t surprising
- I spent the most time doing freelance work in February 2019 with 144 hours. December was my least active month for freelance, with only 27 hours logged
- Entrepreneurship: I worked on my web business for an average of 2.3 hours per weekday. This seems low, but it’s likely because my time spent working on the site gradually increased over the year
- The smallest amount of time I spent on my web business was May 2019, with 21 hours logged. The largest amount of time I spent working on the site was 82 hours in October 2019
It seems that the comically catch-all label “life” is an apt name for these categories because they ate up the bulk of my time in 2019. From making sure I got enough sleep to taking bathroom breaks and cooking meals, I spent a lot of time trying to ensure my corporeal form was in good condition this year. And, as my numbers prove, all that time certainly adds up!
- Exercise/Stretching: I went to the gym 54 times in 2019, with an average workout duration of 55 minutes, excluding stretching/warmups. Sadly, I made the mistake of including transportation time in my “Exercise/Stretching” category, which wasn’t a good idea
- Bathroom: I averaged 31 minutes per day in the bathroom. Considering I visit the bathroom somewhere in the ballpark of 5-10 times per day, that’s not bad! I did try to be mindful of my phone-on-toilet usage down this year
- Cleaning: I spent more time cleaning as the year went on, probably due to increasing obsession with cleanliness and order
- Cooking and eating “ate up” an average of 2.3 hours each day
- Hygiene: I groomed and cleaned myself for an average of 52 minutes per day
- Sleep: I slept for an average of 8.5 hours per day. I see sleep as free health insurance, so I made sure to get enough this year. Sleep experts would probably be thrilled at these numbers, although I’m still somewhat convinced that my body prefers around seven hours
- Adulting: I spent an average of 24 minutes per day on “adult” obligations, such as paying bills, renewing licenses, etc.
As somewhat of a workaholic, I decided to give myself more “free” or unstructured time in 2019. Numbers don’t lie, and after tracking my free time in 2019, I’m happy to report that I did a decent job of not slave-driving myself to an early, miserable grave this year in the name of productivity. Yes, I could have been better, but overall, I’m happy with my progress.
- Free Time: I had an average of 3.87 hours of free time per day in 2019, during which I watched movies/TV, played video games, read articles and books, socialized at home, or did nothing of any particular interest
- Out: I spent an average of 1.15 hours per day outside of the house for recreation (including hanging out with friends, eating dinner out, or recreational shopping)
- Writing/Researching: I wrote blogs, screenplays, and stories without compensation for 89 total hours, usually on weekends. I logged the most unpaid writing time in June with 18 hours (probably because I was trying to finish the screenplay I wrote this year) and only 1.86 hours in February (when I was overwhelmed with work). Given that this category only made up 1% of my total time spent in 2019, I’d definitely like to make creative/unpaid writing more of a priority in 2020
Most people don’t track every waking and non-waking moment of their lives — and after tracking every second of my life in 2019, I can see why.
When you track your life, it becomes less of an organic existence, in which you float from one moment to the next, either deliberately or non-deliberately. Instead, a time-tracked life is often one of complete, regimented quantification. In 2019, I compartmentalized my life and invested human resources — as hours and minutes — into the things I cared about, and sometimes begrudgingly, the things I didn’t care about.
Still, tracking every second of my existence in 2019 gave me a new perspective on time. I always had answers to questions like “where did the day go?” and “how long did that take?.” But I also think the habit isn’t for the faint of heart. Some might experience a surge of anxiety upon reviewing their records and realizing how quickly time is slipping through their fingers. Meanwhile, conscientious types might feel pressured to work longer, more intense hours to set new high scores in the newfound, number-driven existence that is their life, gamified — something I struggled with personally throughout 2019.
However, it could be argued that after the initial shock of seeing one’s life quantified down to the second wears off, time-tracking could foster better habits and, in the long-run, improve one’s life.
I think the biggest takeaway is this: a time-tracked life is one with more transparency, but that transparency can be maddening for a plethora of reasons. Ultimately, I’d recommend time-tracking — but only if you approach it from the perspective of self-growth. If the act or thought of reviewing your daily time investments sparks a self-hating inner dialogue or compels your inner workaholic, time-tracking could be one self-development habit that won’t pay off for you in the new year.