How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.– Annie Dillard
Experts tell us that one of the most effective actions we can take when trying to lose weight is to keep a food diary. Similarly, for those of us who have trouble getting things done or feeling overwhelmed by the number of things we have to do, a time diary can also be beneficial.
Why log your time?
People tend to be inaccurate about how much time they spend working and doing chores and then underestimate how much time they have for other activities. For example, I answer the Ask-the-Librarian questions on the weekend. Now, if you asked me how much time that task takes, I might think about how I’m responsible for it and how I have to check work email to answer them, and how much time it will take me to research the questions I get asked. But all of this is anticipatory.
If I actually check my time spent, I clearly see that only a few students send emails on weekends. Most of those are asking something that can be answered in less than a minute. And since I have both a smart phone and an iPad, I don’t have to stay in one place to answer those questions. The time log shows that on the vast majority of weekends, I don’t not spend more than 15 minutes being the “Ask the Librarian” person.
The same can also be true of household chores. Let’s be honest here. I hate housework. And when I think of cleaning the kitchen or bathroom, doing the laundry, or making meals for the week, I feel nothing but dread. And when I think about them during the week, I might be tempted to say that my whole weekend will be taken up by them. But if I keep an actual log of the time spent, I see that preparing meals for the week takes less than a hour. And while laundry may take several hours to complete, the actual work by me is often measured in minutes as I put one load in a washer, another in the dryer, and then go on to something else. And if I ever get around to cleaning my kitchen or bathroom, I’ll let you know the actual time it takes. But I’m willing to bet that it’s less than predicted in my worst nightmares.
The point is there is probably time for what we want to do if we look for it.
A time diary can also point out your weak areas. Let’s say that you made a low score on a test, and you’re discouraged because you spent hours in the library. But did you spend all that time studying? If you were keeping a honest log of your time, how many minutes would have been devoted to reading or sending texts, to seeing what your friends were doing on Facebook, to daydreaming about a trip to the beach once the semester is over, or watching the arguing couple over by the study rooms?
It’s not that taking break is wrong. It’s just that we tend to overestimate how much we work and underestimate the time we spend on such breaks.
While it may seem counter-intuitive to add a time diary to your never-ending things to do, keeping a log of how you spend your minutes might ultimately add more quality usable time to your day. And to your life.