In a recent live video, I discussed the idea of time tracking, something that has been making a huge difference in my productivity and awareness. I thought I’d share more about it here.
Last week I was feeling overwhelmed by life. I was confronted by the difficulties in planning for the future during Covid. I was unsure what steps to take as an eager musician living in a part of the world that isn’t particularly hospitable to original artists.
These things are still true – Covid, and my unsureness – but I have found some helpful solutions to make me feel more in control of my day-to-day experience. Time tracking has been one of them, and it’s a habit I’m going to continue for at least another month (and possibly indefinitely if I find it useful enough).
Every Sunday, I sit down for a couple of hours to write a review of the previous week and plan for the next week ahead. I’ve been doing this process for years, and I deeply enjoy it. Planning for the week ahead, the day before I get back into work mode, organizes my mind and gets me excited to work and take small steps toward audacious goals.
What I haven’t done, and what I’ve resisted doing for years, is to schedule my work, and to keep careful tabs on how much time I’m spending on tasks.
Perhaps there’s a rebelliousness there – “I didn’t decide to start a business and work from home only to micromanage my schedule”. I figure that I’m a highly-motivated person anyway, so why do I need to give myself time constraints and boundaries?
The virtue of time scheduling
What I didn’t realize is that scheduling my days (in a series of digital to-do check boxes) is an extremely useful way to manage my life, making sure I don’t waste time working on the things that don’t matter much, and that I’m devoting adequate time to the things that do matter, but that might be a lower priority.
For example, I’ve been reading some music marketing books to better understand the industry, as I’m several months shy of an album launch. This is a low-priority task in a time sense – it’s certainly not urgent to anyone else in the world – but it’s a high-priority task in that it’s connected to my most meaningful project at the moment. If I don’t block time to read and study and plan, then I’ll likely not do much of it.
On the other side of things, I tend to spend too much time doing work tasks. If I don’t budget my time, I can spend an entire afternoon doing something I probably could’ve done in a couple of hours.
One benefit I hope to reap the rewards of is a more accurate view of how I’m spending my time, and how long it takes me to do certain tasks. As I go through this weekly time management process, I’ll be able to make more accurate estimates.
When I’m planning for the week, I have at the bottom of each day’s to-do a total of the hours I expect to spend on work. When the day is over, I write the actual total of time spent.
At the end of the week I can see how close my predictions were to reality, and calibrate for the upcoming week based on what I’ve learned.
Improved social life
The huge advantage of this time-tracking approach is that I’m able to schedule in long hangouts with friends while having the peace of mind that everything else that needs to get done, will get done.
I love spending time with friends and family. It’s the difference between a good day and a great day. My relationships are a “deathbed” thing – the people I’ve loved will mean much more at the end than the tasks I accomplished.
Having focused 2+ hour conversations with people I really enjoy adds sparkle and joy to my life. But when I’m not time-tracking and live in more of an ad-hoc way, I tend to not socialize as much. I’ll make it to the end of the week and realize I didn’t do much else aside from work. Hanging out with friends is a high-priority but low-urgency activity, so unless I make room for it and actively plan it into my schedule, these meaningful hangouts tend to fall by the wayside.
Freedom of mind
When I’ve put plenty of thought into my weekly schedule to make sure I’ve made room for everything that matters – work and play – I experience a freedom of mind. When I’m with my work, I can be fully-focused on my work (without feeling like I’m neglecting my social life). When I’m with my loved ones, I can be fully-focused on them (without feeling like I should be doing this or that task).
A final thought on time-tracking is that, even after a week of doing this, I’m able to notice the many insidious ways I tend to waste time. A 1-hour work session becomes a 45-minute one because I’m spending the remainder of my time texting. Or a 1-hour work session becomes a 30-minute one because I forgot to account for cooking and mealtimes. Or I forgot to do a particular errand, so I need to leave the house two days in a row instead of getting it all done at once. And on.
The biggest benefit I’m finding so far is awareness. I want to become more aware of how I’m spending my time. I want to become more aware of how much time I’m spending on different areas (time spent socializing, versus my business, versus my album). I want to become more aware of the discrepancies between my predictions and what actually happens in real life.
So far, so good.