Quantified Time: Comparing notes

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David Achkar has a great blog post sharing his observations from 42 days of time-tracking using Google Calendar and a few scripts for export and analysis. Since it’s fun to be able to compare numbers, I thought I’d reflect on 2013 so far.

Like David, I spend about half of my life on “survival”-type activities (48%): sleep, routines, exercise, walking, and so on. I include planning in my Personal category, even though that might be more of a discretionary activity, because planning helps keep me sane. I count my bike commutes as part of this category as well, because I think of it as exercise. Without the bike commutes, exercise, and planning, the part of my week used for survival activities is down to 44%.

I don’t think that’s a bad proportion at all. After all, you’ve got to sleep sometime. =) While some people can get along fine on four hours of sleep (hello, Papa!), I know I need my 8-9 hours of sleep, because I feel fuzzy when I don’t get it. Assuming I sleep an average of 8.5 hours a day—which turns out to be the actual result from my 2013 numbers—that leaves me with 15.5 hours of awake-time for awesomeness. Of those waking hours, I use:

  • 36% for business,
  • 19% for personal routines,
  • 12% for chores and other unpaid work,
  • 11% for socializing (family and others),
  • 11% for productive discretionary activities,
  • 8% for relaxation and enjoyment,
  • and 3% for other activities.

So that’s roughly 58% of waking hours for good stuff, which is plenty of time to get things done. And the chores are pretty good for me, too – cooking and tidying are relaxing. =) I don’t mind. If anything, I should probably increase my “overhead” and spend more time exercising and wandering.

Choosing your time

David talks about being aware of and consciously choosing activities instead of simply reacting to whatever comes our way. It’s one of the nifty unexpected benefits of time-tracking: once you put a name to the time you’re spending, it becomes easier to recognize other things as not that activity. Working? Facebook doesn’t count. Relaxing? Checking e-mail doesn’t count.

Tracking your time manually adds a tiny bit of friction to switching tasks (you need to track it yourself, after all!), but this turns out to be a good thing. It encourages you to put off distractions until you legitimately track it as that, and if you’re going to do that, you might as well do that for at least five minutes. As it happens, postponing distractions makes them less tempting.

Busyness

I look at my work time mainly as a way of keeping it in check. =) I’m delighted to see that my average business-related time per week is 39:29 in 2013 so far and 39:51 in 2012, amazingly close to my target of 40. (How do I manage that? Boggle.) 

2013 has an average of 18:13 billable hours a week. This is down from 19:49 in 2012, which is good because I’ve been moving towards focusing on my own things. I’ll try to bring this down to less than 8 hours a week next year, to see what that’s like. If I can get one to three good things done each day, that’s enough.

Focus

It turns out that I can actually concentrate in long stretches, and that I can arrange my time to accommodate these spans if needed. I tend to favour 0-2 hour sprints, though. Flow feels great – but it’s also dangerously seductive, and limiting it might be worth a good idea.


Category < 1 hour 1 hour 2 hours 3 hours 4 hours 5 hours 6 hours >= 7 hours
Business – Build – Book review 4 3            
Business – Build – Coding 39 17 6 3 1   1  
Business – Build – Delegation 12 1            
Business – Build – Drawing 46 15 7 1        
Business – Build – Learn 13 2 2   1      
Business – Build – Paperwork 69 18 2     1    
Business – Build – Plan 14 4 3   1      
Business – Build – Quantified Awesome 34 18 6 2 3 1    
Business – Build – Research 10 4   1        
Discretionary – Productive – Emacs 33 19 5   2 2   1
Discretionary – Productive – Gardening 36 3            
Discretionary – Productive – Japanese 45 11 1 1        
Discretionary – Productive – Nonfiction 20 7 2       1  
Discretionary – Productive – Outlining 4 1            
Discretionary – Productive – Sewing 1 1            
Discretionary – Productive – Tracking 4              
Discretionary – Productive – Writing 153 38 6 1 1   1  

(I posted a similar analysis in 2011.)

Since practically all of my meetings are discretionary, I don’t need to make a special effort to clear large blocks of my day for concentrated work. Even when the day stretches before me without a calendar entry in sight, I usually don’t spend it all doing One Thing. I shift from one activity to another when I reach a good stopping point, following my interests or energy. Besides, food is important, so I usually interrupt my work for lunch or a snack. No marathon sessions for me!

(One year, I got so carried away programming that I forgot to make sure I drank regularly, and I fainted from dehydration. Other times, I’ve forgotten to take care of important things. So… right. I’ll pick moderation even if task-switching cuts into efficiency.)

Urgency

Very little in my life is urgent, so I’m rarely stressed. That’s partly because I have the freedom to minimize commitments and to recover from mistakes. I usually answer my e-mail within a week or two.  I could probably earn more or do more if I was more responsive or went looking for more commitments, but I don’t want to give up my creative time by shackling myself to e-mail or schedule expectations.

Other thoughts

Time data is an amazing thing to have, and it’s well worth tracking. I’m looking forward to more analyses from David. If you track and analyze your time, I’d love to hear from you too!

David Achkar: A Life Logged: Surprises and Insights