Quantified: How I spent seven weeks

At the other Quantified Self Toronto meeting, I promised to get back into time tracking and to share my results. I’ve got seven full weeks of data from August 6 to September 23, and I can start exploring a few interesting angles.

Influenced by the OECD time study, I’ve categorized my time into sleep, work, unpaid work, personal care, and discretionary time. Sleep and work are self-explanatory. Unpaid work cover the routine things I could theoretically pay someone else to do: chores, cooking, and so on. I also include travel and commute time. Personal care involves daily routines. Discretionary time includes connecting with other people, responding to mail, exploring personal interests, and other things I choose to do.

I slept an average of 8.2 hours a day. I’ve been trying a different pattern: stay up until I feel sleepy, and wake up at around the same time. This gets me mostly in sync with my night-owl husband W-, who gets by on less sleep than I do. (Maybe it’s because he drinks coffee and I don’t.) Lately, I’ve been working on being in bed by 11, and sometimes even earlier.

Staying up means getting more discretionary time, as my wake-up times generally don’t shift unless my phone’s powered off or I sleep through my alarm. (Happened twice, fortunately with no consequences.) I think it has to do with lots of sunlight in the morning – it makes it much easier to get up. Sunrise will get later and later, though, so I’ll need to adapt.

More usefully, staying up later means creating the possibility of chunks of focused time, which is great for things like playing around with the Arduino or working on personal code. For some interests, a four-hour chunk may be better than two two-hour chunks. Setting up for woodworking or sewing can take time, for example, so it might be better to batch things.

Did I take advantage of those chunks of time? Here’s what the numbers say:

Time in 49 days Typical activities
4-5-hour chunks 3 working on personal projects (2), electronics (1)
3-hour chunk 5 volunteering (4), blogging (1)
2-hour chunk 21 writing (6), personal projects (5), electronics (3), drawing (2), piano (1), relaxing (1), volunteering (1), learning (1), reading (1)
1-hour chunk 41 writing (10), personal projects (7), drawing (7), relaxing (6), other (3), reading (3), volunteering (2), piano (1), learning (1), sewing (1)
Less than 1 hour 153 writing (42), drawing (26), personal projects (21), relaxing (21), reading (14), other (9), piano (8), learning (6), delegating (2), Latin (2), volunteering (1), gardening (1)

This tells me that freeing up a 4-hour chunk isn’t super-important, and that I can squeeze a lot of activities into the nooks and crannies of a regular sort of day.

Sleep: When I stayed up late, I felt like the discretionary time was occasionally of lower quality. It’s not quite about being tired, more like not being as excited. Maybe being up early gives you a certain smugness and feeling of control. Maybe it’s about momentum. I can see if I can move my chunks of time earlier in the morning (downside: less ambient socialization), or if I can tweak my afternoon my momentum (start work a little earlier, use a nap or household routines to transition from work, then rock on).

Tracking time affects how I spend my day. It’s like the way tracking expenses can influence what you choose to spend on. (I track practically all my expenses – tracking’s great for making better decisions.) Mostly, tracking time encourages me to keep work within limits, because I know I’ve only got so many discretionary hours to spend on my own interests.

I tend to work about 40 hours a week, sometimes a little more. This doesn’t mean that I watch the clock, waiting for the seconds to tick by. If I’m in the zone, I’ll code until I come to a good place to stop. I’ve been tweaking my non-billable work to focus on the things I can make the most difference in. For example, I maintain a Lotus Connections toolkit to help people make community newsletters and get metrics. I tend to focus on small, quick fixes that help many people. Anything bigger than that gets added to my list, and I encourage people to find someone who can work with the source code if they need it sooner. I also nudge people to send happy-notes to my manager, as he needs to provide air cover for these sorts of things whenever there’s a heavy focus on utilization.

Limiting my work hours also means that I focus more on work when I’m at work. I’ve planned the projects based on how much time I think I’ll need to finish the work, and I don’t want to get into a last-minute scramble at the end. Although my estimates factor in a reasonable buffer for meetings and other interruptions, I still don’t want to waste that margin. Result so far: pretty happy clients. My manager is happy too, as my estimates aren’t over-optimistic. (In fact, I tend to turn things around quickly, but that’s more of a bonus.) It also helps that I know I’ll have discretionary time for exploring other interests.

Our routines fit our life well. There aren’t any big gaps where I could significantly improve things for a small investment of time or money. I’m working on misplacing things less often. We’re going to experiment with scaling up. I’ve considered outsourcing or getting assistance with food preparation, but I still have to crunch the numbers on whether the increase in discretionary time makes up for the increase in our food budget. There’s no point in doing it if I’m going to waste the time, but maybe it compares well with delegating or postponing other things I want to do.

12-Aug 19-Aug 26-Aug 2-Sep 9-Sep 16-Sep 23-Sep Total Percentage of total time
UW – Cooking 6.4 4.7 1.5 7.4 3.1 4.1 1.2 28.4 2%
UW – Tidying 2.5 5.0 3.8 3.7 5.7 6.3 3.6 30.5 3%
UW – Travel 0.8 0.6 1.4 5.2 2.8 10.8 1%
P – Eating 5.0 6.1 2.0 5.0 2.8 1.7 2.1 24.5 2%
Unpaid work total 8.9 10.5 5.3 11.7 10.2 15.5 7.6 69.7 6%
P – Exercise 5.9 2.5 12.2 6.2 5.6 2.7 5.5 40.5 3%
P – Prep 0.0 0.0 0%
P – Routines 7.7 7.9 8.2 6.1 6.3 11.0 8.7 55.9 5%
Personal care 18.6 16.4 22.4 17.2 14.8 15.3 16.3 120.9 10%

My “discretionary time” allowance stays pretty consistent. It turns out that I have roughly 4.6 hours of discretionary time during weekdays and 9.3 hours of discretionary time during weekends. What I choose to spend that time on tells me about my changing interests. For example, I’ve been shifting time from Latin and piano to electronics and drawing. I’m pretty happy with that decision, although I’m thinking I might shift some time back to Latin so that I don’t lose too much to forgetting. We’ve been volunteering a lot, so we’ll see how that works out.

Discretionary time:

12-Aug 19-Aug 26-Aug 2-Sep 9-Sep 16-Sep 23-Sep Total Percentage of discretionary time
D – Break 0.7 2.4 1.9 2.4 2.0 3.4 6.0 18.8 6%
D – Delegating 0.6 0.1 0.7 0%
D – Drawing 4.1 4.3 10.0 2.0 3.2 1.9 0.7 26.2 8%
D – Electronics 2.0 2.0 1%
D – Gardening 0.2 0.2 0%
D – Latin 1.4 0.5 1.9 1%
D – Learning 0.2 1.2 9.5 10.8 3%
D – Other 4.9 4.9 2.5 12.2 4%
D – Personal 3.9 13.5 12.3 0.8 12.8 43.2 14%
D – Piano 6.6 2.6 9.2 3%
D – Reading 0.7 3.4 0.1 5.5 2.9 0.3 13.1 4%
D – Sewing 1.6 1.6 1%
D – Shopping 1.1 2.0 2.5 3.4 11.9 20.9 7%
D – Social 11.5 11.2 7.8 9.0 19.2 12.1 4.7 75.5 24%
D – Volunteering 6.3 8.0 3.8 3.5 3.7 25.4 8%
D – Writing 8.1 6.6 5.0 11.4 7.2 11.4 0.8 50.4 16%
Discretionary time total 39.5 46.4 47.0 43.3 52.0 43.0 40.9 312.2

How can I make this even better?

  • Plan the projects I want to focus on, list the next actions, and see how much of my discretionary time is used for making tangible progress towards long-term goals. It’s like the way I analyze my expenses based on short-term goals and long-term goals.
  • Shift wake-up a little earlier so that I can experiment with two smaller chunks of time instead of just one evening chunk.
  • Experiment with greater delegation.
  • Experiment with finer-grained tracking using notes.
  • Continue adding to my life dashboard (currently tracking time and clothes).

2011-09-02 Fri 19:45

  • Petr R.

    It would be cool to have some kind of visualization of those data :). Numbers are for computers not for humans

  • Petr R.

    Like this http://jonasdowney.com/ephemera/, I like tracking and visualization like this.

    Petr

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Good idea for a followup blog post. Thanks for the recommendation! This is way cool. =)

  • Petr R.

    And two more links, I’ve contacted Jonas how he does it
    http://jonasdowney.com/ephemera/2010/
    http://www.rocketfoo.com/2011/02/07/this-ephemeral-year/
    enjoy

    Petr

  • http://digitalcrusader.ca/ Eric Boyd

    Hey Sacha, great post. Do you have a link for the OECD time study that you mention? It sounds fascinating!

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua
  • http://www.mostlymaths.net Ruben Berenguel

    Hi Sacha,

    Maybe I missed it, but how are you tracking the data? Org-mode and a computer always at hand?

    Ruben

  • http://sachachua.com Sacha Chua

    Ruben: The Time Recording on an Android phone, and some tools I’ve built to simplify analysis. =)