Weekly review: Week ending August 5, 2011; thoughts on discretionary time

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We had a four-day weekend: Civic Holiday on Monday, then an IBM floater holiday on Tuesday (to balance the holidays other provinces get). It was much appreciated.

Plans from last week

  • Work
    • [X] Send mid-year update to manager
    • [X] Work on Project M issues/requests
    • Reviewed the estimates and scoping for project T
    • Had mid-year chat with manager, learned about Maqetta
    • Sketched another possibility for an IBM comic
  • Relationships
    • [/] Work on Latin – 30 minutes daily; three times this week!
    • [X] Help J- with piano
    • Posted more info on http://friendsofmanilazoo.org and Facebook page
  • Life
    • [X] Practise piano – 30 minutes daily
    • [-] Draw – also 30 minutes daily – not quite daily, but did pretty well
    • [X] Track a complete week of time
    • Drew colourful things!
    • Posted yearly update

Plans for next week

  • Work
    • [ ] Wrap up project M
    • [ ] Set up meeting for project T
    • [ ] Follow up with project O
    • [ ] Figure out what next week will look like
  • Relationships
    • [X] Volunteer to lead a build class at Free Geek
    • [ ] Hang out with W-‘s family
  • Life
    • [ ] Sketch yearly update
    • [ ] Practise piano some more
    • [ ] Decide whether to continue piano lessons

Time tracking

Activity Hours Notes
Break 6.5
Cooking 8.8 Big cooking batch this week
Drawing 4.8 Yay colours!
Eating 7.0
Exercise 2.6 Biked to work
Gardening 1.2 Tidied up dried peas
Latin 4.3 Plugging away at “Latin Made Simple”
Piano 4.5 At least half an hour each day
Reading 1.6 Plus the books I’d read at breakfast, etc.
Routines 8.8
Shopping 11.0 Lots of shopping: replaced our microwave and our toaster oven
Sleep 60.8 Average of 8.7 hours a day
Social 6.5
Tidying 8.6
Work 24.2 4-day weekend, yay!
Writing 6.5

Nudged by Christopher Olah, I’ve resumed my time tracking. This time around, I’m particularly interested in how much discretionary time I can work with. It’s a little like tracking your expenses so that you can see how much you can save and if your expenses are in line with your priorities.

This week was unusual, thanks to a four-day weekend. Comparing it with the last time I summarized my time use, though, I can see some similarities. I still sleep for about eight and a half hours each day. I still work around 40 hours in a typical week (24 here, for a 3-day workweek) whenever I can. If I look at the daily breakdowns, I can get a decent idea of what discretionary time looks like on a weekday, a weekend, or a holiday. I’ll need more data points, for sure, but I can also check my numbers against my old time records.

Based on my numbers, I have around 4 hours of discretionary time each workday. This doesn’t include the daily routines of cooking, eating, tidying up, and so on. This is just the time I can choose to spend on writing, drawing, learning Latin, practising the piano, reading, connecting with people, or following other interests.

This block of four hours sounds familiar. I’ve come across it in other places, like in my post about how long it takes me to prepare a presentation (and thus the interest in increasing ROI). I think I’ve written about it in the context of time-tracking and unstructured time activities, too. Four hours is enough of a chunk for me to get into the zone on something.

Right now, I split that 4-hour discretionary time chunk into daily activities instead of devoting each chunk to one activity. For example, I might use half an hour to an hour for piano practice, half hour for drawing, an hour for Latin, and the rest for writing and socializing. This doesn’t give me the benefits of a deep dive, but it does mean I can space learning out a bit and give my brain time to integrate new information into long-term memory. Practising piano for half an hour each day is much more useful than spending four hours at the keyboard one day and neglecting it the rest of the week.

I’ve tried it the other way, using chunks of time for focused activities. Sometimes it’s the only way to focus, like when I’m working on open source. But skipping writing for too long makes me antsy, and trying to write seven blog posts in one go makes me miss out on that practise of daily reflection and improvement. I think I’ll take the gang-of-snails approach rather than the hare’s relay: slow and steady progress on my key priorities instead of focused sprints.

Splitting my discretionary time up into different activities also means I tend to spend less time on things with higher startup costs, like sewing. That’s okay. There’ll be time for that too, maybe when these other projects get wrapped up or when the need for it arises. Weekends are a good time for focused chunks. We need to see how the build classes we’ve started doing at Free Geek Toronto will shift our weekend routines, though. We’ll see how the numbers go.


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