Finding balance in a society that glorifies a limited range of behaviors, most of which are counterproductive to most, makes a complicated task even more complicated. I recently had a really interesting conversation with a friend of mine. He mentioned how despite the fact that he doesn’t stop all day long, every day of the year, he feels like he barely accomplished anything. He mentioned often feeling like a hamster running really fast in a wheel—exerting effort at all times of the day but going nowhere.
The imagery really resonated with me; I carried this conversation forward to another friend, who mentioned that she had had that challenge in her life before but that she felt she had managed to move past it using something remarkably simple: she tracked the time she spent on each thing in her life and made the appropriate changes to ensure that what was most important to her got done. Time tracking gave her the hard data she needed to make the changes in her day-to-day life so that her actions match her belief of what life was all about. She was kind enough to allow me to share her technique here on Sahar’s Blog.
Step 1: Listing What You Do
The first thing she did was to make a simple list of everything that she did. So for the course of about a month, she had a document on her phone that she would simply add bullet points to, from chores to work, from entertainment to fulfilling family responsibilities, she would write them all down. She kept it detailed yet simple.
Step 2: Categorising What You Do
She then categorised everything into large enough categories that she didn’t have too many to deal with in the next step but detailed enough to be able to make informed decisions. Categories include household affairs and chores, personal health, family time, entertainment, work, and transit.
Step 3: Time Tracking
For the following three months, she meticulously tracked her time in a simple Excel sheet with five columns: Category, Item, Time Started, Time Ended, and Total Time. She set the spreadsheet up with formulas that automatically calculated the total time she spent on each category as well as on each item within the category.
Step 4: Analysis and Adjustment
It might sound like a big, complicated process, but analysis and adjustment came very easily to my friend. She first began by sorting all the items into one of four groups: urgent/important, urgent/unimportant, non-urgent/important, non-urgent/unimportant. Then, she assessed if she was spending enough time on important and urgent matters, and too much time on unimportant and non-urgent matters.
A significant number of the adjustments were self-evident; some were a little less obviously so, but became evident after a bit of analysis. There were other trends that became really obvious once a bit more time was put into analysing them, and then there were the surprises that only became apparent the third or fourth time my friend tracked her time (she did it a total of seven times the last time I checked with her!)
Of course the entire process wasn’t as clear as described above. As soon as she started the process, my friend started making adjustments as she realised some of the things she was pouring precious time on. So for example, during step 1, she realised she spent time doing a certain set of activities that weren’t that important to her—it was something that had crept into her routine over the years. She immediately scratched them out of her life. Similarly, as she tracked the amount of time she spent on things in the third step, she would immediately make adjustments—for example, she told me that she realised she spent way too much time in transit in order to do groceries and so started going to another store to save a total of two hours a week.