Lately, I’ve become a timer fanatic.
Last month, I invested over 8 hours on personal development (journaling, etc.). This excludes reading and audiobooks which was over 30 hours. Writing-related tasks like research, outlining, drafts, re-writing, etc., clocked in at over 21 hours. I spent over 5 hours processing email. Around 3.75 hours on other research, and 1.75 hours to manage bills and other financial stuff.
These were the big time investments I tracked. I didn’t track the time I spent with my girlfriend, since, if she caught me, I’d be tracking my time making a Match.com profile.
It’s good to have limits.
I spent over 65 hours — about 1.5 workweeks — on activities outside of my normal 9–5 job with good portion of time invested in working toward my goals.
Aside from trying to drive myself crazy, why am I doing this?
A few weeks ago, I bumped into a neighbor at Starbucks.
“How’s everything going?” I asked.
“Everything is crazy busy.”
He shrugged. “Work and stuff makes things hard. And I’m always doing stuff around the house. Plus, the little dude running around doesn’t give me much time either.”
“Yeah, I hear you.” Wait, didn’t I see a Molly Maid’s car in front of his house the other day? And a landscaping company the week before? And carpenters generally don’t bring their work home. But…probably better if I don’t judge him while he’s holding a steaming hot latte.
“I’ve been spending a lot of time learning how to write better,” I said. “My goal is to write every day. That’s kept me pretty occupied. It’s not the easiest thing, but I like it.”
“That sounds cool. I’d like to do something like that. Maybe learn an instrument or something.”
“Dude, you should. I just saved a documentary on Netflix called I Dream of Wires that I want to watch. It’s about music and analog synths and stuff. It looks neat.”
He perked up. “I just finished binge-watching House of Cards on Netflix last week. Such a great show. Plus, I’ve been re-watching The Office. I love that show. You should totally watch House of Cards. You’ll love it.”
No time? As an outsider, I can see the problem.
As for me totally watching House of Cards, no. Maybe some day. But not now.
“But, I have no time”
I’ve told myself the same “I have no time” story while simultaneously making up fruitless projects, mindlessly browsing forums, aimlessly scrolling through Twitter, repeatedly checking email, and doing whatever tickles the annoying region of my brain that wants instant gratification.
It’s easy to throw up my hands and say, “I want to write everyday, but there’s no time to do it! I have house work, errands to run, and bills to pay. Plus, I work most of my day!”
I called bullshit on myself. There had to be time. Hell, Elon Musk is getting us to Mars, launching rockets into space, building an electric car company, creating a solar company, and merging our brains with AI. If the dude can do all that, I had time to write a few words.
Using Toggl, I tracked what I did. The tracking made me focus. Would I want to look back on my time and see I spent my day messing around on Reddit?
Sure enough, I wasn’t spending enough time writing. Instead, I spent hours each week on emails, financial stuff, and social media.
Now that I knew what I spent the most time on, I could analyze and optimize these activities. Unsubscribing from many of the mailing lists and marketing emails would solve my email overload. Automating bills and other payments would cut down the time to do my monthly finances. I resolved to spend no more than thirty minutes a day on social media, all in one sitting.
The clouds parted, the sun shined, and hours of writing time appeared from nowhere.
Please don’t put off what you’ve always wanted to do until you “have time.” Don’t wait for some modern-day Noah to part the seas of time for you to get shit done. You are Noah. You need to find the time.
Stop wasting time, start investing it
If you’re ready to stop wasting time and start investing it, track your time and bring a ridiculous amount of awareness to how you spend your days.
Start today. It’s simple:
- Break out a timer. Use your phone, an online timer, or the stopwatch feature on your rad Casio calculator watch. You can use Toggl (iTunes | Google Play) if you want a phone app. Don’t get too hung up on what you use — the tool doesn’t matter.
- Start working on one of your tasks and time how long it takes. Do your best to not multitask. Your goal is to see how long a task will take from start to finish. There’s also a huge benefit with single-tasking: You’ll see how distracted you can be. For instance, you start your timer, begin working on an article, and realize you’re on Facebook. This will show if you need to work on focus, and you can look back on your timer to see how much time you lost.
- Track it all. Don’t hold back, and don’t hide things. Laundry, email, cleaning, commuting time, Facebook, and any websites you’d be embarrassed to show your grandmother.
- Do this for two weeks to get a good sample of tasks and times.
- At the end of two weeks, total the times for each task. Take all of your Facebook time, add it up. Same with commuting, etc.
- Ask yourself: Which of these activities are helping you reach your goals? Which are not?
This breakdown shows what you need to cut back or eliminate.
Don’t make excuses for the things you track that aren’t helping you to get where you need to be. “But I had a hard day. I deserve YouTube time!” Sure, go crazy, but track it and see how much time you’re spending on it.
Tracking is easy, change is harder
Tracking was the easy part. Changing what I did on a daily basis was the hard part. And didn’t happen immediately. When I decided to meditate daily, I succeeded for a day or two, then forgot for a few days. When I realized how many days I missed, I started again, only to fall off later.
Why was I forgetting? I wanted to fit meditation into into my free time during the day, but it would never happen. I’d work on one thing, move to the next, then the next. Eventually, I’d go to bed. The next day (or a few days later) I’d realize I didn’t meditate.
I wasn’t prioritizing it. If I made it one of the first things I did every day, I’d be less likely to forget. So, I made that little change. When I woke up, I front-loaded meditation. I’d get up, get dressed, brush my teeth, then head right downstairs to meditate. Making it the first thing I did helped me make this an everyday habit.
Change takes time and experimentation. Every time you fail at doing something, think of it as feedback.
If you fail at doing something, don’t beat yourself up, try again.
Focus on one or two areas at a time and work on them. Don’t look at what you’ve logged and think, “I must fix all the things!” If you try to do everything at once, you’ll probably fail at everything. Start by focusing on one.
If you find email is taking up a lot of your time, start looking deeper into what is going on. What are you doing? Is it responding to colleagues, or going through marketing emails, newsletters, etc.? Do you write long emails that should be a phone call instead?
If you notice your time is spent on Facebook, can you cut it back to thirty minutes a day? Can you use tools like Stayfocusd to block access to it after a certain period of time? Sometimes you need to play games with yourself.
Start reclaiming a bit of time here and there and you’ll have more time to invest in your goals.
I’ve discovered that the more time I track, the more things can be optimized or eliminated altogether, and I have more time to focus on the things I want to focus on.
Continue to time your days until you’re giving a greater portion of time to your projects and skills with the longest-term benefit.
Your future self will thank you.