168 Hours: What I’ve Learned Tracking Every 15 Minutes of My Week

Time Tracking Bitches

For the past two weeks I’ve been tracking every 15 minute interval of my life. I borrowed this time-tracking practice from Laura Vanderkam, who writes helpful books including 168 Hours, which outlines the practice in a lot of detail.

One of Laura’s principles is that “you have more time than you think.” Through her research, she’s found that most people who claim to work more than 50 hours a week tend to over-report their work hours, sometimes dramatically so. In other words, a lot of the time they think they’re working, they’re not. It’s not just that their priorities are out of order; they also waste a lot of time.

I was happy with my productivity and work habits until a year or two ago. Then I began feeling frustrated, constantly carrying the sense that there were never enough hours in the day—though of course I had access to the same amount of hours as everyone else. Even more, being self-employed I have a lot of freedom in how I plan and spend those hours. I’m careful about commitments that aren’t rewarding, I try to have no more than two meetings or extended phone calls a day, and so on.

Still, like I said, I’ve been frustrated.

I don’t have all the answers yet, but I’m pretty sure that some of them will be found through this time-tracking process. (If you’d like to try it for yourself, download a free spreadsheet from Laura’s site.)

What I’ve Learned So Far

A few early observations:

1. Time tracking takes time! But mostly it takes mindfulness.

Learning to monitor what you’re doing every 15 minutes takes some getting used to. I often find myself looking up and suddenly realizing I’m not sure what I’ve done for the last 40 minutes, sometimes longer—which of course is notable in itself.

On the positive side, I like seeing the columns fill up. I can tell there are patterns to be deciphered and improved upon.

*There’s an option to track your time every half-hour if fifteen-minute intervals feels excessive, but so far I’m thinking I’ll stick with fifteen.

2. The mere act of tracking my time helps me be more intentional.

When I know I have to account for my time, even if only to myself, I find myself making wiser decisions. I plan my days more carefully. I started writing this post a few days ago, but I’m finishing it while waiting for a replacement driver’s license at the DMV.

It’s not unusual for me to productively use waiting time. I think what’s different is that today I made this my default state instead of just looking at my phone or zoning out. I knew I’d need to account for what became a 30-minute wait, so I made sure to use it well.

3. Momentum matters.

Week I of tracking my time flew by and I only got behind a couple of afternoons. With a trip to New York City and a few other things that threw off my schedule in Week II, I got much more behind. There’s definitely a sense of momentum or inertia to this process: stay on track and you’ll want to keep it going, lose a few hours and you’ll feel discouraged.

Laura notes that most people have irregular weeks, but you shouldn’t wait for a “regular” week to start tracking. Disruptions happen in every week. I always have different projects to work on and I typically travel every week, so if I waited for a “normal” week at home I’d be waiting a long time. If I continue this discipline beyond another couple of weeks, I’ll need to make sure I integrate it into my traveling life.

4. I don’t feel guilty about intentional time that isn’t spent productively.

I don’t really have hobbies (I’ve tried!) and I sometimes say that relaxing stresses me out.

There are a lot of intervals I filled up with items “reading,” “walking to gym,” “phone call with a friend,” or even “search for mistake fares for post-WDS Asia trip.” And I liked that! I don’t feel that these things detract from my other goals at all. I don’t want to avoid or minimize them; in some ways I’d like to do more of them.

What I want to avoid is wasted time. Almost every day I have numerous 15-minute intervals that I don’t know what to label because I don’t remember what I did. This, at least for me, means that I frittered away the time without doing anything productive or taking time for myself in an intentional way.

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So what do I do with this info—or to rephrase, if you try it out, what do you do with the info you gain? Well, I’m not completely sure yet. Like I said, simply paying attention to it as I go is helping a bit on its own. I’d like to do more analysis with the data once I have another couple of weeks of good reporting.

In other words, I’m hoping to rally for Week III and gain more insight.

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Image: Eder Pozo

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

8 Ways to Have More Time

I’ve always wanted to be one of those people who needs only four or five hours of sleep a night. Unfortunately, I’m not—without a consistent minimum of 6-8 hours, and usually on the high side of that range, I don’t perform very well.

If you’re like me and need your sleep, and if you’re not otherwise superhuman, you may need to hack your way to greater time and productivity. Many of us are constantly looking for more time. These 8 tips might help.


  1. Don’t let other people schedule your life

First and foremost, do everything you can to remain in charge of as much of your schedule as possible. Learn your most productive periods and schedule your work around them. If you do any kind of creative work, you need to find a way to reserve time and space for your projects in a comfortable environment and on the schedule that works best for you.

Sure, you probably don’t have complete autonomy over your life, but that’s okay. Wherever you do have autonomy, or wherever you can reclaim it, assert your independence and make your own choices.


  1. Decide what’s important and do it first every day

In our modern age, there’s always one more thing that can be done. To battle against the limitless options, decide from the very beginning what’s most important. Then before you move on to everything else, tackle that task.

I usually choose 2-3 things that are “most important,” and I’ve noticed a recurring pattern: getting one of those things done is no problem. Getting two of them done is usually feasible. I can also get plenty of other things done throughout the course of any given day—but trying to do three big things is often a challenge for me.

I’m not sure why, but for whatever reason I work best with a combination of “two big things + other small stuff” every day. Since I know that about myself, I try to work with that combination as much as possible.


  1. Pay close attention to what makes you happy

If you work on things you enjoy, you’ll complete them faster and be less tired. With the extra time, you can move on to other tasks—because there’s always more work to be done—or you can do something else.

Consider it bonus time! Oh, and you’ll also be happier.


  1. Stop watching TV

I don’t actually think watching TV is terrible. If you have a favorite show on Netflix—no big deal. If you have six favorite shows on Netflix, however, that might be a problem.

Use TV or other entertainment as rewards for completing tasks. When you finish that big important thing on your day’s task list, spend half your lunch break watching an episode of that show. But otherwise, keep your head down.

We all make time for what’s important to us. What’s most important to you?


  1. Schedule your breaks and enjoy them

Break time is important, and none of us can focus forever. If you don’t allow yourself to slow down, your body and mind will mutiny on you and force the slowdown. Better to be in control of the process, and better to enjoy the down time instead of just sitting in a slump and trying to plow through something that isn’t working.

Just as you give yourself a “most important” assignment every day, give yourself at least one long break or two short breaks every day.


  1. Look through your calendar and cancel things you aren’t excited about

You know how sometimes you agree to something you don’t have a good feeling about? Whenever possible, avoid going through with it. This is a great way to free up hours, blocks of time, or whole evenings from your life.

Cancel that appointment or opt out of a group activity you’re dreading. Then, to avoid getting in these situations in the first place, see tip #1.


  1. If you keep putting something off, just let it go

There are two great ways of dealing with that thing that you’re procrastinating over:

a. Just get it done (AKA “push through the pain”)

b. Give up

Either of these ways are preferable to the choice that many of us make: to just keep deferring the item, leaving it on our list or in our mind, taking up space and draining energy that could be put to much better use elsewhere.


  1. Before you go to bed, decide on tomorrow’s most important action

Ask yourself, “What’s the big thing for tomorrow? If nothing else gets done, what’s the #1 action that will get me closer to my goals?”

The next morning, start working on that thing that you’ve prepared. Then when you watch Netflix later, or do whatever it is that serves as your escape, instead of feeling regret you’ll feel the satisfaction of having done something important.

And you’ll also have more time, even with sleeping at least 6-8 hours every night.

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When You Need to Escape, Build Your Own Countdown Clock

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*My brand-new book, Born for This, is all about helping you find the work you were meant to do. This series explores some of these lessons.

Lesson: When you’re trying to escape a dead-end job or any other undesirable situation, create a calendar and count down the days to freedom.

My dad worked as an aerospace engineer for several decades, but the final years weren’t as enjoyable as the earlier ones. It was probably my fault: I wasn’t there to help test the space shuttle (like I did when I was six years old) or pester him to take me to Burger King (like I did throughout my whole childhood).

He eventually retired and entered a new phase of life, writing mystery novels and short stories. Before he packed up his cubicle and moved to a beachside office, he created a spreadsheet that displayed the number of days that remained until his retirement age.

It soon became a topic of dinner table conversation: “Hey, Dad, how much longer at the day job?” I’d ask. He’d respond with something like, “Oh, I don’t know exactly . . . well, I guess I do. Looks like I have 673 days and 4 hours to go.” Soldiers deployed on long missions do the same thing, counting down their time to the precise day of planned exit.

If you’re in a similar situation, whether trapped in a cubicle, on deployment, or otherwise imprisoned, make your own countdown clock. You can construct a spreadsheet like my dad did, use an app on your phone (there are several free ones available), or just mark the days down in your calendar.

Countdown


Born for This is available from Amazon.com or your favorite local bookseller. You can also take the free quiz or join me on tour in your choice of more than 30 cities.

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Image: Countdown

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The Best Time Management Strategy: Don’t Find the Time, Find the Why

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Over the past few months, I’ve been interviewing people for my upcoming book on dream jobs. Many of the people I’ve talked to are really busy—they’ve found or created their dream job, but they also tend to do a lot of other stuff as well. Some of them have side businesses or run ultramarathons on the weekends. Some of them have active family lives and spend a lot of time running around to kids’ sporting events or other activities. Some of them do all those things… and more.

I don’t always ask the same questions of interviewees, but one tends to come up pretty often: “How do you find the time?”

I liked this answer I heard yesterday:

“It’s less about how do I find time and more about why do I find time. You’ll always find time for things that have a strong enough why.”

Isn’t that good? You’ve probably heard the one about how to get something done, ask a busy person—but this feels even better, because it’s not just about getting things done.

Maybe the best time management strategy is to find your why. Once you have something to work toward, it’s much easier to find the time.

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Image: Cyndy

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

How Much Is Your Time Worth? This Free Tool Will Show You

How Much Is Your Time Worth? This Free Tool Will Show You

Link: How Much Is Your Time Worth?

Deciding how you value your time can help you make decisions. But how do you really know what your time is worth?

It’s partly a hypothetical question, because you don’t always get to choose how much money you’ll make or how much free time you’ll have.

And it’s partly a practical question, because sometimes you do get to choose. Life is all about making choices, some of which are exclusive and limit us from other opportunities.

A free tool guides you to your own answer of “How much is your time worth” in both hypothetical and practical scenarios. Here’s what it promises:

You’ve probably heard the saying “time is money.” It’s a popular line for a reason—it’s true. This tool will help you understand how much money your time is worth to you.

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The online tool asks you to answer a series of questions about different scenarios, including how much you’d want to be paid to take on an additional task, and how much you’d pay to avoid waiting in line.

I just went through the questions myself and found the results interesting. For example, one of the results it returned for me read as follows:

“It’s possible that you’re more reluctant than you should be to spend money in order to free up time — for instance, by paying for time-saving services or purchasing time-saving devices.”

This is totally true. I’ve tried to get better at this recently, but I know that I have a tendency to be overly frugal when it comes to paying for time-saving services.

As the instructions in the tool state:

You will not always find it useful to put a monetary value on your time. If you’re on a relaxing beach vacation, for instance, you probably don’t want to think in these terms. But many of life’s decisions require you to trade money for time or vice versa. For these situations, it’s very useful to know the specific value you place on your time.

How Much Is Your Time Really Worth?

Note: the tool asks for your email address after you answer a few questions, but you can leave it blank and still see your results.

So, how much is your time worth? Did you learn anything?

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Image: 1, 2, 3

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Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

You Can’t Live As If You Only Had Three Months to Live

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It’s a challenging thought: “How would you live if you learned you only had three months left?”

Most of us would probably make some changes, or at least we’d think long and hard about what really matters.

If your job sucks, you’d probably quit. You might travel to that place you’ve always dreamed of. You might pursue a long-time dream that you never got around to until now.

And you’d almost certainly aim to restore harmony in any broken relationships, and perhaps say farewell to as many friends as possible.

But this thought experiment has its limits. Typically, the next part of considering “What if?” would be to suggest that you “live like you’re dying” and make those last-months-of-life decisions even though you’re not actually a terminal case.

Again, if your job sucks and your life is in serious disarray, this might be a great idea.

The potential to learn from the experiment, however, is much more limited if your life is pretty good, and you’ve already made a lot of big changes without the threat of impending death.

If I knew I had only three months left, or any other pre-determined time period, I’d probably live somewhat differently. But does it follow that we should all live differently regardless of the time left on the clock?

That part feels problematic. There are long-term projects I’m working on that I’d probably abandon if I knew I couldn’t complete them. Since I have no knowledge of a hard stop arriving without warning, I think it’s best to keep going.

I could probably make short-term adjustments, try to be a better person, take more awareness in my surroundings, and express gratitude more—but that’s my general short-term goal anyway.

So I think we have to consider a combination of questions. How would you live if you only had three months left? isn’t a bad start. But we can’t always live as if we only had three months to live.

Instead, we also have to ask: How would you live if life stretched on endlessly? What will you choose to focus on, and what will you make that can endure?

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Image: Bethan

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

What If You Had to Work Only One Hour a Day?

One Hour a Day, No More

I once caught bronchitis, and it lasted for more than a week. I spent much of the day sleeping or complaining.

Of course, I still had to work sometime. My energy level was constantly low, but every so often I’d muster enough strength to work through a few tasks or half-heartedly reply to emails before crashing on the couch.

The rest of the time, when I wasn’t sleeping or complaining, I was on the couch reading or watching bad TV shows on my iPad. Once in a while I’d be inspired to boil water for herbal tea. It was rough—even worse than the dreaded man flu.

That’s when I thought of the question:

“What if you physically couldn’t work more than one hour a day?”

In this scenario, the hour-a-day workload isn’t a benefit, designed to set you free to play golf all afternoon or whatever it is people think of doing when they aren’t at work. No, it’s an imperative. You get one hour to do your work, no more. After your hour of power concludes each day, you have to wait another 23 hours before resuming.

Without a doubt, I realized that this would be a huge problem for me. I already struggle with maintaining things in the current “most of the day, every day” work schedule. Certainly, even if I made the improvements I need to make anyway, I wouldn’t be able to create or grow something during my one hour of allotted time.

If I found a way to defer or assign all the mundane and unimportant tasks I complete all day, I’d save some time—no doubt. But even if this freed up a huge amount of time, which I don’t think is likely, I’d still face the classic creator’s dilemma:

1. Do a bunch of things

2. Do one thing really well

And I wouldn’t want to choose! It would be… really hard.

Fortunately, I made a full recovery. But ever since then, I’ve been thinking about the challenge of such a strict limitation.

If you had to work only one hour a day, and could do no more—how would you spend it?

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Image: Warby

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

Giveaway: Tiny Time Machines “Now” Watch

Every Friday is giveaway day. Comment to win!

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I saw someone wearing this watch at an event and loved it right away. I asked if I could take a picture of it, which I then posted to Instagram. “My arm is on Instagram a lot,” he said.

I went to the website and learned that the watches only cost $25 … and they give half their profits to charity. How awesome is that? I bought one for myself, and I’ll buy a second one for a lucky reader. Enter to win below.

What you need to know:

  • It’s pretty basic. Comment and win a free watch
  • This giveaway is available worldwide
  • To win, tell us what helps you to live in the present
  • Our cats and biased judges will pick someone on Sunday night at 6pm PST

Enter this week’s giveaway below, then check back on Sunday night. We’ll announce the winner and send them the prize!

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Update: Comments are now closed. Congrats to Kira Elliott, selected by cats and a random number generator to win this great bag! Everyone else, thanks for entering. We’ll have another giveaway next week.
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Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

“There’s plenty of time.” (But what if there’s not?)

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I’ve been working on a new, non-profit writing project that I’ll share tomorrow. Here’s a preview of the concept—for more on the project itself, see the note at the end or check back tomorrow.

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A specter is haunting the internet. Everywhere you go, you hear about how you should slow down. First it was slow food (a good thing). Then there was slow living (not so good) and the rejection of striving and effort (even worse).

The central part of this message is: “There’s plenty of time. Stop hurrying and take it easy. Bake cakes, play in the forest, do what you want.”

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the past few months, and tomorrow’s project is an attempt to say something different.

The central part of the alternative message is: “HURRY UP. Life is short, so we should put our limited time to good use.”

Why so intense? Because we only get one chance.

Why the rush? Because we’ve got a lot to do and a short amount of time to do it.

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A common scenario involves imagining that today was your last day on earth:

What would you do if this was it? You have only one day to live.

It’s a good question to think about, but not sufficient on its own. If today were your last day, you might tell someone you loved them. You might try to make amends with someone you had wronged. You might enjoy the time as much as possible, and you might indeed bake a cake.

All of these things are good, but you can do them anytime. No need to wait for the warning of a last day that you’ll never receive. Most of us don’t get the chance to know when our last day is, and even if we do, we’re not usually in a position to make real changes.

Besides, a single day is short-term by design, and you’ll never create anything with lasting value in the short-term. Sure, you can “live in the present”—but if you want to build something beautiful, you’d better be thinking about the future as well.

Instead of watching life as it passes you by, what if you actively worked on crafting a legacy composed of creative work that helps others?

What if there was a systematic method of “legacy work” that allowed you to build this enduring record step-by-step?

Yes, there might be plenty of time left. But what if there’s not?

There is an urgency to life, whether you want it or not. When you embrace the urgency instead of ignoring it, you can create something that changes the world. Oh, and you can do this in a fun way that makes the best use of your own talent and motivation.

In a world of take-it-easy, who needs a life oriented about effort and achievement?

Well, I certainly do. And perhaps you do too.

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Tomorrow morning I’ll release a new manifesto, the first in more than two years. It’s all about living with urgency and how you can build something over time. If you find it worthy of attention, I’d be grateful for your help in spreading the word.

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Image: Rutty

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.

The End Is (Always) Near

The End Is (Always) Near

Have you heard the one about the end of time? Yep—it’s on the way.

Every day, we lose another 1,440 minutes that will never return. Farewell, minutes! Goodbye, opportunities.

The other day I noticed I had been thinking “I’ll do that in the summer” about a lot of things.

Then I realized, hey, it’s late August already … seriously? How did that happen?

However it works, time marches on.

This is a friendly reminder to stop living mindlessly. Spend your days in pursuit of joy and adventure. Help someone and create something that will endure.

The end is (always) near.

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Image: Joe

Decide for yourself what you want, then find a way to make it happen.