Long-Term Time Logging

Now that I’ve been food logging for 15+ weeks straight, the simple practice of writing down what I eat each day has made me want to revisit another practice: time logging.

I’ve done time logging before and have found it useful, but I don’t think I’ve ever done it for more than a week or two at a stretch.

On a short-term basis like a few days or a week, time logging is good for doing a quick recalibration. You may notice some areas where you’re wasting time, which will become glaringly obvious in the first day or two of logging. But what about the subtler issues that may not show up during that time?

Even after 105+ days of food logging, I’m still maintaining the habit. As you might guess there are diminishing returns, so the insights I’m learning now are more subtle than what I figured out during the first few weeks.

The main reason I’m still food logging is that the habit itself is beneficial, and since it’s so habitualized now, it would be harder to stop than to continue. I do it by default without thinking about it. Since maintaining the habit is still yielding positive effects, like helping me optimize how I eat and losing weight with ease, it’s a no-brainer to keep it going. So it’s not just about what I learn from the logs. The logging practice helps me stay on track and apply what I’ve learned.

This makes me extra curious about time logging. Of course it’s beneficial over the span of a few days, but what if I maintained a daily time long for 100+ days in a row? I can see how that could be very beneficial.

I’d surely still be discovering more insights after 10+ weeks. Maybe they’d be pretty minor by that time, but it wouldn’t be entirely worthless to go that long just for the learning experience.

But I think the best gains wouldn’t come from discovering new areas of improvement but from the ongoing daily awareness. If I keep logging day after day and week after week, I always have to face the data. There’s no way to return to blissful ignorance, like I could do with a short-term trial. So I expect this would improve my ability to apply what I learn more consistently. The daily logs could serve as rails to keep me on track.

Imagine time logging for a week and then stopping. You might see that you wasted a lot of time on unproductive activities that week. Then you could end the experiment by telling yourself, “Okay, I see what I need to fix.” But did you actually fix it afterwards? How long did your fix last? Or did you just continue the same habits afterwards and shove the awareness of that problem into a back corner of your mind?

It’s a very different situation when you make this level of awareness inescapable. Every day you must face it with no ability to escape it. If you take a minute or two to review your logs at the end of each day, it’s going to generate a reaction within you, such as a feeling of accomplishment or disappointment. That’s a good form of personal accountability.

Even if your tracking commitment is temporary, it could help you create a meaningful change in your habits (and your results) if you maintain the habit long enough. You could also lean in with a 30-day commitment and then extend it as long as you like the results.

I like this idea in principle, but tracking all of my time feels like a lot more work than tracking what I eat. When I did time logging in the past, it could feel burdensome or invasive, and my logs were a bit hard to decipher afterwards. That’s because I’d update the log whenever I switched activities. So the intervals between entries would differ from day to day. I’d have to review them in more detail afterwards, figuring out how much time I actually spent on various activities. I don’t favor this style of logging for a long-term approach.

I’ve also tried some time tracking apps. They always sound good in principle but suck in practice. I feel like they get in my way more than help me. Some people seem to like them, but I always find that the added complexity of trying to remember how to use them isn’t worth the pretty charts and graphs.

In Conscious Growth Club, we do a themed 30-day group challenge at the start of each month. I believe next month’s theme has to do with sparking joy, so anyone who wants to do the challenge gets to pick a daily activity that they believe will spark joy for them. Then the challenge is to do that activity every day for 30 days in a row.

I often like doing these challenges, but I felt out of sync with this one since I didn’t feel that time logging fit the theme. That’s when I realized that maybe it should fit the theme. I thought that if this habit doesn’t spark joy, maybe my approach is wrong.

Food logging sparks joy for me. I like doing it each day, and I feel no resistance to it at all. It’s like a mini-game that I play each day. It’s satisfying to review the completed puzzle of what I’ve eaten each day and to see what I did right and what could be improved.

This encouraged me to tweak the way I do time logging to make it spark joy for me.

If I’m going to do daily time logging for at least a month and possibly many months in a row, it has to be easy. I can’t feel like it’s disrupting my normal workflow or getting in my way. This means it should not require a lot of writing. I don’t want to fuss with specialized apps. The logs should be short enough that I can review each day at a glance and see where my time went. If I’m spending 30 minutes a day recording entries and reviewing them afterwards, that would be way too much.

I usually spend no more than 5 minutes per day to maintain my food log. With time logging I’m willing to go up to 10 minutes a day, but not more than that, including the time I spend reviewing the logs.

I don’t need to be super granular. It doesn’t matter when I go to the bathroom or how many minutes I spend on emails. I want to focus on the broad strokes first.

My old time logging approach would look like this:

5:00a  Get up, brush teeth, dress, get water
5:15   Go running
6:15   Walk in park
6:25   Shower, dress
6:35   Make breakfast, eat
7:00   Blogging

But for my new approach I want to try something like this:

5 - Run
6 - Eat
7 - Blog

So it’s much simpler and quicker but at the expense of detail. I’ll just have one entry per hour, which would be 17 lines total in a typical day for me, depending on when I go to bed. That fits nicely in a small notebook, as long as it has at least 17 lines per page.

If I forget to record an hour or two, I can update the log afterwards since it will be in my recent memory.

If I want to do more detailed logging for some parts of the day, I can still do that, but I won’t make that part of the baseline habit. I can always be more detailed when I feel like it. Some weeks I might focus more closely on certain parts of my day, like optimizing my morning routine. I like this level of flexibility.

The exact borders between one activity and the next don’t matter that much to me. Whether I spend 75 or 90 minutes on an activity isn’t normally significant.

What I really want to know is where the bulk of my time is going. I want answers to questions like these:

  • How much time did I invest in creative work this week?
  • How much effort did I put into marketing this month?
  • Why does it feel like I did (or didn’t) get much done this week?
  • Am I spending enough couple time with Rachelle?
  • Am I connecting with friends as much as I’d like?
  • Are there better ways to spend my evenings?
  • Which days do I feel best/worst about? Why?
  • Which activities have I been neglecting?
  • If I want more time for some type of activity, what could I do less of?
  • Am I taking enough time off?
  • What are the best ways to spend my time off?
  • Which activities sharpen the saw for me?

So it’s the big-picture balance that I want to work on here. That’s more important to me than making low-level tweaks right now.

I liked this idea enough that I figured, why wait? So instead of starting on September 1st, I started yesterday morning.

Within Conscious Growth Club, I can still frame this as a 30-day challenge for September since this way of time logging does spark joy for me. I’m excited for what I’ll learn from it and how it will help me improve.

I’ll probably go considerably longer than 30 days if I can keep this low-maintenance while still being useful. I approached food logging with an open-ended attitude when I started, so I think I’ll use the same mindset here.

I’m also wondering where else I could explore daily logging. I’ve done many variations of this in the past, but so far food logging and time logging have been the most interesting. I could see real potential in doing some sort of social logging or perhaps logging of Internet usage, although time logging will cover that to some extent.

Have you tried time logging before? What’s the longest you’ve ever done it? Wanna join me for a 30-day challenge, starting September 1st?