Time Logging Insights

For the month of September, I maintained a daily time log, as described in the post called Long-Term Time Logging. Now I can share some insights from what I learned.

In this case it actually wasn’t that helpful to see where my time went. I was pretty aware of that already, so reviewing the logs didn’t give me many insights there. My logs matched up pretty closely with my assumptions and expectations.

What was surprising was what gave me the most joy. At the end of each day, I asked a simple question and briefly answered it at the bottom of the day’s time log. That question was:

Do I love this day?

I had assumed that by asking this question, it would help me become aware of which days I felt best about, and then I could deliberately embrace more of those positive patterns. That turned out to be true, but the surprising part was what actually created a day I loved versus a day I didn’t love.

I figured going into this that I’d love my most productive days. If I got a lot of work done, that should give me a sense of accomplishment, and then I’d feel great at the end of the day, right?

Wrong actually. My most productive day was the day I appreciated the least. Looking back, I was pleased that I got a lot done, but that satisfaction was so much at a mental level. That mental satisfaction didn’t reach into my heart and make me feel like I could genuinely say I loved the day.

The days I loved most when I reflected back on them had more to do with being than with doing. All that was required for me to love the whole day was to recall one delightful event from it, and these events were usually very simple and not particularly effortful.

One Delightful Event

Even if most of the activities of a day were routine or so-so, if I experienced one delightful event during the day, I would always feel a heartfelt sense of appreciation for the day when I reflected back on it afterwards. So my appreciation ultimately came down to simple moments.

Mostly these delightful events involved something new – usually not wildly different but with just enough novelty to create a special memory for that day.

Here are some examples of small but delightful events that made me reflect back on the day with feelings of love and appreciation:

  • Running a different route than I’d run before, along a new street that had just recently been paved on the western edge of the city. The streetlights were working, but the sidewalks and landscaping hadn’t been added yet. It felt special to be one of the first people to run down a new road that wasn’t open to car traffic, like it was my own private running route. On one side was a wall with newly built houses behind it, and on the other side was open desert. (See the photo below, taken during my first run down that street.)
  • Playing some new video games with Rachelle, especially A Short Hike and Untitled Goose Game – the goose game made us laugh a lot.
  • Going to the Apple Store with Rachelle, getting new Apple Watches, and chatting with the employees. The store had been closed for many weeks and just reopened last week, so the vibe was upbeat and happy.
  • Returning a monitor that broke (while under warranty) to that same Apple Store and getting a replacement for it, which made me appreciate it more.
  • Going for a longer than usual run with new running shoes one morning.
  • Cleaning up some parts of the house to restore them to a nicer state of cleanliness and order.
  • Watching Cobra Kai with Rachelle. The show is set in an area where I used to live, and it reconnected me with fond memories of martial arts training.
  • Discovering some useful insights during journaling sessions.
  • Participating in a weekend intensive with a coaching group on Zoom.
  • Connecting with CGCers during coaching calls.
  • Attending a live script reading of The Princess Bride with many of the original cast members, along with more than 100K other people.
  • Listening to Kevin Smith’s Tough Sh*t audiobook, laughing a lot, and loving all the geeky references.
  • Yummy sex.
  • Having a good dentist appointment and chatting with the hygienist. (I actually like going to the dentist since the people there are so friendly and down-to-earth.)
  • One day when I exercised for 150+ minutes – it felt good to move a lot.
  • Attending a diversity committee call for the Transformational Leadership Council – nice to connect with like-minded friends who care.
  • Watching the final episode of The Good Place with Rachelle and seeing her getting teary-eyed at the end.

September was a pretty happy month for me, probably because I paid extra attention to happiness. I realized that big accomplishments don’t fuel my happiness as much as I thought, but small delights do.

A nice morning run, an insightful journaling session, a fun video game – these are all good ways to create a day I’ll appreciate. But what seems to help the most is including some form of novelty in a day. Newness made me happier than routine.

It’s more special to play a new video game than one I’ve played many times before. It’s more special to try a new brand of running shoes that I’ve never worn before. It’s more special to go a slightly different direction instead of following a familiar route.

It’s okay if my experiences are rooted to familiar places and situations, but one little twist in the direction of novelty somehow makes me appreciate the experience – and the day – more than I otherwise would.

Just running down a different street instead of running one of my standard routes can make a meaningful difference in how I feel about the whole day. I could have the laziest day ever, but if I just had one new experience that day, it elevated my relationship with the day. That surprised me. I didn’t think novelty was so meaningful.

Work-wise I felt better about the days when I didn’t use a system or routine to get things done. I had more appreciation for the days when I went with the flow of inspiration, especially when it led to engaging with work a bit differently. This makes me really curious about how to leverage this further. Would I be more productive if instead of trying to systematize my approach to work, I went in the opposite direction and did something to make each day truly unique?

Note that having a routine and embracing novelty are not necessarily contradictory approaches. You can follow a structure and still include some novelty, like how many movies adhere to genre standards and then try to add some unique twists. A good structure often becomes invisible, so you’ll probably notice and appreciate the novel aspects more.

What I gained from this 30-day experiment is a greater respect for small delights created through novelty. When I feel a nudge to lean in the direction of doing something new, I’m more likely to trust that impulse now. When I have that thought to run a different route one morning, I trust that it serves a good purpose. Doing something even slightly new makes the activity more memorable, and it’s the memory that I appreciate.

I’m less likely to appreciate a very routine day because the day is harder to remember. When reviewing my time log entries, it’s hard to recall the details of a day filled with familiar items, even when I have a written record of the activities for that day. When there’s even one item that’s semi-unique though, I somehow remember the day with a smile.

Another realization is that newness stimulates more growth. Running a familiar route isn’t as stimulating for my body and mind as running a new route. Would I improve faster if I ran different routes more often instead of sticking with my familiar favorites? Probably.

I encourage you to do your own time logging experiment for at least a month, so you can discover your own insights, which won’t necessarily align with mine. Some readers have started their own logging practices within the past few weeks, and they’ve been emailing me to say that they’re finding it valuable too.