Time Tracking! Any tips?

October 19, 2017

I am always amazed when I hear Laura discuss her time tracking.  She’s been at it for over TWO YEARS!  And then Siobhan discussed it on yesterday’s podcast episode as something she loves, so I am doubly inspired.  I imagine it might be valuable from a few different angles:

1) an enhanced awareness of time as it is actually happening

2) the ability look back and see our lives more objectively than we otherwise would

3) data analysis that might allow us to come up with new/creative solutions for time dilemmas

I’ve tried to do it so many times, but am terrible at it.  I’m absolutely a tracker/recorder/cataloguer* at heart, so this is always surprising to me.  But then the days slip away again and I’m back at square one.

I may just have to accept this.  It’s not like documenting one’s time is essential for a successful or happy life.  But I’d love to do it temporarily to gain some of the insights noted above, and absolutely see how it might be helpful once I have a newborn (and have to come to terms with a whole new array of challenges!).

So, for the past few days, I’ve been doing it the old fashioned way — yep, paper.  I don’t really want another app to fiddle with on my phone.  Perhaps I could just use paper and then put some things that I want to pay attention to (sleep, exercise, time with kids, time at work, etc) into Excel for analysis?
If anyone has successfully done this for longer than 3 days (which is about my current record), I’d love to hear tips and whether it was helpful — or not!
* Things I track in some fashion: books I read, how I’m eating, clinical productivity, concerts/shows attended, new restaurants we try, finances (every expenditure).  Also workouts when I am training for something!  But time eludes me.


  • Reply emilymargaretnyc March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Please let us know if you find something that works! I would love to better track time (that’s not just on my phone) but have also struggled because it seems difficult to make it automatic.

    I am still working on a good system for tracking time on my computer (which would help a lot) but am not there yet. Would really appreciate updates/tips on this!

  • Reply Ana March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    No tips because I similarly can’t make myself commit to this for more than a few days. I think you are doing a more results-oriented tracking when you track your phone time, runs, books, etc… right?

  • Reply Teja March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Did you try Laura’s 30 minutes excel. I tweaked it a little to fit my schedule but that helped me a lot.

  • Reply katedroll March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I have to track time for work. I am attorney and my work day for years was in tenth of hour increments (some years has been in quarter hours, which I prefer), and now I am trying to move away from tracking at all. I used to track time for-all-things. Kids changed that for me. I know what I do with my time on a macro-level, similar to above. Half-hour increments seem to work well.

    I basically fill in tasks in outlook. My outlook contains true calendar items (birthdays, parties, events), to-do list tasks (gas in car, post office, dry cleaning, library books, order groceries), and past events/tasks get entered as well because it helps me manage when did we do xyz?, when did I last speak with so-and-so?

    my outlook calendar is actually five different calendars on-top of each other, some personal, some work, some school, some shared – so that not everything is seen by other people at work).

    I don’t need to know that it took 18 minutes or .3 hours to get my kids’ shoes on. Because mentally, I have then tendency to translate that into $ value based on the value of a billable hour. That is dangerous. A large part of my time with the kids, at home, I want to be "free", or as free as you can be with half-hour-blocks (which is pretty free compared to six-minute blocks).

  • Reply DLC March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I found myself tracking time when my kids were newborns because my schedule was so tied to theirs (nurse, tummy time, poop, nap, repeat) and I was desperate to keep track of whether it was time to nurse again (or if they were crying for another reason). I tried tracking time on a spreadsheet last month, but I am still on Maternity leave, and it was hard for me to breakdown huge parts of my day I.e. Is that two hours of "keep the baby alive" or 20 mins of nursing, 10 mins of tummy time, 20 mins of pumping, etc? I am interested in tracking my time again when I go back to work next month.
    Speaking of which, a podcast episode (or two) on Maternity Leave would be great! Specifically how you feel you can make the best use of it, remember to take care of yourself, not feel like your career is suffering, projects you want to work on, and things to give yourself permission to let go of, and how to prepare to return to work. This is probably the last time I will be on maternity leave, but I would love to hear other people’s take on it all the same.

  • Reply EJ TURNS March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I have tracked my time successfully during the workweek using Toggl. I have been motivated to build a better “mosaic” after the birth of rack of my kids disrupted my rhythm. This goal made it easier to successfully track my time until I found a better harmony.

    My theory is that my weekends were fine overall (with time for family, partner, work, and me) so I rarely was successful at tracking weekends.

    I LOVE pen and paper but found it easier to use an app because I wanted to track my time in detail and focus on the results (not invest time in transcribing into a spreadsheet, etc). It was also easier/more convenient to use an app as I transitioned activities or held a baby. I have a 4 month old and a 3.5 year old, for context.

  • Reply Young March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I have a question for you since I know you have a kindergartener now and also because you are a pediatrician. How would you react/what would you do your kindergartener told you she had a little boyfriend, and you spotted them kissing. What do you do or say? I still think of kindergarteners as babies, but I guess the bf/gf thing starts early?? I don’t even know. Maybe Laura can voice in too since she has older kids who may have gone through this.

  • Reply Jan Sommers March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    Hey Sarah! Fellow MD mom here. I found your blog through the podcast 🙂 I am also married to a physician and we have four kids (7, 5, 3 and 3 months). Really enjoying listening to the podcast, and your experiences as an MD couple. So, I was also a super good agenda user until phones came along. I tried for years to switch to an electronic version of planning, but it never seemed to work for me. I am an emergency doc, don’t have an "office" per se, and because of my shift work just had a really hard time getting into any kind of groove with inputting to dos and clanedar items. What I wanted was one place to write my to dos, lists for packing for trips, spot to brainstorm ideas, spot to plan my day. Anyway, I cam across bullet journalling and that has really transformed my organizational life. The free flowing format of bullet journalling didn’t make me feel guilty when I missed days or sometimes weeks of using it. Similar to food journals I suspect that a three day snap shot of your life in time tracking probably is fairly representative of how you are using your time, especially if you do it periodically at different times like, the weekend, call weeks, your husbands call weeks etc. Not as fruitful as a daily habit but could be worth exploring. A major deterrent for me continuing on with some of these habits was the negative talk I would have if I missed a week or couldn’t keep it going. I also want to put a plug in for the "Family Inc" approach to life. My husband and I managed pretty well with three kids until I went back to work and then we found it incredibly challenging. We watched a TED talk on running families similar to successful companies and so started having weekly (sometimes bimonthly) family meetings and spousal meetings. We discuss a variety of things but it really helped our kids understand what was coming up, set more realistic expectations and also created a space for us to share positive affirmations and family challenges. When my husband and I "meet" we again review the family schedule, plan our meals, update our google calendars and brainstorm/plan for a more intentional life. This has allowed us to make use of "in between" times, like the hour you might have between kids activities on the weekend. Instead of scrolling on the phone, or doing a minor tidy up job, we go to the park, or complete an errand that some of the kids can come along for. Enjoy reading your blog and listening to the show!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Hi Jan! My planner game is strong 🙂 I have sort of a hybrid bullet journal style system using a Hobonichi planner and a blank notebook that always goes with it. I agree I soooo prefer it to electronic scheduling! But, I don’t really track time in it necessarily. Especially on evenings / weekends / etc. That said, I definitely could use it more to that effect and it might be the direction I end up going!

      I love the "business family inc" approach you mention – we need to be better about meetings! I also love the better use of "in between time" and more intentionality as a result. This tip may make it to the podcast 🙂

  • Reply Emma March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    This is kind of a late comment, but I love time tracking, so . . .
    1) I daily time track using the schedule in my Hobonichi
    2) Then I analyze this in google sheets so it adds it up for me and I can use fun things like Countif and Counta to track my habits. I do enter this on my phone at the end of the day though.
    3) I use my Fitbit to automatically track my sleep and enter this number in (though it thinks I’m sleeping while nursing, so I’m not sure how accurate it it)

    Interestingly, I feel much less inclined to time track during maternity leave, I think because the main reason I do this is to balance my work activities. I also have a hard time time tracking when I’m constantly interrupted or not sitting next to my planner which is pretty much the constant case with an infant.

  • Reply Tyra March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    http://bulletjournal.com/daily-plan-bar/ I think this would work perfectly for you? So simple, and you could add it to your daily pages in your hobonichi without it taking up too much space!

  • Reply Kristin Wellsand March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

    I know this is a little late, but I meant to post when you posed this question to your instagram. I tracked my time for Laura’s week back in Sept and what worked best for me was a paper printout of her Excel chart, in the 30 min increments, though I often will split the box in half to get 15 minutes. (We generally pay our sitters in 15 minute increments, so that is how I’ve started to think!) I use a lot of abbreviations and not a ton of detail (just "read" instead of what book I’m reading) but it helped me get through the week after many failed attempts in the past. Non-detailed data is better than no data! I hope to repeat this twice a year (I think that is how often she leads the one on her website) and use it as a snapshot of my life at the time. Still trying to solve that mystery hour(s) in the evening of lunch prep/cleanup!

    • Reply theSHUbox March 10, 2019 at 7:08 pm

      Thanks Kristen!!

      I’ve been successful this round and you’re right – less details seems like it’s key!!! And paper is easiest for me too 🙂

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