168 Hours

Oct, 28 2020
3 Minutes

I started tracking my time in 15 minute intervals.

Previously, I had skimmed through a book by Laura Vanderkam called "Off the Clock" which recommended this practice, and like I do with all good advice, I took it to heart and promptly forgot about it.

Until last week, when the same mortal fears which drove me to pick up "Off the Clock" in the first place guided me back. And this time, more resolute, and perhaps less intimidated after previous exposure to the idea, I'm happy to say I succeeded in tracking my first week - or 24 x 7 = 168 hours.

The benefits

If time tracking sounds unbearable to you, know that I first thought it was pretty terrible too. Tracking your time is something the boss man would make you do, why would you do it to yourself? Why inflict beauracracy on your own life?

Well, because there are benefits. After one week, this is what I'm seeing:

  • I'm suddenly aware of idle time - previously, when I've had unallocated blocks of time, I used to fill them with reading whatever algo-recommended Tweets, newsletters, HackerNews posts, etc. That might easily consume an hour of time. Now, if I have unallocated time, I suddenly become very aware that this time will be filled with an entry in my time tracker that says "Random Internet", which makes me focus.
  • Things can wait - now that I'm thinking about things in terms of getting them done in a given week, there's less urgency to do things now. I want to end the week having spent 7 hours reading about MakerDAO. There's no reason to read it all tonight and blow past my ideal bedtime
  • I have something to optimize - equipped with an exhaustive list of how I've spent my week, I've begun brainstorming how I can spend my time better. I can see where I waste time (I spent half an hour getting upset at Uber Eats last week, which resulted in no refund and lots of frustration) and adjust
  • Tracking encourages intention - This goes hand in hand with optimization, but once you see how you're spending your time, you start asking "how can I spend this better?". Not necessarily in terms of how can I get more out of it, but simply, "did I have a week well spent?".

So to recap - I'm more present with how I spend my idle item, I'm less likely to jump on a task (so long as it gets done in the week), I can optimize the micro, and strategize the macro.

All of these were previously goals I wanted, but adopting this practice has given me a way to tackle them all.

The Practice

For time tracking, I use a copy of Laura Vanderkam's 168 hour worksheet (link to her Google Sheets template). I've added some conditional formatting so there's some color and personalization (which increases my sense of investment in this worksheet):

Added some color

When I'm at my computer, I make entries about once an hour:

What the entries look like

When I leave my computer, I'll come back in 2-3 hours and try my best to fill in what I did for that chunk of time.

Sometimes a 15 minute block will contain multiple items. Vanderkam mentions that she often records all of them, separated by commas. I don't - some items simply get lost in the sands of time.

Sometimes, I can't remember what I did and I'll simply write "???".

Some tasks also don't like up perfectly with the 15 minute increments (although I find myself intentionally lining up tasks so they wrap up in 15 minutes).

It's not perfect, but that's not the point. Just having rough record of my time is sufficiently useful for me to get all the benefits I outlined above.

And forcing myself to make entries (with a lot of copy paste), just makes me so much more aware of how this entry stacks up against the greater "portfolio of investments" I'm making this week.


Over the coming weeks, I'm sure I'll learn much more about this practice - for example, if it's valuable to do for more than just a few weeks.

But for now, I wanted to write about it and encourage everyone to consider it. The benefits are plentiful, the implementation is straightforward - and all I think you need is a push.

So check out Laura Vanderkam's time tracking templates (15 min blocks or 30 min blocks), make a copy, change the colors and get tracking!