I want more free time. Not just for me, but so I can spend more quality time with Em and the kids. Most days, it’s difficult to determine what I accomplished once I get home from work. There are always so many things that need to get done in addition to the things that I want to do. Sometimes these intersect, like playing with the kids or exercise. Sometimes they do not, like cleaning Play Doh out of the carpet.
It’s obvious that cleaning up a miscellaneous spill with the carpet cleaner is wasted time. It’s not obvious how long everyday chores take. Determining what activities count as free time is just as hard.
I have a general sense that dinner takes forever. Preparing, eating, and cleaning seem to take up more of the evening then I would like (even though Em does the vast majority of preparing). How much time do we spend getting ourselves and the kids ready for each outing? How much time do we spend shopping or doing the laundry? I want to find out to see if there are any places that we can improve. We’re starting a new experiment to determine the amount of time we spend on everything we do during the day. Hopefully this will show us the areas that have the most opportunity for optimization.
A baseline is required for anything that one wants to improve, so we have to track our time to determine what is inefficient. It’s easy to fool ourselves when there is not data to show what the reality of the situation is due to our individual perceptions and biases.
There are plenty of interesting time studies. The American Time Use Survey (ATUS) is one of the best and has many interesting statistics. This chart on sleeping for example:
Or this table on time spent by parents:
There are also time studies that generally ask how much time you spent on a given activity in a day, week or month. You need to guesstimate the amount of time spent on the activity. This results in an inexact study. The best time studies require tracking throughout the day while the activities are occurring. It is very easy to fool yourself into thinking the activity was much shorter or longer than it was in reality.
I expect this will be difficult to implement in reality. Due to tracking everything all day long, it will be a lot more difficult for Em because she’s at home doing the homemaking stuff all day. I’m at work for 9.5 hours and driving for 1.5 hours. That leaves just the 6 hours or so from evening until bedtime for me to track.
Even without getting 100% of our day tracked, I expect we can find a couple of areas where time is not spent efficiently.
Tracking the Time
What I plan to do is use these simple time tracking sheets:time-use-study-sheet
The sheets have a spot for every 10 minutes of the day. We’re not going to try to be any more exact than that since every 10 minutes will be difficult enough to track. I plan to try this for two weeks. That will give us two days of each day of the week to try to capture what we’re doing. I will aggregate the data and make some sweet charts (I hope). After the two weeks, we’ll see if we have any conclusions or areas that we think we can do things more efficiently.
So who wants to join us in this experiment? Just print out the sheets and track your time for a week. Even a few days of tracking may give you some insight into areas that can be made more efficient. We would love to hear how your experiment went or any improvements you have made.
Check out our results here!