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Managing time and productivity in general have always been topics that have interested me–I’m sure this will super shock and surprise all of you, but I’m a bit of a Type-A, likes-to-get-stuff-done, go-getter kind of person, so the thought that I can somehow maximize my time to get even MORE stuff done?
It is this natural tendency to wanting to have total control over my time that has made motherhood an especially interesting endeavor for me–even now, almost 4 years into the motherhood gig, and I STILL somehow think that I should have more control over my time than I do.
Over the past several months, as we’ve gotten into more of a routine with the baby and with Raven being in preschool and such, I thought I’d be able to work a lot more on personal projects again than what I’d been able to in the few months immediately following Mathias’s birth, but I was never quite getting there.
So that’s kind of why, two weeks ago when I was looking for a book to read on our only smart device (Matt’s super old tablet) so I could peruse it while I nursed the baby, I decided to download Laura Vanderkam’s Off the Clock. First off, I LOVED so much about the book that I actually opened up a Word document and took notes on some of it, which has basically never happened before.
But the other thing I did?
I took her advice to track my time for two weeks.
I created a spreadsheet, I blocked out each 24-hour period into 15-minute increments, and I updated it regularly throughout each day (and I actually did it for two and a half weeks before deciding that I’d probably gained all I needed from the exercise and stopped).
Some discoveries kind of shocked me. Some things surprised me not at all. And when it came time to draw some conclusions, I actually reached perhaps what was the most startling revelation of all.
But let’s start from the beginning, with a few things I noticed.
- I spend just around two hours every day nursing the baby.
- I mention this one first just because it was the first thing that really surprised me—I had NO IDEA I was spending so much time every day breastfeeding. Thankfully, a few weeks ago, after lamenting that I never seemed to have any time for reading (one of my all-time favorite hobbies), I started using that nursing time to read again (I’d been in the habit of reading for the first couple months after he was born, but had gotten out of the habit when he overall became a much quicker eater). I basically have to do all that reading on Matt’s tablet (because trying to deal with holding a physical book is just too hard with an already-squirmy baby), but it’s been a good way to fit more of that hobby back into my life.
- I thought my time spent doing housework would be embarrassingly low, but it actually averaged out to an hour each day.
- This was both refreshing and depressing. Refreshing because I could say, “See? Look! I actually do spend a good chunk of time each day cleaning!” And at the same time, totally depressing because I thought, “Wow, I spend an average of an hour a day cleaning and our house is STILL a crazy wreck the vast majority of the time.”
- An interesting note on this is that I tended to go on spurts–two or three days in the week, I would spend quite awhile working on the house (around two or even close to three hours), and other days, I would spend a measly 15-30 minutes. Feast or famine over here, basically.
- I spent an average of just over two hours each day prepping meals, feeding kids, and feeding myself (and that time does NOT include cleaning up from meals).
- This number was generally much lower on weekends (when we largely eat leftovers or meals that can be made quickly since I usually don’t have to worry about Matt needing to bring any to work the next day) and days when Matt was at his class at night (since I rarely made a big meal for just Raven and me). If Matt had been home on those Tuesday and Thursday nights, they almost surely would have looked much more like the other weekdays, so the average each day would have been more like two and a half hours.
- I watched an average of 24 minutes of t.v. or movies a day, which made sense, as Matt and I will watch one episode of The Office on many nights just before we get ready for bed.
Part of the reason why I was always lamenting my lack of time was because I felt like I never really had enough time to work on my personal projects, such as blogging, reading, and stuff to do with my personal goals. So I was curious to see how those numbers shook out.
- About one thing, I was definitely right—I do NOT have/take nearly as much focused time to blog as I would like to. On my first week of tracking, I spent 4.75 hours in total working on blog-related things (and published two posts), and on the second week, I spent a mere 2 hours total and only published once. This is an area I want to improve on, but it might prove difficult until a few other factors shift (like the baby learning to sleep for longer than 3- or 4-hour stretches at night). More on this later.
- Tracking my reading was a bit revelatory, actually. First, although I read books, magazines, scriptures, and blogs almost every day, I only tend to count the books as “reading time,” while I count the blogs and magazines as “fluff” time and the scriptures as “spiritual” time. (I also should note that I don’t count reading to my children as “reading time” either, though I did that every day too, for an average of between 30 and 45 minutes.) The first week I tracked, outside of when I was reading while nursing (more on that in a minute), and just counting books, I read 30 minutes a day, almost to a fault. The second week I fared better at first glance, with some days netting over an hour of reading time. But then, when I looked closer, I saw that on 3 of the days, I hadn’t read at all outside of nursing time, which came out to an average for the week…of about 30 minutes a day. Weird.
- However, as I noted near the beginning, a couple weeks I started using some of that nursing time to read again, which added anywhere from 30 minutes to up to an hour and a half of extra reading time a day. So while in my perfect world I’d have at least two hours of solid reading time a day, the fact that I’m getting AT LEAST an hour on average every day (and sometimes it’s almost twice that) was an indicator to me that I’m not that far off my goal, in reality.
- As for working on my personal goals and to-do list items, it was fascinating for me to see where I fit those in. Often I would fit in necessary phone calls (to the auto mechanic, insurance company, etc.) during meal prep, usually while I was waiting for something to cook. Multitasking actually seemed to be the name of the game when it came to working on several of my personal goals—I took some time to work in my sketchbook while Matt and I watched a bit of Pride and Prejudice one Sunday, I made sure that when I took the time to consciously plan out meals for the week that I did it using the cookbook I’m trying to cook my way through, and the little time I spent on social media over the two weeks (which was easily under 30 minutes average a day, and there were many days when it was less than 10 or nothing at all) was often used intentionally—to get book recommendations from people for one of my 101 in 1001 goals, say, or to promote a blog post.
So all this was very interesting for a data nerd like me, but then what to DO with all the info? My answer came in the appendix of Vanderkam’s book, where she outlines a series of questions and reflective exercises to ponder as you look over your time logs. Often I will just skim such questions and exercises in books and not actually do them, but I was invested enough by this point to actually engage with them a bit more.
A few of the things she talked about doing were picturing your ‘ideal (realistic) day,’ seeing if there were ways to streamline things you do often to save time, finding ways to make your everyday life more meaningful, and realizing that people are a good use of time.
I also thought back to the (very long) blog post I did several months back on priorities—on what to do first when it ALL seems important, and how I go about prioritizing my time. Something I heard in church quite awhile back haunted me for quite awhile after I heard it, and it was this–“If someone were to look at exactly how you spent each of your regular days, would he or she know what your priorities were based on how you spent your time?”
If you look back on my post on priorities, I shared a motto I’ve come up with for my own priorities when I’m having a hard time choosing:
Spiritual over worldly, people over projects.
So, curious to see how I would stack up to my own priorities, I blocked out how much time I spent on anything spiritual (this included praying, reading scriptures, attending church, serving in my church calling, attending the temple, actively teaching my family the gospel, and working on family history or genealogy work), as well as any “memorable, quality” time I spent with loved ones (this included reading to my children, having more in-depth conversations with Matt, spending time with friends, playing with the children, doing fun things together as a family, etc.). As a note, I obviously spent much more time in general with family members and other people than is outlined in this section, but these were blocks of time that were much more intentionally memorable, focused, and directed towards building the relationship.
Here’s how my top two priorities shook out:
Average Amount of Time Spent Daily on Spiritual Things: 2 hours, 25 minutes
Average Amount of Time Spent Daily on Consciously Building Relationships and Making Memories: 2 hours, 17 minutes
That means that other than sleeping, I (on average) actually DID spend the most amount of time on the two things that were the most important me, followed by meal prep and eating, nursing the baby (which was usually half spent focusing just on the baby, and half spent reading), time spent getting kids ready for either the day or for bed or to go someplace, cleaning the house, and then driving/running/doing errands.
Honestly, this was EXACTLY what I needed from this exercise.
I don’t talk often about my feelings about being a stay-at-home mom because I never want to come across as being whiny about it (because I’m incredibly grateful and happy to have that be an option at this point in my life, since I did the full-time working mom thing before, and it is TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH). But there are things about the stay-at-home life that are TOUGH TOUGH TOUGH, too, one of which has been that I sometimes feel there’s a stigma that we don’t do anything but sit in our pajamas all day and that we have all the time in the world because we’re “just” at home with the kids.
The point I’m trying to make is, I often have to remind myself that even if many other people don’t recognize the value of how I spend my time, I recognize it, and my family recognizes it. And the beauty of me tracking my time was the realization that although yes, I definitely am not spending as much time as I’d wish working on my “side hustles” (blogging, photography, Ebay listing) or on my personal passion projects, I AM spending the time where my priorities are.
And that’s honestly a pretty incredible win for me—to see that all the changes I’ve been making to make my life align more closely to my values seem to be working.
To be clear, I am absolutely not saying that if your day-to-day numbers show that you spend more time on something else (like school or work) than with your family, that you’re not living your priorities. I am not saying that at all. One of the best things anyone ever told me was that in different seasons of our lives, different things HAVE to take up our time, simply by necessity. If you’re a student, BE a student. If you have to work, BE a worker. But then in those other times that are allotted to you AFTER those things are done with for the day, THEN track your time—does it reflect your priorities? Obviously since I am a stay-at-home mom now, I have a lot more flexibility in my schedule than I did when I was working full-time the first year of my daughter’s life. But I think if I would have tracked my time back then, I would have (hopefully) noticed a similar pattern—that I WAS spending the remaining hours after work in a way that I could be proud of. (Just had to clarify because the last thing I ever want to do is induce mom guilt when there is no reason for any to be felt!)
I expected, at the end of this exercise, to see all sorts of things I could trim out, streamline, or improve upon. Instead I saw that my life as it is is pretty darn close to my “ideal realistic day.”
Of course, that’s not to say that I want to continue ALL of my current time habits. For starters, I really need my back to get better so I can start exercising again (since that’s something that I used to do at least 3 hours a week of and that I now do zero). I also need my baby to start sleeping longer at night so I can start my morning routine again, which will help me to win back some of those hours for blogging and such. But all in good time (I hope…oh, how I hope!).
Anyway, all I’m saying is that if you’ve ever considered tracking your time (or even if you haven’t ever considered it), maybe this will push you to do it yourself. Just to see. All I can say is that the exercise will surprise you, in a lot of ways.
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