In 2017, I moved from having a full-time job in higher education to working full-time as a freelance indexer. Suddenly, my time was my own to dispose of. There were no core hours or endless meetings; I could suit myself. But I wanted to make sure I was using this new freedom effectively.
To that end, I’ve repeated a time tracking exercise a few times since I went freelance. The point of this is to find out how you are actually spending your time. You do this by recording, at fifteen-minute intervals, what you are doing – it’s easiest to do this by identifying a range of categories, and allocating each fifteen-minute segment to the right category. I made myself a spreadsheet, because that is the sort of thing I like doing. The last time I did this was in early summer 2019, and my results looked like this:
Time tracker spreadsheet in full
Each coloured block represents fifteen minutes, and links to a particular activity or group activity. I ran my working day from 8 to 6, the times when I’m up and about and ought to be making the most of my time.
The summary breakdown looked like this:
I was broadly happy with the amount of time I spent indexing that week. Admin and time spent at the gym or walking were also quite good amounts, and I got a good bit of reading in. I put writing on the list because I want to do more of it, and I did actually do some – the observer effect in operation. The amount of time spent on domestic stuff and shopping was concerning – I did not go freelance so I could become a house elf. Most of all, though, I needed to address the 11 hours that I couldn’t really account for and attributed to Other. Some of this was mealtimes – I would probably categorise this separately if I repeated this exercise – but I suspect a lot of this was faffing about not doing very much and luxuriating in my new freedoms.
Having got my data, I then needed to work out how to address these problems – I discuss this in my post on time blocking.
If you’d like to try the time tracking experiment for yourself, here’s the link to a version of the spreadsheet on Google Drive. You can download a copy to use in Excel.
You can set up your own categories for key activities. Or you could just use a pencil and paper.