Time tracking

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.

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