Where Has Your Time Gone? Keep a Time-Use Diary

Many of us are absolutely certain that there just aren’t enough hours in the day. There are days that I get to the end of the day, and I wonder what happened, and where the time has gone.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics regularly releases the results of the American Time Use Survey, and that can provide you with some basic information about how you are using your time. However, if you really want to get personal about your time use, keep a time-use diary for two weeks.

You might think that you are using your time wisely, but you might be surprised to learn where your time is really going.

Keep Your Time-Use Diary

One option is to sit down at the end of the day and try to remember everything you did during the day, and how much time you spent on each activity. This approach, though, can be a bit inaccurate. You might not properly remember all that you did, or you might not have an accurate view of how much time you spent doing it.

Instead, keep your time-use diary close to you, and enter activities as you do them. I have a small notebook that serves the purpose when I feel like I need to re-capture some of my lost time. However, if you have a mobile device, it’s possible to accomplish the same thing with the help of a note-taking app.

Every time you start a new activity, note what that activity is, and your start time. Then, record the time you finish and move on to a new activity. If you stop work to surf the Internet, note that down. If you sit down to watch TV, record it. Lunch with your spouse, hobbies, everything.

You don’t have to keep a time-use diary every day for the rest of your life; it’s most effective when you are concerned about your current time use, and want to know where you should be cutting back. If you are worried about finding extra time in your day, keep your time-use diary faithfully for one to two weeks.

Review Your Time Use

Now that you have kept an accurate record of what you’re doing with your time, analyze the results. Do you like many Americans, spend 26 minutes a day playing computer games? Are you spending nearly three hours in front of the TV? Do you wish you spent more time playing with your children or exercising?

Look at where you can move your time around. I was surprised recently when I realized I had about 90 minutes of wasted time on my hands each day. And by “wasted” time, I mean time spent doing things I don’t actually need to do or even particularly enjoy doing. I think time to relax is important, so I don’t consider it a wasted hour when I eat a leisurely lunch while reading Sherlock Holmes adventures. But I do consider it wasted when I spend 35 minutes mindlessly circling between Facebook, Twitter, and my blog stats.

Look at your time use, identify the items that you want to cut back on, and look for ways to allocate that time to activities that you deem more enjoyable or more useful. A periodic review of your time use can help you live in a way that is more fulfilled, and more productive.

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