I recently started a new experiment. It consists of tracking every waking minute of my days.
Let me back up, and give you a bit of context.
Why am I doing this?
A few weeks ago, I wrapped up my job as a management consultant. Almost 2 years of my life were spent there, a wild ride, with ups and downs. But that’s a topic for another post. Those of you familiar with management consulting will know that it’s a demanding job to say the least. So as I transition from pre to post consultant life, my schedule is also undergoing a major transition. My days are shifting from highly structured with minimal unallocated time (even weekends, as I tried to schedule as many social gatherings as possible) to completely unstructured and minimal allocated time.
“What the hell am I doing during the day?”
After only a few days spent in this unstructured state, I started wondering how I was spending my time. I was struggling to remember the activities I had completed, let alone how I had spent 14 to 16 hours of my day. Obviously, I was doing “a lot” – or so I would tell myself – but I was clueless as to where and how I was spending my time, and if I was being productive at all.
Given that I am staying in this unstructured space for at least a couple more weeks/months, I realized it was important for me to get more insight into this. Hence, the experiment: I am tracking every single activity I perform, every day, for all 24 hours.
What am I doing?
The experiment is quite simple. I created a Google Calendar where I make an entry for every activity performed. An entry can be as short a 10 minutes and all entries combined will cover the 1440 minutes in a day. I try to log each activity after completing it and at most within a few hours. Each entry will have a specific format that will allow me to later download and analyze the data.
The context refers to the purpose of an event (e.g., personal, social, work). Below is the list of contexts I’ve defined to date. This list has evolved over the past weeks as I try to make it relevant to my situation.
The activity refers to the actual task I am performing (e.g., read, write, meet, workout). Activities are independent of contexts, in such a way that I can pair any activity with any context.
PERSONAL:EMAILmay refer to emailing friends, whereas
WORK:EMAILmay refer to emailing coworkers. Of course, not all combinations make sense (e.g.,
SOCIAL:READ, unless – of course – I’m reading poems to my friends…)
The description field is used for any additional relevant information I may want to track (e.g., what I am reading)
What’s all this hassle about?
This is the exciting part. Now that I start collecting data on my behavior, I’m able to play with it and (hopefully) extract useful insights. So far, I’ve built an excel model to cut, mix, filter, digest, transform, and play with the data. I will also use the free services of Stat Wing, an online data analysis and visualization tool.
I already have several questions I’m hoping to answer with this. But I’m certain more will come up as I get better at this.
- “What is the difference between my perception of how I spend time and how a day actually unfolds?”
- “What is the impact of context switching vs continuous uninterrupted work?”
- “How much time do I spend on non-productive activities?”
I’m sure by now you are all as excited as I am. I say this with confidence, as 95% of readers have already dropped off. So to all 3 of you out there, stay tuned! In my next post on this topic, I will share early results and initial behavioral changes I will be making. And since you’ve made it this far, here is a peak into my life .
In the meantime, if you have any suggestions on how to improve the experiment, any questions you’d like to see answered, or are interested in trying it out for yourself, leave a comment below or shoot me an email at David [at] Achkar [dot] com.
Check out the Life Log page for the latest updates and posts on this experiment.