A ThoughtWhy I Keep Track of how long things take

If Time is money then how come people in rich countries tend to have so little?

I believe that for a lot of people - most people in Europe and North America, for example - time is more of a scarce resource than money. Although about 4 orders of magnitude less popular, chronological planning would therefore seem to me more important than financial planning. Since 1995 I've been investing five minutes a day to help me get realistic about where my time goes and help me cultivate good habits of time use.

Surprised to hear that I've kept an hourly record of how I spend my time, people often ask the obvious question "Doesn't it use up your time?". Interestingly, far from using it up, I find it actually gives me more time. This is because it helps me to think about how I spend it. I started as a student, with a lot of freedom about how I spent my time. I used to waste a lot of time in useless activities before I grasped the obvious but important truth: to have more time for the things I really wanted to do, I had to spend less on the other things.

Writing a couple of words for every hour of a day takes about 5 minutes. One of the first results of regularly keeping track of where my time went was that I took a fresh look at how much TV I used to watch. Having to 'own up' to it by writing down at the end of the day helped me to cut it right back. These days I am so out of the habit that the thought of turning on a television or watching a video rarely even enters my head.

An interesting corollary of all this recording is that it is easy for me to know how long I have spent on different tasks - for example, see the list of software that I've created or websites that I've worked on. Particularly if you use a computer, it's easy to keep track of your time, and can recommend it. I see computers as potentially bottomless pits for time - a very large number of things are possible, only a very small proportion worthwhile. If you write software, you might be interested in my procedure for bug reporting - when I discover a bug, I note down how long I think it will take to fix. When it is fixed, I note down how long it actually took - a long term project that teaches me to be realistic about how long time.

2002-11-28 Robin Upton