The Money Lessons from Tracking My Time

Coffee keeps your heart beating at 7am.

You’re late to work. Again. You’re always late. What’s wrong with you?

Your energy level: 0%. Your work computer: an Excel monster.

At the pantry, you catch up with Albert. He, too, can’t wait for Friday.

Why do people schedule meetings at 2pm? Or 10am? Or ever?

You show up, coffee #3 in hand. You survive for five minutes. You even speak up.

Then Mr. Monotone goes on, and it’s over. Your eyelids droop. Your head falls forward.

Did you fall asleep? You wouldn’t know. Everything’s the same anyway.

You get home for dinner. You should start that project you’ve been putting off. But you’re too tired.

You relax for five seconds before it’s midnight, and it’s time to do this all over again.

Sound familiar?

This is my life.

I don’t get it. I’m single with no responsibilities. I don’t even watch TV. Where does the time go?

Cue the time experiment.

Inspired by Afford Anything, I tracked my time in 15-minute increments for a few days.

To save money, you track and budget your spending. Why not track and schedule your time?

This is how my weekdays looked.

Exhibit A, a gym day:

Time Category Activity
12:00AM – 6:30AM Sleep Sleep
6:30AM – 7:00AM Distractions Play with phone because life is hard and I don’t wanna get up
7:00AM – 7:30AM Life Admin Brush teeth, change, pack lunch, etc.
7:30AM – 8:00AM Commuting Home –> work
8:00AM – 5:45PM Work Work work work work work
5:45PM – 6:30PM Commuting Work –> gym
6:30PM – 8:00PM Gym Lift weights
8:00PM – 8:30PM Commuting Gym –> home
8:30PM – 9:00PM Dinner Warm up leftovers for dinner
9:00PM – 9:15PM Life Admin Shower
9:15PM – 9:30PM Life Admin Pack for Boston
9:30PM – 10:30PM Blogging Write, make website edits
10:30PM – 10:45PM Distractions Browse random themes on WordPress
10:45PM – 11:00PM Mr. Boyfriend Video chat with Mr. Boyfriend
11:00PM – 11:15PM Life Admin Get ready for bed – protein shake, brush teeth, floss, wash face, etc.
11:15PM – 12:00AM Sleep Sleep
Category Hours %
Work 9.75 41%
Sleep 7.25 30%
Commuting 1.75 7%
Gym 1.50 6%
Life Admin 1.25 5%
Blogging 1.00 4%
Distractions 0.75 3%
Dinner 0.50 2%
Mr. Boyfriend 0.25 1%
Total 24.00 100%

And Exhibit B, a rest day:

Time Category Activity
12:00AM – 12:15AM Life Admin Getting ready for bed. Not sure why I was still awake…
12:15AM – 6:45AM Sleep Sleep
6:45AM – 7:00AM Distractions Why did people invent snooze buttons?
7:00AM – 7:30AM Life Admin Get dressed while half-dead
7:30AM – 8:15AM Commuting Oops, I’m late
8:15AM – 5:45PM Work Die at work
5:45PM – 6:30PM Commuting Work –> Trader Joe’s
6:30PM – 7:00PM Life Admin Grab groceries. Includes 20 minutes of waiting in line 😦
7:00PM – 7:15PM Commuting Trader Joe’s –> home
7:15PM – 7:30PM Dinner Chop and throw things into Instant Pot (affiliate link)
7:30PM – 8:00PM Work Log onto work computer from home because I wasn’t productive at work
8:00PM – 8:45PM Blogging Journal and write
8:45PM – 9:15PM Dinner Eat dinner and Skype with sister
9:15PM – 10:00PM Life Admin Do dishes, pack food, shower, brush teeth, floss, etc.
10:00PM – 10:15PM Distractions Technical difficulties with video chat. I end up browsing random websites
10:15PM – 10:45PM Mr. Boyfriend Video chat with Mr. Boyfriend
10:45PM – 12:00AM Sleep Pass out
Category Hours %
Work 10.00 42%
Sleep 7.75 32%
Life Admin 2.00 8%
Commuting 1.75 7%
Dinner 0.75 3%
Blogging 0.75 3%
Mr. Boyfriend 0.50 2%
Distractions 0.50 2%
Total 24.00 100%

Not horrible. That’s because I was tracking my time in the first place. When you track every minute, you become more conscious of waste and adjust accordingly.

That said, that doesn’t mean there weren’t any surprises.

What stood out to me:

When I have more free time, I waste it.

I didn’t work out in Exhibit B. That meant I could use my gym time for anything else.

That’s 1.5 hours. Where did it go?

  • 0.5 hours – Grocery shopping
  • 0.5 hours – Catching up on sleep
  • 0.25 hours – Work
  • 0.25 hours – Cooking dinner

Is this the best use of time? I can grocery shop during the weekend. I can keep work at work.

Makes me wonder how my weekends look…

I spend way more time commuting than I thought.

And not just to work.

What threw me off? The gym.

The gym is two subway stops from my apartment. That’s a 4-minute train ride. That’s close, right?

It turns out that I need to walk from the gym to the subway. I need to wait for the train, which is less frequent in the PM. Those things add up.

Speaking of gyms…

I spend a lot of time at the gym.

I love the gym. But a 1.5-hour workout seems long even to me.

One day, I tracked my gym time using 5-minute increments. It looked like this:

Activity Minutes Notes
Check in and change 5 The gym is on the top floor of an industrial building.
Stretch and foam roll before workout 5 This is important because I’ve had knee problems before.
Wait for a squat rack 5  
Actually work out 60 This is the length of a standard fitness class.
Stretch and foam roll after workout 5  
Drink water, change, and check out 5  
Total 85  

Does anything look egregious to you? Because nothing does to me. Sure, I waited 5 minutes for a squat rack. That would’ve been 40 at my old gym.

I spend more time on distractions than I do with my boyfriend.

This is sad.

Instead of fumbling with my phone, I could’ve slept for 30 minutes. Or gotten to work earlier.

Instead of browsing WordPress themes, I could’ve talked to Mr. Boyfriend.

The lessons for time and money:

Like time, money is a limited resource. The lessons from tracking my time also apply to money.

If you don’t track it, you don’t know where it’s going.

Having a “general idea” does not count.

I was surprised by how fast the little things add up. Time spent walking. Time spent checking in and out of the gym. Time spent waiting on line for groceries.

It works the same way for money. Examples from my life: money spent on take-out. Money spent on coffee.

More might not solve your problems.

When I had more free time, I spent it on activities that didn’t bring me joy. I then wondered why I didn’t have more time to write.

Likewise, a raise or a windfall won’t help if you don’t have a plan for it. Which is why…

A prescriptive budget is key.

You have 24 hours in a day. You have your monthly income. How will you spend your time and money?

I used to think budgets were restrictive; they enforced a scarcity mindset. Now I think they are liberating, aspirational. I can set aside time to work on this blog. I can set aside money for a flight to Portugal.

When you are intentional with your time and money, you give yourself permission to live life on your own terms. You cut out the things that don’t matter. You make room for the things that do.

The upshot:

I’m starting to make changes. I want to write more, so I’m waking up at 5:30 to do that. I’m leaving for work earlier to beat rush hour traffic. I’m buying produce at less crowded stores.

These changes seem obvious now. But had I not tracked my time, I would still be in the same place, wondering where the hours go.


Have you tracked your time before?

What are your best time-saving tips?

Is 60 minutes too long for a workout?

[Featured Image: Icons8 team on Unsplash]

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