Keeping a time log (part one)

By admin
Category: Practical | Date: Tue 11 Nov, 2008

Do you ever have days when feel like you’ve worked hard, yet don’t have much to show for it? Do you suspect that you’re using your time inefficiently? It could be worth keeping a time log for a few days, to find out exactly what’s getting your attention.

A bit like a spending log, a time log is a great tool for not only figuring out where your time goes … but also for keeping you on task and focused.

Your time log

A time log can be as simple as a sheet of lined A4 paper. In the margin, jot down the time when you start each new activity of the day. It’s up to you whether you want to begin the log when you start studying or when you first get up. It’ll look something like this (one of my examples from a couple of weeks ago):

7.40 – 7.50 – Breakfast
7.50 – 8.10 – Writing Cinnamon Scent [a short story] – [wrote] 800 words
8.10 – 8.30 – Making packed lunch, packing rucksack
8.30 – 9.00 – Drafting post on poverty [you can read the final version here]

I usually write down the “from” – “to” times and the activity when I stop doing it ,but you could write the log with just a “from” time when you start an activity.

Fancier ways to keep time logs include:

  • Using a spreadsheet (works well if you’re at your computer all/most of the day, and can be easier to analyse).
  • Using software (useful if much of your studying is done online). One I’ve heard highly recommended, though haven’t used myself, is RescueTime.

The main thing is that your time log needs to be as simple as possible to use. Yes, it’s always going to be a bit of a hassle to fill the thing in constantly, but it really is worth it. Once you’ve tracked three or four typical days, you can start working out where your time goes …

Analysing your time log

Sit down with your bits of paper and a coloured pen. (Or highlight rows in different colours on your spreadsheet.) Use different colours to circle the times where you were:

  • Studying (could be reading, writing essay, doing practise questions)
  • In lectures or classes
  • Working (at a paid job)
  • Relaxing (i.e. surfing internet, watching television, exercising, reading for leisure)
  • Doing chores or administrative tasks (grocery shopping, tidying, preparing food)
  • Travelling (walking, cycling, on a bus etc)
  • Socialising (chatting to friends, going out)
  • Eating a snack or meal

You may want to use more or fewer categories. If you want to keep things really simple, just figure out how much time you spent studying and in lectures/classes – it can sometimes be a worryingly small proportion of your day!

Do you notice any areas where you’re losing a lot of time? Or even areas where you seem to be more efficient than you thought you were? Make a note of what they are, and check back in a few days time for the next part of this article, “Using your time log”. By then, you should hopefully have several days of time logs completed!

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  1. Time is indeed a precious commodity. Its management is something I’ve been trying to perfect without much success. With each passing time, there are just so much I’ve discovered and learned from blogging but alas, it’s always a problem of too little time to put everything into practice.

    OK, I’m not even good at prioritizing too but I’m still keeping my head up…;) Thanks for sharing this wonderful tips. It might be something that I’ve been deprived of lately.

    Anyway, I saw your interview at Jeremy’s and decided to drop by for a courtesy visit. Glad to know another fellow blogger. I’ll be back and you have a good day ahead, Ali.

    PS: Why do you use frame on your site? It may not be the best SEO option for you. Just my 2 cents.

  2. Cheers Yan, glad you enjoyed the interview! 🙂 And do have a go at keeping a time log, it’s a bit of a pain but can reveal a huge amount about where the time is going…

    Not sure what you mean by “use frame”? Do you mean the scrollbar on this section with the post in? It’s not a frame, just a CSS option.

    (I don’t want to get too techy here, so do drop me an email if you want any more info!)

  3. Great idea. I am a recent ex-student though doing some work from home and time management is extremely important – something I find difficult now and found difficult at university. I checked out Rescue Time, it looks pretty cool but it doesn’t account for non-computer tasks so I am definitely going to try this method for a little while to see if it helps!

  4. Good luck with your time logging, mspennylane — and look out for the follow up to this post tomorrow (Sat)! I work from home as a freelancer when I’m not being a student, which does mean time management can go a little out of the window — I’m usually pretty good and sitting down and getting on with things, but keeping a time log once in a while still helps me a lot.

  5. Hi, you have a pretty cool site, tons of useful info, i’ll keep coming.

    About having the time log in a computer is the best option at least for me, because i couldn’t keep track of a bunch of post-its and such things.

    As for RescueTime, i signed up for an account because i wanted to start organizing myself, but i found that the software is quite complex, and you could probably be spending more time setting it up than actually organizing anything, besides i did’nt like the idea of RescueTime monitorin everything i do in my computer.

    The i gave tadalist a shoot, i found that is the other side of the coin, this one is far to simple, but could be perfect for someone that just needs a quick list without times.

    Finally i got an account in todoist which seems great so far, is simple if you want it to, you can do a quick list, with some time intervals, add prioritys. It also have mail reminders, gmail integration, a firefox add-on, and a mac os dashboard widget, and probably more that i have’nt used. well for my todoist was the best option, still i keep procrastinating things, guess that the list is of no use if you dont do the tasks on it.

    Well, again a congrat for the great site, hope to put some tips in practice.

  6. Hey Orly,

    Glad you like the site! 🙂 My to-do list is currently a weekly list in Google Docs, and I jot down “Must not forget to…” type items on a bit of paper, but I agree it’s not the most effective method.

    I too suspect that if I used Rescue Time, I’d end up spending more time than I saved on it!

    Eventually, I’m going to crack the perfect system for a to-do list that keeps me sane and in control of my work (rather than the work seeming to control me)…

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