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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