Original post on my blog: http://bearlamp.com.au/empirically-assess-your-time-use/

168 hours

You and me both buddy.  We both have equal access to our 168 hours.  We have different demands on our hours like the need for sleep or how demanding our job is, but fundamentally we all start with the same 168 hours (24*7=168).  That means we all have an opportunity to look at these hours and figure out how to get the most out of them by doing the things we want to do in the limited hours we have.  

This process is about looking at your hours and discovering where they go.

Make a list of all the things you have done over the last 7 days.  As a time management technique, this is a procedure to follow that will be useful for other times.  

This might take 30 minutes to do, and might take 10 minutes.

  1. Acquire writing implements
  2. Write down the day and time.
  3. Subtract 7 days from now, and figure out where you were at the beginning of that day. 
  4. Go through your diary, your phone call log, your sms history, your messenger histories and work out what you did, in rough chunks, from when you woke up on that day until now.
  5. Start with sleep - You probably have a regular enough wake up time, and a regular enough time that you go to sleep.  This will put upper bounds on the number of hours in your life.
  6. Identify Routines and how long they take - regular meals, lunch breaks, shower processes.
  7. Identify regular commitments - meetings, clubs, events.
  8. Identify any social time.
  9. Identify time spent deeply working, studying, reading, planning
  10. Identify exercise.
  11. Identify dual purpose time, i.e. I play on facebook on the bus.

Here is an example

7 wake up
7-7:30 shower and get ready (30mins)
7:30-8 drive to work (30mins)
8-10 check emails and respond to people (1hour)
10-10:20 coffee break (20mins)
10:20-1 work meeting (2hrs40mins)
1-1:30 lunch (30mins) 
1:30-3:30 computer work (2hrs)
3:30-3:40 distraction food break (10mins)
3:40-4:30 work (50mins)
4:30-5 drive home (30mins)
5-6 make and eat dinner (1hr)
6-7:30 netflix (1.5hrs)
7:30-11:30 play on computer (3.5hrs)
11:30-11:45 get ready and head to bed. (15mins)

Another option might be to simplify this to:

7am wake up
7-7:30 shower and breakfast (30mins)
7:30-8 drive to work (30mins)
8-1 work(5hrs)
1-1:30 lunch (30mins)
1:30-4:30 work (3hrs)
4:30-5 drive home (30mins)
5-6 dinner (1hr)
6-11:30 relax and entertain myself (5.5hrs)
11:30-11:45 get ready and go to bed (15mins)

Now repeat for the rest of the days.


Time management is about knowing where your time is going.  it might be interesting to know that you spend an hour commuting, or 8 hours working or two hours dealing with food each day.  Or maybe that's just Mondays.  And when you go out for dinner you spend more time with food.

If you are trying to work out the value of your time it helps to know what you do with your time.  Doing this exercise for 2-4 weeks in a row can help you establish a baseline of your 168 hours.  And where efficiency or inefficiencies lie.  If you want to grow; it starts with evidence and observation.

Yea but why did I do that? And what comes next?  

Nothing, just think about what you uncovered.  Do as I do and revel in the joy of the merely real, knowing what you actually do with your time.  This is your life.  Do with it what you will.  Know that how you spend your time are your revealed preferences (post coming soon).

Meta: This took 45mins to write.  This is an exercise that I invented for myself years ago, this is the first time I have written it up.  You can't get the most out of the exercise without trying it out to see what it's like.  Good luck!

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10 comments, sorted by Click to highlight new comments since: Today at 10:53 AM

There is a free Android app Gleeo Time Tracker that allows you to log your time usage.

The user interface is simple: First you define various categories (yes, this can take a lot of thinking, so don't overdo it; any system is better than none), and then you only use one click to start recording a new category. If you make a mistake, such as you forget to switch to a new category and only find out later, you can edit the records afterwards. You can view the records, export them in CSV format, and then do whatever you want with them on your computer. For example you can compare statistics for different weeks.

Using this tool already increses your self-control, because it makes you more aware of how you are using your time. When you finish an activity, it makes you think what are you going to do next. If this becomes too annoying, you can also keep some of your time untracked (but then you will see how much time you spend doing the "untracked" activities).

Here are some example categories, to help you setup the system faster:

  • Maintenance - Sleep
  • Maintenance - Hygiene
  • Maintenance - Food
  • Maintenance - Job
  • Travel - City
  • Travel - Long distance
  • Productivity - Projects
  • Productivity - Learning
  • Productivity - Exercise
  • Productivity - To-dos
  • Fun - Relaxation
  • Fun - Web
  • Fun - Movie
  • Fun - Walk
  • Fun - Social

What category does writing posts go under? I'm impressed you can do a day job, write posts, and still have a lot of messing around time! :)

I am so glad you said so because it means I can be delighted to call your attention to this post that I have previously written http://bearlamp.com.au/the-ladder-of-abstraction-and-giving-examples/

and to apologise because that's not actually my list of time use, it was an example because my time is not a conventional schedule and hard to relate to.

I can however give you a real example: in winter this year (Australia so 6 months ago), I was hitting a functional wall at 10pm, and only getting into the groove at 9am. Right now in summer it's more like 6am-2am (yes 4 hours of sleep several days this week means there are rumours I am a robot among my close family and friends)

for winter:
7am wake up
7-9 play on the slack, get out of bed and go for a run.
9-9:30 shower and sit at my desk
9:30-1 gap (3.5)
1-2 lunch with lachlan
2-5:30 gap (3)
5:30-9 biohack sydney meetup group
9-9:30 go home
9:30-10 consider work
10 sleep

In this day I had 6.5hrs in which I would have filled with things like emails, lesswrong, writing, research and any other type of work I had on. That's remarkably little time to work on things, and I got a lot less done than I am now. This is also why I would advocate for optimum diet and exercise routine to give you as much time and energy as you possibly can.

I'd be curious to hear more about what you did with this information once you had it.

The trouble with this information (and exercises of this type) is that you always had that information available to you, but never really on the one page laid out obviously. There is an insight to be gained in just being able to do that.

That doesn't answer the question fully. This information helps to inform other tasks and processes for example in the "Try this" section of this post http://bearlamp.com.au/exploration-exploitation-problems/

The third thing it does is help defeat a s1/s2 incongruity. you System2 know that these are all the tasks you spend your time on, so in order to System1! change your mind on what you want to do in your time you inform your system 1 that there is no time that has sneakily "escaped" your view, fallen down the back of the couch, or somehow there is "more time" other than what you already have. This is what I consider the most powerful insight of this process.

This is hopefully also explained in the next post in the series - http://bearlamp.com.au/bargaining-trade-offs-in-your-brain/ (this paragraph was added to that post because I really liked the way I described it to you :) Thanks! )

Ok, that's pretty cool. Thanks!


10:20-1 work meeting (40mins)

1-1:30 lunch (30mins)

You have a hole in your schedule with 2hrs unaccounted for.

10:20-1 work meeting (1hr40mins)

Still nitpicking, 10:20-1 is 2hr40min.