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Keeping A Time Budget Log

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Last Wednesday, I watched a talk given by Randy Pausch at the University of Virginia about time management. In it, he discussed how time is in fact much more important than money and how everyone should try keeping a time log – a written record of how you spent your time. He suggested that you will be amazed how much time you spent doing some things and how little time you spent doing others. Then he made the natural analogy to a budget. Keeping track of everything you spend financially is identical to keeping track of everything you spend time-wise.

I no longer keep a budget in the strict sense because our expenses are relatively stable and we have a strong handle on what we need to save and how much. I don’t have a strong handle on where I spend my time and so I feel that a Time Budget Log is a great idea.

Much like an actual budget, I have to segment my time into reasonable buckets. Here are my major buckets in priority order (meaning if it falls into a higher bucket, that’s where it will go):

  • Sleeping
  • Eating
  • Working
  • Maintenance
  • Physical Activity – This covers anything that’s physical, like going to the gym, and has precedence over entertainment.
  • Entertainment – Everything that is purely entertainment.
  • Waste

For example, if I’m playing a sport like softball, it falls under physical activity even though it’s entertaining. Watching a movie or television, that falls under entertainment. Watching TV while I eat falls under eating. Taking a shower, that’s waste. I may adjust those buckets as time goes on but that’s how they’ll start.

My units of measure will be ten minute increments. That’s an entirely artificial measure but it will keep me sane. I think half hour or quarter hour increments will be too long and five minutes will be too short.

In addition to those larger buckets, each will have smaller buckets. For example, under the work I will have various work activities segmented out. For solid ten minute activities, or activities that are performed in factors of ten minutes, I’ll have time recorded. For things like checking email, I’ll use tick marks. Check email – one tick. Check stats – one tick. Write a post – minutes recorded.

I’ll record everything at first in a notebook and then transcribe in one batch activity at the end of the day or week. Then, at the end of the week, I’ll review it and see what happens!

You can watch the time management lecture by clicking the More link below:

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6 Responses to “Keeping A Time Budget Log”

  1. I suggest another category – “taking care of yourself”. A shower is not “waste”. Neither is a morning meditation, going to church (if that’s your thing), or talking with friends.

    Being efficient with your time is a laudable goal, but if you only focus outward, you’re neglecting yourself.

  2. Cameron says:

    I haven’t watched his lecture yet, but not sure if you can include shower in the waste category. I’d say it’s one of those necessary things you have to do each day. Now maybe if you took a second shower right after the 1st one for no reason you could drop that into the waste bucket….

  3. jim says:

    The lecture didn’t really talk about the categories, just the merits of a time log, but you two are right, I need another category for “maintenance” (a more general term for “taking care of yourself”).

  4. Walt says:

    Great idea, and if any iPhone app developers are reading this, this could be a business opportunity for you. I’d love to have an iPhone app that could be used for tracking time spent on various activities. Kind of like a stopwatch, but with different (user-created) categories.

  5. mapgirl says:

    Jim did you take one of Dr. Pausch’s classes? He was a mentor of one of my friends.The best piece of advice Dr. Pausch gave my friend was to stop playing video games because that was time that could be spend doing other more productive activities. The irony being is that Dr. Pausch’s virtual worlds work was precisely the thing that made newer video games enticing.

  6. jim says:

    No I didn’t, I wanted to take Building Virtual Worlds but demand was too high for the class when it was first offered and I was too junior. By the time I was senior enough I was focusing on graduating early so I didn’t have the time to take it (at one point I had three CS classes in a semester, which is two more than you really can handle).


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