What I Learned from Mapping My Time (+ Why You Should Try It)

"I'm so busy," "There just aren't enough hours in the day," "I'd love to, but I'll never have time..."

Sound familiar? It's so common to feel you are running at full-speed through the week, only to make it to an equally-packed weekend ... and feel exhausted by the time Monday morning rolls around again. But why? Why are we running ourselves ragged? And shouldn't there be a better way? Guess what: there is. 

A new part of the last e-course I taught was about time: specifically, how to create more time for the things you really want to be doing. In order to teach this module of our class, I needed to be my own guinea pig and test out my ideas. After going through this process myself, I found the most effective tool to be a time map

Want More Hours in Your Day? Make a time map! (I'll show you how)

So, what the heck is a time map?

A time map is simply a record of how you actually spend the hours of your day. The key word here being actually! When we make guesses about how we are spending our time, we tend to underestimate how long we spend on not-so-great things (like browsing social media) and overestimate the amount of time we spend on positive things (like playing with our kids) - and getting a clear picture of how we actually spend our time is the first step if you want to change things.

How to make your time map:

  1. Decide how long to track your time. You can map your time for a day, a week, or longer. If you choose to track your time for a single day, be sure to choose a pretty average day - not one with super-unusual circumstances, like a birthday party or a special day off. Just pick a normal, run of the mill day.
  2. Decide how to keep your log. You can use your phone or paper and pencil, just make sure it's something you will have on you at all times.
  3. Track it! I recommend beginning first thing in the morning by recording the time you wake up. Each time you start a new activity (making breakfast, commuting to work, etc.) record the time and make a note of what you are doing.
  4. Learn from it. Pour yourself a cup of tea and peruse your notes. What surprises you? What would you like to change? If you are a visual person, you could transfer your raw data into a pretty pie chart (I like Keynote on the Mac) or colorful graph.

First you can see how I was spending my time when I created my map (hover over chart to see the labels):

TIME MAP: Hours in My Day (Current)

I learned that I was spending more time on social media + random browsing online that I would like (2 hours!) and working for 8 hours, even though I work from home and supposedly have a flexible schedule. And the amount of "personal" time I was getting was practically nonexistent, coming in at 30 minutes total, including my shower + getting dressed. 

What's next?

Next, my friends, is the fun part: it's when you look at your current time map and do a little creative editing. What can you cut that's not bringing you joy? What commitments can you let go of (or delegate)? And, perhaps most importantly: what do you wish you had more time for? Start working in pockets of time for your passions, for creativity, self-care, wellness, reading, and yoga. Start trimming away excess screen time and drudgery.

Look for creative ways to fix things you have accepted as unchangeable: Can you swap child care with a friend to get some alone time? Wake up a half-hour early to work on your novel? Get groceries delivered so you don't have to drag your screaming toddler to the store?

After making a few tweaks, my DESIRED time map looked like this (hover over chart to see the labels):

TIME MAP: Hours in My Day (Desired)

My new-and-improved time map includes an hour more sleep, an hour less work, and 1 1/2 hours more personal time. How did I manage this? By making a commitment to work more efficiently within the time I have scheduled, I have been able to stick to a 7-hour workday ... and this also meant less social media time, because I found I was most likely to browse social media sites while procrastinating on a writing assignment. And that extra hour of sleep? It doesn't happen every day, but when I do manage to get to bed earlier, I find that I am more alert + focused the next day, which makes my work go faster!

Take Action!

So what are you waiting for? Start mapping your time, and see what changes it inspires. (And if you try it, I'd love to hear!)