I started tracking my working hours—Here’s what I’ve learned
A month ago, I started logging how I spent my time each week. This was inspired by my good friends who run a design studio and do the same.
Toggl is a free service often used by freelancers who get paid by the hour. But I’ve been using it as an accountability tool.
Every Monday, my coaching friend and I email each other our weekly Toggl report. It shows how many hours we logged, what we worked on, and how long we worked each day.
A few blogs ago, I wrote about how easy it is to add accountability to our lives. But I still think I’ve underestimated how much more motivation I would feel knowing I’d have someone looking over my shoulder.
Quick caveat: In order for this to work, it’s essential to have well-defined projects and tasks. Anyone can “work” for eight hours and not get anything done.
I’ve always hated the phrase “work hard.”
Like, work hard…at what? If I carry a 100-pound rock from one town to another, that’s backbreaking work. But what did I accomplish? If I did that every day, I will have worked insanely hard. And I would lose all my clients and eventually get evicted from my apartment.
Anyway, with clear actions at my desk, I set the ground rules. I would log any time spent that took creative and undistracted brainpower. That includes:
organizing digital notes
responding to emails and voice notes
(To those who think including chess and chores on this list is cheating, I’d direct you to this page.)
Now that this has become a habit, I’ve gained a few insights I didn’t have one month ago. Here they are…
1) Things take way longer than we think.
I’ll sit down to answer two or three emails thinking it’ll take five minutes. Then when I hit stop on my tracker I realize I’ve been at it for 35 minutes.
I had nothing to do this Saturday. So I decided to edit the next podcast episode and put some finishing touches on it.
Five hours later, I thought, Holy shit, what time is it?
Getting lost in a flow state and uncovering all that needed to be done made the hours tick by. As you can see from the image above, Saturday’s “finishing touches” turned into a seven-hour workday.
(I don’t usually work on weekends, but sometimes it’s all I want to do.)
2) We can’t actually work for that long.
Seven hours of work on a Saturday might seem like I’ve fallen victim to the hustle-culture cult. But you might also notice that that was my longest day by far.
I wrote for two hours on Thanksgiving. But if we look at the other four weekdays (my actual work days), my average time spent working was 4 hours and 52 minutes.
And last week kicked my ass. It was the most I’ve worked since quitting my full-time sales job in 2020.
When I punched out on Sunday and saw “33:49:54,” I thought…That’s it??
I felt like I had one of those 80-hour workweeks I hear about from Instagram entrepreneurs. I gave it my all. I got so much done.
34 hours? Not even a standard American workweek.
My takeaway: 80-hour weeks, 12-hour days, seven days a week…it’s all bullshit. For the vast majority of people, that’s just not possible.
I don’t even think an eight-hour day is sustainable every single day. Not of actual work—creating, problem-solving, deep learning. People might spend 8-10 hours in their work environment, but most of us only have three to five hours of genuine deep work capacity in us each day.
There are certainly folks with much more in their gas tanks than me. But it’s important to dispel this rumor that the only thing keeping people from intense work schedules is their discipline levels.
I worked 34 hours and wanted to go on holiday for a month. Still waiting to hear back from Elon about my Twitter application.
3) Given #1 and #2, it makes sense to not do too much.
That doesn’t mean not putting in effort or having low standards. But if things take longer than we think and if we have a finite amount of bandwidth…it makes sense to keep our task list to a minimum.
Instead of doing five things at 20%, what if we did one thing at 100%?
This obviously isn’t possible for everyone. People have kids, demanding jobs, and hundreds of things to get done at any given week.
But willingly putting more things on your plate than you have working hours in a day is a recipe for burnout and anxiety.
My advice: Do less, but better. Cut things down to the bare essentials. Minimize.
It’s counterintuitive, but we can get more done and have more impact by doing fewer things. And tracking how we spend our time makes that process a whole lot easier.