Spending Your Time Consciously Through Time Tracking

Time tracking personally and professionally can lead to a number of insights to improve your life. Spend your time consciously.

For those of you not familiar with Bucky Fuller, he was an architect, systems thinker, and futurist. You probably know about him for popularizing the geodesic dome.

Spaceship Earth at Epcot
Originally uploaded by Erik16 at English Wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

One of his less publicized works is his Dymaxion Chronofile. A document containing snippets of his life in 15 minute increments every day between 1920 to 1983. The document included letters, bills, notes, sketches, and newspapers. More than being one of the most comprehensive sets of documentation about an individual’s life until the modern social media era, the collection helped him to avoid suicide. He was 32 at the time, and reviewing the Dymaxion Chronofile when he realized that he had been at his best when his efforts were on the behalf of all humanity.

This idea inspired me to track my life in 15 minute increments starting in 2014. When I discuss this with people they often stare at me like I might not be well. Folks often euphemistically state “that seems intense”. But I've found it to be very worthwhile.

Mine isn't nearly so thorough or continuous, but it's something I do for about a month each year in order to ensure that I'm still consciously using my time the way that I want to, rather than just allowing time to be lost. Feeling like it just slipped away from me. Some years I track more, some years less, depending on what feels right. Rather storing every possible snippet of my life, which most modern social media platforms allow pretty trivially, I focus on the time tracking element.

At first I just used spreadsheets, with entries indicating what I was doing at that point in time in 15 minute increments. In 2016 I realized that there was an entire category of product catering to this, and began to use Toggl, now Toggl Track. I made the jump because it would prompt me on both my desktop and mobile device at regular (configurable) intervals to add an entry if I didn’t have one going.

A snippet of my original time tracking spreadsheet.
Snippet of my original time tracking spreadsheet

There are also a number that will automatically track what you’re up to on your desktop, although they are a bit lacking on the mobile front, if they exist at all in that arena. Any of the time tracking software suites would likely do the trick. I can’t speak to any of them besides Toggl because it has met my needs since I started using it, and I’ve never felt the need to investigate other options. (That said, if you’ve got a great open source alternative, I’d love to hear about it.)

Each time I do it I find new insights into how I'm actually spending my time, and where I'd like to be spending it instead, personally and professionally.

In 2014 when I started this, I noticed I was spending ~3 hours a day surfing the internet. Part of this was worthwhile learning. A lot of it was mindless surfing. Seeing this I was able to take steps to cut back my mindless surfing to a single 15 minute block a day.

In 2015, while I thought I was getting 7-8 hours of sleep per night, I was consistently getting closer to 5-6. I was spending hours working on side projects that were dramatically less effective than if I had been getting 8 hour of sleep.

More recently it's been the way that I track to ensure I'm spending time with friends that I don’t see enough, and my wife and daughter. Tracking my time actively in this way has also allowed me to gather date on the efficacy of my

It's also allowed me to gather data on my personal software development methodology and how to improve each stage in a data driven way, even if the current sample size is 1.

Try it. Tell me what you learn. Or @brit_broderick on Twitter.