As someone who is constantly struggling with time management, I heard about how keeping a 7-day time log can help you better visualize and manage your daily schedule. I decided to try it out and learned a ton! I created and used a printable time log, which you can access as part of my free resource collection.
I recently did a survey of my readers about their personal levels of stress. There was no shocking news; moms are generally under a lot of demands and pressure. The three areas that moms seem to have the most trouble with when it comes to their stress levels are:
- Managing their regular schedule
- Making enough time for recreation and personal growth
- Financial stability
You know what’s interesting about all three areas? They all have to do with limitations in our resources.
Most of us know about limitations on money. There is only so much of it. Once you spend it, it’s gone—and if you go into debt, you will literally pay for it later. That’s why it just makes sense to track where your money is going and have a budget.
For some reason we have difficulty thinking about time in the same way: a limited resource that has to be budgeted.
Every time I check, there are 24 hours in a day, 7 days a week. Time is different than money because we all have the exact same allocation. But time is like money because we can track where it goes and plan how to spend it.
How a 7-Day Time Log Helped Me Get My Daily Schedule Under Control
Personally, I have always had difficulty budgeting my time. I’m the equivalent of a shopaholic; but instead of buying clothes I’m addicted to things like productivity and efficiency. I will squeeze every last drop out of a spare moment I have to get something done and checked off my list. But inevitably I overbook, I tend to take shortcuts, and I get frustrated and burnt out.
In the past year I’ve been doing a lot of research and heart work about managing stress and how I should be spending this very precious and limited resource we all have but often waste: time.
I came across a strategy recently that I found very intriguing: keeping a 7-day “time log.” It’s different than keeping a schedule. A schedule is what you plan to do; a time log is what you actually do.
Some people are familiar with tracking their activity at work because it holds them accountable to their professional expectations. In the same way, we all have certain expectations of ourselves in our home and with our families, whether we’re aware of them or not. So it only makes sense; why not check in with ourselves and see how we’re actually spending that precious time and measuring up to our own expectations?
Related: Goal Setting for the Lazy Mom
So that’s what I did. I started keeping track. For 168 straight hours I monitored and recorded my activities on a simple time log. I started on a Friday because that’s when I got the whim, and I ended the following Thursday.
Here’s how this process helped me get my schedule and time management under control.
Getting Enough Sleep Takes Effort
Lately, as I’ve been trying to manage my own stress levels better, I’ve tried to be very aware of my own sleep patterns. Previously I thought that I needed about seven hours of sleep to function well; the truth is, after some experimentation, I actually do much better with eight. Keeping a time log illustrated for me in a very visual way what my daily routine needs to look like if I am going to get the sleep I really need. Essentially, I need about 2.5–3 hours from the time I start the kids’ bedtime routine to the time I am unconscious. That includes time to unwind personally and with my husband.
Things Take More Time Than You Think
In my head I must be much more productive than I actually am in real life. My imagination thinks that I magically put dishes away and take a shower and cook with lightning speed. What the time log taught me was that I am not a superhuman and that all those mundane little tasks take up a ton of time! And I need to plan accordingly if I’m not going to feel like I’m in a rush all the time.
Related: How To Rock Your Schedule
Taking Care of Kids is No Joke
Stay-at-home moms despise this question: “What do you DO all day?” Well, with my time log I can tell you exactly what I do. I spend approximately 9–10 hours each day ACTIVELY caring for my kids and for my home, including cooking, cleaning, and other chores; not to mention homeschooling, activities and all the other demands like teaching certain short people how to share. I was very particular about how I recorded this; any time that I spent relaxing or taking care of myself, or even watching a movie with the family, I didn’t count as “active.”
Oh, and I don’t get weekends off from this “momming” thing, although it’s slightly easier when my husband is around.
The point is, motherhood is more than a full-time job. Try keeping the time log, moms. Then show it to the skeptics.
Breaks Are Crucial
In addition to tracking what I did in the time log, I kept record about how I was feeling. If I felt anxious, I wrote it down. If I felt calm, I wrote it down. What I discovered is that if I’m not intentional about getting little breaks throughout the day, I start to lose my cool. I need some personal time three times a day: the first thing in the morning, at lunch, and after the kids go to bed. The morning and lunch respites are especially critical if I don’t want to turn into a bear by mid-afternoon.
The Daily Rhythm is Sacred
Call me a creature of habit. But the days that felt the best were the ones we were in a good rhythm and routine. When I get up at the same time, follow the same predicable schedule, and get a reasonable amount of work done with the kids and around the house, I’m generally feeling pretty satisfied. What’s more, the kids seem to be more at ease too. I know that not every day can be exactly alike, but I am more convinced than ever that routine, however loose or structured you like it, is key to sanity.
It’s an Ongoing Learning Process
Having said that, the ideal rhythm and routine within the home is always in flux. Perfection isn’t possible or really even the goal; finding different methods that work for particular seasons and moments in time is. For example, during the week I kept my time log, I had a particularly long grocery list and I had to take all three kids with me to the big box store. The whole excursion, from writing my shopping list to putting food away when we got home, took over two hours and was hard on all of us. I wrote a note on the time log that next time I take all three, I should better prepare them and myself for what that trip is ideally going to look like. However, each week my shopping plan varies slightly. I just have to adjust and do the best that I can to make it work.
By the time my seven days were up I was more than ready to end my little experiment (my notes got increasingly less detailed). I learned a lot about myself and what gaps were in my daily routine that I could address accordingly when planning out my schedule each week.
I think ideally I’d like repeat this process again every few months, because when the seasons change, our schedules usually need to adjust too.
If you’d like to keep a daily time log, I can’t recommend it enough. Here are a few helpful tips:
- Use a time-blocking system with 15-minute increments. You could just keep track on a lined piece of paper, but I just found it really helpful to visually see how my time was divided into increments each day. I made a handy little printable that was very helpful for me.
- Keep notes not just about what you do, but how you feel. In particular, note when you’re feeling low or high energy, or when you’re feeling stress or various emotions.
- Color code different types of activity. You can do this after you’re done recording. This can be a bit of a challenge if you’re like me and you multi-task, but just realize that it’s not an exact science. I ended up lumping “actively taking care of kids” and “actively taking care of house” into the same group, because I was likely working on both simultaneously.
- Take the time to assess after you’re done. Otherwise there is no point to this exercise. Where are your stress points? What patterns do you see? What can you cut out (and what can’t you cut out?) Where are you wasting time? What do you need to add?
If you’d like to keep your own time log, you can download this printable, which is in my free resource collection.
Well, what do you think? Do you think a time log can help you get your daily schedule under control?