Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Pay Attention to How You Spend Your Time

Shortly into the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, the amount of screen time I was spending concerned me. (My teenage son’s screen time concerned me, too, but that’s another story.) Between my expanded workday without commute time on the laptop, active use of my mobile phone for messaging and social media throughout the day, watching TV and movies with family—and alone, while folding laundry—purely leisure use just to fill and kill time at the end of the day (ahem, TikTok and doom scrolling), and a brand new iPad, my screen time had radically increased… and I wasn’t really even sure to what extent.

So I needed to assess that and audit it—oh, researchers...—so I could be fully aware of how much time I was wasting, if I was, and how much of it I could chalk up to reasonable use in a time of relative stress and concern. Luckily, I had a good start already—and some longitudinal data I could include in the audit.

Since January 2019, I’ve used a mobile app called SaveMyTime to keep track of how I spend my time. I log every action, including going to the restroom (AKA “ablutions”) and feeding the cat (AKA “Spooner”). Here’s how the last two years have broken down, excluding items accounting for less than 3% of my time:


  • Sleep: 31%

  • Work: 16%

  • Scouts: 11%

  • Reading: 6%

  • Transportation: 5%

  • Social Media: 3%

  • Family Time: 3%

  • Eating: 3%


  • Sleep: 36%

  • Work: 18%

  • Reading: 8%

  • Family Time: 4%

  • Movies: 3%

  • Eating: 3%

  • Social Media: 2% (included for comparison year over year)

On its face, I’m doing OK, at least in terms of social media usage. In the pandemic year, I’m sleeping more, working more—and commuting less. I’m reading more, spending more time with family, and… if you believe the data, which is prone to self-reporting error and bias… I’m using social media less.

When we look at the data on a monthly basis for 2020, however, we see some variance—but not much. Monthly, I range between 1% and 5% of my time spent using social media. The mean average is 2.5%, the median 2%, and the mode 2%. That’s not too bad, is it? Just 36 minutes a day on mean average? It’s not that bad… if I’m reporting that time spent accurately and not underreporting to look good to myself. (Which could be the case!) But at the same time, that’s 219 hours a year, or just more than nine days. 

That’s too much time to devote to social media for doom scrolling and random browsing that doesn’t engage with others I’m actually close to. I could be reading a book or writing letters to family and friends. Regardless, my concern about pandemic screen time wasn’t overly strongly founded—or, at least it wasn’t related to social media use. So far this year, I’m at 2% social media use for January and February, so the data seems to have stabilized. Yet I remain vigilant, and when I start to scroll in Twitter or another app, I try to find something else to do—that doesn’t require a screen. Because even 2% feels like it’s too much.

One neat outcome related to this personal time-tracking study is that I now know how long it takes me to do repeated, daily tasks. It takes me 25 minutes to shower, dress, and otherwise get ready for the day. I can go to the bathroom in less than five minutes most of the time. And regardless of the meal, or the food prepared, my family pretty much eats in 15 minutes or less every single meal. Every. Single. Meal.

I’ve also been trying to wake up earlier consistently, and maintain a daily routine that helps me make progress on some personal goals outside of work, and I’ve found a couple of other apps to be useful tools in that regard. For non-work action items and to-do lists, I use Nozbe, and to track and time my morning routine—with the goal of making it a habit—I use Morning Routine.

We also have shower timers in the showers to help conserve water—you can take a very comfortable shower in four or five minutes or less!—and I have a couple cube timers of different manufacture (one 5-15-30-60 and one 5-10-20-25) for task management throughout the work day.

If you haven’t done a personal time tracking study or time audit, you might find it useful. Who knows what you’ll learn about yourself—and how you spend your time!

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