Research hacks #19: Three benefits of time logging for academics, and one easy-to-use time logging app

Time logging is for executives, not academics, right? It’s for lawyers with billable hours, not for researchers with theses and books that take years to complete. Wrong. I have found that tracking the time I spend on different tasks has brought me three distinct benefits, and in this post I want to share some reflections on how time logging can help academics, along with a recommendation for a free and easy-to-use app that does the hard work for you.

First benefit: a one-off audit of where your time REALLY goes

If you’re anything like me then you know that sinking feeling that can descend on you at the end of the working day: “Where on earth did all my time go today? What have I actually achieved in all the running around and typing I’ve done?”

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A good first step to getting better control over the sands of time running through your fingers is to know just where your precious hours are going. So once a year or so I log everything I do for a couple of weeks. Sleep. Grooming. Travel. Eating. Research. Emails. Exercise. Family time. Everything. The benefit of this exercise is that I get to see precisely how all the 168 hours in the week are being spent. I can see where my intuitive sense of how much time I’m putting into certain tasks is correct, and where my instinct is mistaken. I can also compare it to my “ideal week” (about which I’ll write in a future post), and see where the largest discrepancies are.

“Effective executives, in my observation, do not start with their tasks. They start with their time. And they do not start out with planning. They start by finding out where their time actually goes.” Peter Drucker, The Effective Executive

It’s a good audit exercise, and liable to yield unexpected results. Seeing the time you spend on all your weekly activities as cumulative totals gives you a sharpened sense of time (and of time wasting!). Try it and see.

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