If you want to stop mindlessly spending money, there’s a simple (if scary) exercise that can help: track your expenditures.
That way, you can see how the seemingly small stuff — think lattes, cabs, and new shoes — adds up.
But cash is hardly the only precious commodity worth conserving. These days, most of us feel deprived of time, too.
It makes sense, then that you could apply the same tracking strategy to the way you spend your time — and see equally life-changing results.
In a recent article for The New York Times, Laura Vanderkam explains how tracking her time made her realise that although she was indeed busy with work and taking care of her family, she had a lot more leisure time than she thought.
Vanderkam is the author of several books on productivity and time management, most recently, “I Know How She Does It.” During her book research, she’d asked hundreds of people to track their time, and found that they generally overestimated how many hours they spent working.
Vanderkam’s personal time-tracking experiment revealed that she was prone to the same kind of exaggeration. She’d assumed she worked 45 to 50 hours a week — in fact, she worked about 40.
And while she felt that she was “constantly packing lunches” (she has four kids), Vanderkam found that she spent just about nine hours a week on housework and errands.
When she reviewed all the time logs, she found that she’d gone on some long runs and even spent two days on the beach by herself.
The point of this exercise isn’t to make you feel guilty for thinking you’re a hard worker, when in fact you have plenty of leisure time. Instead, it’s to help you realise that you have more autonomy than you thought in how you spend your days.
That simple shift in mindset can be powerful — suddenly, you might feel less like a slave to your desk and more like a freer, fuller person.
Or, as Vanderkam puts it: “By showing us that we do, in fact, have the privilege of free time, time tracking also nudges us to make wiser choices about how we spend it.”
Another consequence of tracking your time can be realising that you’re
not, in fact, spending your days in ways that make you happy.
Vanderkam cites one broadcast sales manager who found she worked about 20 hours less per week than she thought, and spent a lot of her evenings at home watching TV. Now, she and her family watch movies and go on walks instead.
Sure, it can be intimidating to see on an Excel spreadsheet those six hours spent scrolling through Facebook last week. But that knowledge empowers you to do something about it — to instead spend that time exercising or reading a new book, for example.
Whether you’re tracking the way you spend your money or your time, the goal is to construct a more accurate picture of your life, and ultimately to create a life that makes you happy.
If you’re inspired to start tracking your time, you can find instructions on Vanderkam’s website.
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