One Way to a More Effective Day

Today I want to share a productivity tip, but it never works for me the way it’s supposed to.

The tip is to track how you spend your time throughout the day by writing down what you’re doing every fifteen or thirty minutes. The idea is that you’ll find what you’re really spending your time on and identify your time wasters.

I never do that.

Any time that I try to keep track of my day, I have these amazingly productive days! If I have to write everything down, then I make a concerted effort to spend my time wisely doing good things. I don’t want to write down things like:

Spent an hour shopping for fabric on Etsy and water colors even though I know I’ve got plenty of craft supplies waiting for projects I haven’t done yet so I why am I adding more ideas to the list.


Spent thirty minutes thinking about my hair and wondering if I should get it cut.


Spent fifteen minutes standing in the kitchen looking for a snack because I was too lazy to do something about it and cook something.

No, I’d really rather not write things like that. So on the days that I keep track of my time, then I don’t waste any of it.

If computer time is something you lose track of, a reader tipped me off to It helps you not to stay on a website for longer than you intend.

(And what’s the picture of the ice cream about? I just thought it looked better than a picture of a time chart or something.)

Question: since we’re using time effectively, what is your favorite way to spend a fifteen-minute break?

Sidenote: Last week I wrote about how Dropbox can work as an online storage backup, and just a few days later I took both of our MacBooks to the Apple Store for repair. As I signed the dotted line to acknowledge the risk of losing our data, I felt kind of great. What good timing to have everything backed up!

About Rachel

I write about practical tips that will help you simplify at home. Connect with me on Pinterest and Twitter.


  1. Small Notebook!

  2. Cup of tea in hand while wandering through the garden or sitting in the hammock.
    Tricia´s last post…Urban foraging for Purslane

  3. Karen (Scotland) says:

    (lol at the ice cream!)

    This is the basic principle of Weightwatchers (and many other eating plans, I think). When you track something, you pay attention to it and sub-consciously “improve” what you are doing.
    Going to check out the link you’ve recommended. I hate when I look at the clock in the evening and think “Aargh! It’s almost 9pm and I’m still on ebay/amazon/imdb/etsy!” (delete as appropriate.)
    Thanks again,

  4. Knitting. It’s productive, it’s meditative, it’s soothing, and it lets me stay in the moment or retreat from the chaos, whichever I need to do at the time.
    jennifer´s last post…Spin to spin

  5. Some days are just lost to me. I hardly do anything at all. But instead of trying to change, I decided to enjoy them. I work hard most of the time, so I don’t care if I’m lazy once in a while.

    Sometimes it can be frustrating though, especially if I want to do a lot of things but still can’t seem to be able to start. Usually I just start doing something and I give myself plenty of breaks.

    I love to read blogs during those, this one for example, and also Hooked on Houses and Problogger.
    Maaike Quinn @ Life with FlyLady´s last post…HomeRoutines- My favorite to do list app for my iPhone

  6. Mmmm, 15 minutes? I think reading emails and clearing the inbox is one thing I do with spare time – I am signed up for several newsletters that I read as I like… I guess its like an online magazine for me… so, maybe the answer is “read magazines” :)
    angelvalerie´s last post…compassion and mercy…

  7. I read blogs…or browse the internet…or waste way too much time on YouTube…or Facebook. If I have some self-control with the computer than I lose myself in a book.

    For several months after I read “Today Matters” by John C. Maxwell I made a daily schedule for myself, broken up into 10, 15, and 30 minute segment. It was amazing how much I got done when I told my time where to go! Then we went on vacation and I haven’t gotten back into the groove since. However, I just took a job, so I’m going to have to be more prudent with my free time once again.
    Carrie´s last post…Pantry Challenge Update

  8. Great post! It’s similar to the idea of keeping a food log when you’re trying to lose weight — you’re less likely to eat something bad!

    I’ve tried this concept a few times — especially when I’m trying to figure out if my 8-month-old is on a schedule — and end up having really productive days too. I would try to limit “me time” to an hour in the morning, and maybe a bit during afternoon nap. My time-waster tends to be the internet (Facebook, blogs, message boards), but I have a more enjoyable time when I just read a couple chapters in my current fiction book.

  9. As our older three children transitioned from our homeschool to a small classical Christian school in seventh grade, they were required to keep a time chart divided into 15 minute increments for an entire week. Because this school required so much self-discipline in the students, it revealed the fact that many students had serious time-management issues. When parents would come to the school complaining that there was no way their students could complete the homework load, they were handed a time chart and asked to have their student fill it out. Regardless of the method, it is so helpful to honestly evaluate our time usage. And I find that if I have a list of “to-do’s”, I am more productive than if I simply meander through my day.
    I Live in an Antbed´s last post…The Stages of a Farewell

  10. Ummm… Eating ice cream!?!? Lol.

    When I saw that picture I was hoping there was some secret about ice cream that was going to make my days more effective! Maybe as a motivator?

  11. What an excellent article and I can totally relate.
    I used to use this very detailed (every 30 mins) daily docket and I would have SUCH productive days! That was back when I had 2-3 kids (I have five now).
    Now something like that is TOO detailed because there is so much unpredictability around here.
    BUT! I love this idea of keeping track of my time. I agree, I would want to be writing down things that show I’m productive! :)

  12. Oops, forgot to share what I like to do on a break.

    Browse Facebook or blogs. Or take a few minutes to write. :)
    Christin´s last post…Giving Up Your Rights to be Right in marriage

  13. ooooh! I love that idea……something I will have my daughter do as well! :)!
    Sharon´s last post…January Challenge Gearing up and getting ready to save!

  14. Great tip! I do this daily and it is a huge productivity boost. As a freelance artist and web developer, I also put a dollar sign in front of entries where my time is billable. It helps me to see where I’m at with my weekly earning goals. And as an artist, I like the freedom this method brings. I don’t plan out my days other than what my kids are doing (sports, school, etc.) so I can jump on new design ideas whenever inspiration hits.

    As a side note – I found this site by searching for “casein intolerance” after being diagnosed as gluten and casein intolerant last September. I am still navigating the highs and lows of feeling healthy and when I have crappy days (like the last two) the time log serves as a reminder not to beat myself up because I missed a few hours of work to take a nap.

    I still feel like I’ve been hit with a tranquilizer dart, but I’m logging my time again today, even if it means I have to trade some billable time for yet another afternoon nap. Weeks like this make for good motivation to keep eliminating these foods from my diet. Especially when I can look at my time logs and see weeks where I got tons of stuff done vs. weeks where I was sick.

    So they not only make me more productive, but they are very motivating and quite addictive once you get into the habit of keeping them.
    Gretchen´s last post…13 year old girl rocks out to RUSH on drum set

    • Wow–the same thing has happened to me in the last 6 months–now I’m trying to eat gluten free and dairy free. I have thought about logging my time lately, but honestly, the thought of it just embarrasses me. Maybe I will get inspired by these posts! I’m feeling the tranquilizer dart right now, though. Being at home with a sick kid for two days (and another one planned for tomorrow does that to me. Good luck.
      Catherine´s last post…Status Report- and latest favorite snacks

  15. When I have a few minutes, I call the wonderful women in my life (mother, grandmother and two sisters) to get centered and quite often a “slap upside the head” over something I’m complaining/worrying about.

    Unfortunately, I’ve gotten into the habit of talking with them while I’m loading the dishwasher or making a pot of coffee – so that’s not really a break. So, I guess by writing this down I have just realized how to really take a break without multit-asking!
    Andrea´s last post…Baby Steps- How To Avoid Writing An Adoption Life Book

  16. SO true!

    As a professional organizer, I often coach my clients to track their time for a string of days to really hone in on where their time is going if they are feeling un-productive.
    heidi @ wonder woman wannabe´s last post…My Latest Bright Idea – Wannabe Roundup!

  17. Fifteen minutes? What a short break!

    Like you, we’re not big fans of tracking our time. (We also don’t like writing down every single thing we eat during the day to lose weight — no fun at all!)

    Our favorite way to be more productive is to write down a (short) list of the things we want to accomplish in the day. (See our post on the topic at

    The trick is to sit down the night before and write down a few things you really, truly need to get done tomorrow. Somehow, the act of writing a daily to-do list helps people to be (and feel) more productive. You’ll get things done faster and earlier in the day when you use a to do list.

    Here’s the best part about getting more done: You can take a break that is longer than fifteen minutes. If you’re lucky, you might even have an hour free at the end of the day to spend however you wish.

    • I thrive with to-do and how-to lists:

      They help prioritize, eliminate and reschedule for convenience.

      They help do a chore, an errand or my job more efficiently.

      In a short while, everything becomes second-nature.

      Planning is everything…

  18. I wish I could just do 15 minute intervals. I’m an attorney and we track every six minutes of our time!

  19. I do the same thing when I try to track how I spend my time! Lately, I’ve gotten back into drawing, so I often spend my break in a coffee shop…sketching and drinking coffee. It’s a good way to give my mind a break from work for awhile!

  20. I read to the end of the comments and Becky had said exactly what I was going to say. When I was practising law, we billed most clients in tenths of an hour. A few were billed in quarter hours. Billable hours were the bane of my existence.

  21. Dang – I was hoping you were going to say that when the spoon hits the bottom of the tub, it’s time to google something else :)

  22. Oh my. I was worried one of these blogs would attack my procrastination/unproductive habits today. Biggest time killers: the internet and whining about all the stuff I don’t want to do.

    For the first we’ve implemented some internet-free times. Once a week, I take an internet-free day. We just finished an internet-free weekend (because it was my birthday and we were away) and guess what? When I came back, the internet was still there! I was not expecting that. We also decided yesterday: no screens after 9:30 pm; we did it and we slept like babies! We haven’t slept that well in months. I’m thinking we’re onto something.

    As far as the whining… okay, I’ll work on it.

    My fifteen minutes? Absolutely reading! Just cozying up with a comforter and a book is my absolute favorite thing to do.
    Jennie´s last post…When Natural Isn’t “Normal”

  23. I usually spend my 15 min breaks surfing blogs and thinking about all the things that I should get done for the day and never do!!
    Rochelle´s last post…Bible in 90 Days Reading – Update

  24. Hah, checking my favorite blogs!

    It can be dangerous though, because then you see links to all these other interesting sites and want to keep exploring until you get lost like Alice down the rabbit hole…
    Kait Palmer´s last post…Doing What You Love

  25. I wish it was something better, but Netflix. Maybe netflix and a snack. I love that I can watch an independent film 15-20 minutes at a time and never lose my place!

  26. I checked out that site. Very helpful! Thanks And yes a picture of ice cream is always appropriate!
    P.S. I linked to you today on your perpetual giveaway box :)

  27. That is SUCH the helpful idea, Rachel! I am SO doing this. So, do you just like keep a running tab, every fifteen minutes write down what you have been doing or what you are going to do?

    Love the Minutes Please site rec! Firefox has a time manager add-on (can’t recall the name at the moment) but this looks a lot easier and more effective.

    Fave way to kill 15 minutes? Check blogs, check facebook, read Gentle Christian Mothers message board, browse Etsy. As you can see, I’m pretty good at killing time. :)

  28. That is so weird that you wrote this. I just realized this morning (after tracking my time the last two days using Klok) that I get so much more done when I track what I’m doing.

    BTW, Klok is wonderful. I use it and my kid used it when we homeschooled.
    Wendy´s last post…In My Life

  29. Latte (at home) or tea, in my bedroom, door closed, eyes closed.

    If my husband is home, with him, even if we’re just in the kitchen it’s perfect for me. :)

  30. Love to take a walk with 15 minutes. But lately, i’ve been daydreaming about travel and sailing.

  31. I have used the internet/desktop program “RescueTime” before. It keeps track of EVERYTHING you do on your computer and adds up how much time you spend on each and every program, application, and website. You can classify different websites and programs as “productive” “not productive” or “neutral” or maybe it’s “distracting” “not distracting” (same point no matter the word used) and it will give you an overall productivity rating for the day (with charts) and does not count time you spend away from your computer (when the computer is idle). There is also a refocus button that will block all distracting computer content for the amount of time you specify. It’s possible to override this block but it’ll tell you off for doing so ;-) Days spent on rescuetime are productive days for me because I hate seeing my productivity go in the red zone :-p but I”ll be honest I’ve been avoiding it lately because I hate seeing truth stare me in the face haha.

    I read a book once for a class called “Time for life” (I think) that tallied the results of people’s time diaries. Turns out we have a lot more leisure time than we think we do in our “overworked” society but we tend to waste it on idle things we don’t actually enjoy doing all that much like tv watching and mindless internet surfing. Thought the book was semi interesting. I kept my own time diary for a week and the results concerning how much time I ACTUALLY spend online were really really scary to me.

  32. I have a quick scoot around the house putting anything away which needs it, returning things to their proper places or tidying out a drawer.
    alexa´s last post…WOYW Wednesday 26 Jan 11

  33. Bread making! I work from a home office and therefore have all-day access to the kitchen. Since homemade bread is often an all-day affair, I love working and taking short breaks when the dough needs attention. Combining the ingredients, kneading, letting the bread rise, kneading a second time, letting it rise again, shaping it, rising again, baking first at a high temperature and then turning the oven down. It’s a great way to accomplish a relatively long time-consuming activity in short increments and come out with a wonderful treat!

  34. Eating ice cream, lol! Except I like regular Breyers chocolate chip!
    For real, checking twitter, facebook, reading one or two of my favorite blogs, unloading dishwasher, take dogs out, fold a load of laundry, call my hubby, do a few yoga stretches.

    Living the Balanced Life´s last post…Eating for Balanced Living

  35. okay, completely off-topic, but that clock behind the ice cream – that was my very first *own* clock! i used to have to set the alarm to wake myself up for 4th grade, because my mother was not a morning person. aww, memories of early character-building…

  36. Kim Fahrni says:

    You made me it!

  37. I like to play with our dogs, Trooper, Mabel, Opie & Kit Kat. Stress just melts away!

  38. surfing blogs or etsy.
    I need to think more about this time trackin thing. I think I am pretty efficient, but I’m curious now.
    Margo´s last post…Shoestring Chic 2- Rosalyns Suit

  39. Doing nothing on the WWW!!!
    JWK´s last post…O Spring- Where Art Thou

  40. Checking into my google reader account.

    Thanks for the tip about now my checking in won’t last all afternoon. :)

  41. I tried using minutes please but it didn’t seem to work right. It took me to the page I opened (facebook – my biggest time waster) and even gave me the 1 minute pop up warning. But once I clicked OK on the warning (NOT more time please) the countdown stopped at 57 seconds. What am I doing wrong?
    Suzanne´s last post…Whats your organizing personality

  42. My fiance’ and I are going through pre-marital counseling and one of our assignments was to keep a log of our time for a week in 30 minute increments. It did just happen to be my most productive week but I was also surprised at how much time I waste on me. Don’t get me wrong I think I do need some down time/relaxation/a.k.a “me-time.” I basically used that assignment as a way of organizing my time so I could get more done through the day and then put all my “me-time” at the end to spend relaxing with my family or future hubby! Just a thought.
    I still take breaks throughout the day, there is a coffee shop down the street from me so on my breaks I’ll get my toffee-nut latte and do a little blogging or nothing at all, just enjoy my coffee. :)…I think its time for a break!
    Becky´s last post…My 50th Blog Post

  43. 15 mintues? I read. It can be books or blogs, either works for me! :)
    Megan @ Faith Like Mustard´s last post…It’s “Ruff” Being a Preacher’s Kid

  44. MinutesPlease is such a clever idea – great link, thanks!
    My favorite way to spend (waste?) 15 mins is to hop from Facebook to Twitter to BBC News.
    The English Organizer´s last post…Decor for Energy

  45. Such a good idea. I have a lot of unstructured time (sounds like a lot of us do) and I have plenty of things that need to be done. But the challenge for me is balancing the “have-to’s” with the “want-to’s” and not getting distracted by the “it’s so easy-to’s” in the meantime. I like the idea of making a list the night before, focusing on how I really want to spend my time the next day. I want to examine the value and purpose of my daily life. But I do remember one blog you wrote not long ago about not spending too much time planning so that you can actually get to doing the things you are planning. I am afraid that writing down everything I do would cost more time than it’s worth. I am probably wrong about that, but it sounds like a rational way to escape logging my time!
    Catherine´s last post…Status Report- and latest favorite snacks

  46. I love to go out on my deck and watch the birds and squirrels do what they do.

  47. The Frugal Girl recently issued a challenge on her blog to keep a time log, so I have been keeping them for the first time in a long time. David Seah has a form on his site that I think makes it a little faster. Rather than having to note what you are doing in time increments there are bubbles that you fill in noting how much time you spent on particular activities. Here’s one I did a couple years ago:

  48. HA! HA HA! That is so true I laughed out loud. I always beat myself up when I have a great plan for what to do during my daughter’s nap time, and it ends up something like: ate a snack, checked my email for the third time, browsed Etsy, stared at the dishwasher that needed to be emptied…oh great, she’s awake. Nice to know I’m not too abnormal. In this respect.
    Tracey´s last post…The Big Breakup with Consumerism

  49. …. 15 mins reading whatever book I have my nose in – bliss! P.S. Love the Minuteplease link – I usually set a timer to watch my minutes whilst on the web, but will be using this tool from now on.
    Mandy´s last post…Websites I am LUVIN

  50. Lots of people write LOL, but I am actually laughing out loud. I totally do the etsy fabric shopping thing and the standing around waiting for a snack to fly into my mouth thing; I don’t so much think about hair cuts, but I do stare at my skin in the mirror and wonder if picking at my pores will make them smaller or bigger.
    Meghan´s last post…Big Clean

  51. My 15-minute breaks between not computer-related activites often turn into an hour-related activity, since I may want to simply check my e-mail, but quite often there lurks an important e-mail to which I react immediatelly (lest I forget… :)).
    After such a “failed” break I tend to take another one… which can easily turn into an hour of a non-computer related activity. Sometimes the effectivity isn’t exactly astonishing, but this switching between different activities keeps me sane.

    What really helps me being effective is setting time-limits beforehand. Listening to a particular radio programme while cleaning gives me 15/30/60… minutes to accomplish a task. A shorter activity for a couple of minutes can be finished within a song ;-) And sometimes, when I know that background noise would distract me – I turn to an alarm clock. There’s even an online alarm clock which I’d never use to wake up, but as a timer I find it perfect.

  52. i was required to write down what i did every 15 minutes for a job once, for a whole week — i nearly got fired!!! I couldn’t do it, my ADD just kept getting in the way, i did my job, my job always got done on time and correctly, but adding in that one little extra of keeping track of it all nearly killed me!!!! I also always failed ‘diary’ assignments in school and college too…………ooooo pretty snowflakes….gotta go……

  53. working for 15 minutes is feasible and doesn’t feel so daunting, i think that’s the key from this. i learnt his somewhere else and now i use the countdown timer on my phone to keep me working, i’ll put 15 minutes on it then work until it pings. then i break for a minute or two, then reset it and work again. time goes so much quicker when i am focusing and not checking the clock/facebook/emails/blogs every minute or two!
    slowsimpleconscious´s last post…Do businesses have our best interests at heart

  54. A spare 15 minutes – I refine my to-do list. I reschedule the day, week or month ahead as needed.

    Planning eliminates and streamlines – it saves time in the long run for the fun things…

  55. I like to spend my half-hour lunch reading the Reader’s Digest. They have quick-to-the-point, condensed articles about every subject.

    It’s best to study for a half-hour, then let your brain absorb what you’ve read for the next half-hour.