This is a question that I have heard often throughout a decade of overseas ministry. People at churches, personal supporters, and even friends have asked this very thing. It’s hard for them to comprehend what those of us on the mission field do all day. And truthfully, it is a valid question. I don’t have a time card to show them how I spend my time. What am I doing with my days?
Time management has fascinated many for years, not just for those in the business world, but for those in all professions, students, athletes, and families—everyone who finds themselves with more to do than there are hours in the day. There are books, blogs, articles, and expert advice on managing time. But even with all of these resources, it can still be difficult to pinpoint exactly where our time truly does go.
This is where time tracking comes in. Even for those who don’t work a 9-5, it can be beneficial to visualize from a bird’s eye view what we are spending our time on and to consider how it aligns with our goals and priorities. As Scripture reminds us, we should “look carefully” at how we walk, “making the best use of time” so that our daily pursuits glorify God, convey his gospel, and encourage other believers (Ephesians 5:15-21; Colossians 4:5).
Benefits of Time Tracking
There are many advantages to tracking our time. We all have 24 hours each day, and we are using our time to do something. Seeing our activities written out on paper or in a spreadsheet can be immensely helpful.
First, time tracking helps us reach our goals because it quantifies progress. As we see how we have spent our time, we can ask ourselves questions: Does what I’m spending my time on align with my life goals? Does my time reflect what I would like to be doing?
The second benefit is that tracking our time can ensure that our lives accurately reflect our values. For example, if we value spending quality time with loved ones, but observe from our weekly time log that it didn’t happen this week, we can make it a priority to spend time with them the following week. Or, if we value spiritual growth, it can be very helpful to see how much time we are indeed dedicating to reading the Word and prayer. Examining our time is a way to evaluate our lives and ask ourselves, what needs attention in my life right now? This kind of overseeing helps us take proactive responsibility for our own lives.
Third, examining our days can reveal disposable time in our schedules. We can inadvertently fall into the trap of busyness and think that we do not have enough time to do what we desire. But tracking time often shows us that we have more disposable free time than we think. We can choose to be intentional with this time and schedule opportunities for projects or for fun and leisure. In lieu of wasting a 10-minute break scrolling social media to see how other people live their lives, maybe we could send a quick note to a friend, read a passage in the Bible, or snuggle with a family member. Tracking time is not just about being more productive, but about finding ways to add more intentionality and joy into how we are living.
Keeping a time record is especially useful for the missionary. With full schedules of ministry, and daily chores that often take longer overseas, recording our time can aid in evaluating our priorities and help us to commit to the things that are most important. For example, if we are required to study language for a set number of hours a week, are we accomplishing this? What needs to change if we are not? How much time are we dedicating to building new relationships or to existing ministries?
How to Track Your Time
So how does time tracking work? Different methods work for different people, but here are a few suggestions.
Many people create a spreadsheet to record their activities in 30-minute increments. In each cell, they write a few words to summarize their activities. They update their spreadsheet at specific points during the day—for example, after each meal.
Some people will use specific apps, and others simply utilize a piece of paper to jot down their activities each hour or half hour.
Descriptions of activities do not need to be detailed—the point is not to take more time out of your day! Some general categories could include: household chores, projects at work, discipleship meetings, specific ministries, emails and correspondence, meals, spiritual disciplines, and time with family. Your descriptions should provide an overall view of what is happening throughout the week.
Time expert Laura Vanderkam encourages people to think about their time in weekly landscapes instead of daily ones. There are 168 hours in every week, and when broken down so that you can see all seven days of the week together, it’s easier to see what is truly happening.
As you track your time, plan to spend a few minutes at the end of each week in evaluation and reflection. Ask yourself: What went well, and what needs to change to better reflect my goals, priorities, or current personal or family needs?
If it’s been a tough week, looking back on the time log can reveal why. Maybe there were too many meetings scheduled, and you could have cancelled one. Perhaps on Tuesday you should have said no to the person asking for something that could have waited until next week. Or maybe you didn’t allow enough margin and rest to feel replenished.
No matter what method we use, time tracking can be a powerful tool in helping us identify areas in our lives that are going well and areas that need more work or focus. And we can all find ways to improve how we are spending our time.