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My 2020 Hindsight Insights

What I learned from spending an entire year tracking my time

By Matty Reed
January 14, 2024

In 2020 I ran an experiment on myself.

I tracked all of my time for an entire year—every day, in 15 minute chunks, categorized into 12 domains. My method involved using Google Calendar and a custom tool that I built to collect and visualize the data.

Now, I’m looking back at 2020 in hindsight to share my insights.

Here’s what that year looked like in tracked activity data:

I did this for many reasons, but mostly because I was deeply curious. I did not have clear goals for this experiment; I just wanted to quantify and understand myself from a new perspective.

Maybe this would help me invest my time in a more productive way, or maybe it would help me avoid the feeling of regret by making the most of the remaining time left with my mom.

For all I knew, it would be a waste of time.

An Atypical Year

Flashback to January 1st 2020. The new year was upon us and the world was about to tumble into a global crisis at a scale last seen by the elders.

That was nothing compared to the turn of events in my personal life. My world had already been tilted several months earlier when I received the tragic news: my mom had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. My best friend and biggest supporter would be lucky to live for more than a year.

Hearing this tragic news, the value of time came into full focus. I reevaluated my priorities and vowed to make the most of my remaining time left with my mom. Then, I left my job, learned how to code, and delved into the practice and philosophy of time management. The result was a calendar extension and dashboard that I used to track my time and hold myself accountable to my goals.

2020 was an atypical year indeed.

Time Accounting

“What gets measured gets improved” –Peter Drucker

Measuring my time became a bit of an obsession for me in 2020. I came to realize that most people, including myself, had a very limited understanding of our behavior throughout each day. Most of us track our finances, but we fail to track a more precious resource—time.

When a person relies only on mental accounting of their finances, we call them a fool. But if someone relies on their fuzzy mental accounting of time, well... that’s just normal.

I decided to track my time allocation as closely as one might track their finances, fitness, or nutrition. Time is a valuable scarce resource, and I figured there must be something to learn from accounting for my time in a more structured, deliberate manner.

Would measuring my daily activity lead to better time management and personal accountability?

What insights might I discover about myself from understanding how I spend my time?

Data Insights

Scheduled vs Unscheduled

During the course of the year, if you had opened my Google Calendar, you would’ve seen a mosaic of colorful blocks spanning Monday through Sunday—a beautiful sight to a geek like myself. At the time, it felt as if I had accounted for every minute of every day, but in reality, 21.1% of my time was left unaccounted for. Besides the 35.5% of time I spent asleep (according to my Sleep Cycle data), I had no plan or intention for nearly a fifth of my year. That’s the equivalent of 73 days completely unplanned. Most of this time was likely spent in one unproductive attention trap or another. As deep as my time management obsession went, it seemed there was plenty of room to fill my schedule with better investments of time.

My Takeaway Insight

Your schedule is your intention–fill it with the things that matter most. Guard that time with the same zeal you would when guarding your money. Don’t let the important things fall victim to the urgent. When nothing is scheduled, you’re more likely to default to unproductive activities.

What I Wonder

Is there a way to encourage a more complete use of your calendar? Are there diminishing returns to scheduling more time?

Cooking & Eating

A simple retro review of my time allocation each week revealed some surprising nonobvious insights. One such insight had to do with my eating habits. Over the course of the year, I spent an average of 14.6 hours per week cooking, eating, and cleaning up after. This was my second biggest average time expenditure. This includes the time between finishing my meal and cleaning up, which was often spent lallygagging (a CJism for wasting time).

My meal time was typically spread out over the day with roughly

  • 1 hour for lunch,
  • 1.5 hours for dinner, and
  • Occasionally, a 15 minute breakfast.

In other words, I had fairly typical eating habits. The interesting part is that with such consistency, the hours quickly add up.

My Takeaway Insight

Either make cooking/cleaning more efficient with batch meal prep and pre-made meals, or stack that time with other productive activities like listening to an educational podcast or audiobook.

What I Wonder

What insights could we uncover from integrating nutrition and biometrics with more   accurate activity data? Might we use these insights for positive behavior change?


Another insight revealed that I did not work nearly as much as I thought I did. I’ve never considered myself a ‘workaholic’, but I definitely worked as much or more than most people I knew, especially on projects that genuinely interested me. During this period of my life, I had a part-time job teaching at Cal Poly University (note the drop in teaching time over the summer months) and various other projects (including building the time tracker that enabled this experiment) that may or may not be considered ‘work’ depending on your definition.

On average, each week I spent:

  • 8.7 hours coding,
  • 1.8 hours on design,
  • 3.7 hours planning, and
  • 16.1 hours working on my part-time teaching job
  • For a total average of 30.3 hours of ‘work’.

This is 25% less than a traditional 40 hour work week. Did I work less than everyone else, or do most people work much less than they think? My intuition tells me the latter is true for most, but probably not for the long-tail of extra conscientious folks. It could also vary quite a bit depending on whether someone is required to show up to work a certain amount of time each day or if they choose their own hours and rely on their own personal accountability and discipline as I did during this year.

My Takeaway Insight

Make the most of your work time, work on one thing at a time to reduce context switching, and STAY FOCUSED—we might not spend as much time working as we thought, but there is plenty of room to maximize the time that we do.

What I Wonder

How many productive hours does a typical person spend during an 8 hour work day? Can tracking work activities help us avoid stress and burnout?

Family & Friends

One of the motivations for this experiment was to make sure I did not waste the remaining time left with my mom. I also wanted to stay close with friends while we quarantined in silos during COVID. My time allocation was a proxy for my priorities, so I wanted to actually block off quality time with my family and friends in my calendar to ensure I lived in accordance with my priorities.

By the end of 2020, I had spent 8.6% of my scheduled time with family and friends for an average of 6.5 hours per week. It’s impossible to say that this was enough, I could have made more time, but blocking off and tracking the time in my calendar certainly gave me more time with my mom than I would have otherwise.

My Takeaway Insight

Don’t be afraid to schedule quality time with the people that matter most–whether that means regular phone calls or in-person visits. If you can block off time for a work meeting, you can block off time for loved ones.

What I Wonder

Is there something inherently wrong with quantifying quality time with loved ones or is this yet another example of “What gets measured gets improved”?


In hindsight, 2020 was an atypical year, revealing valuable insights across various aspects of life–from work to family and personal growth. As I reflect on this unprecedented experiment, I find that the methods I used to run the experiment were too inefficient to justify continuing to track my time in that way. Looking forward, I hope to make time accounting far easier and more actionable with TimeAlign, a system designed to help people align their daily activities with their priorities and long-term aspirations. Someday, everyone will track and treat their time like the precious resource it is.

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