What do you mean, you can't find time to write? You're a mom, you have tons of free time!
Don't you just want to scream when you hear that?
We’ve all met people who think that, because we’re moms, we have oodles of free time.
You know the type: they look at us and imagine that we spend our days sitting on the couch, feet up on the coffee table, reading gossip magazines and binge-watching our favorite shows on Netflix.
Look, I don’t know about you, but for years, I didn’t even HAVE a coffee table, because my kids were learning to walk would have crashed into a large rectangular object in the middle of the living room.
THIS IS A HARD JOB, and when you want to find time to write, you might think about your day and decide that you just want to curl up and cry in the bathroom while your children stand outside the door and say things like, “CAN YOU OPEN THIS SALAMI FOR ME?”
Where Does the Time Go?
When you’re a mom, and especially when you’re a mom with young kids, it’s really, really hard to know where your time goes.
The days are LONG, and the years are short, and you get to the end of the week, or the end of the month, and you’re like, WHAT THE HECK? HOLY CRAP! WHERE DID MY TIME GO? This 1-minute video from Gretchen Rubin sums up this feeling perfectly.
Here’s the thing: you can actually figure out where your time is going, and it is SO empowering. You know how, when you want to lose weight (YOU TOTALLY DO NOT NEED TO LOSE WEIGHT, YOU LOOK AMAZING), you track what you’re eating, and if you’re working on a budget, you track what you’re spending?
Well, when you want to know where your time is going, you have to track that, too, and you will be astounded at the things you learn when you track your time.
I call it a time audit, and it is SUCH a powerful tool, particularly for moms at home with kids.
What the Heck is a Time Audit?
A time audit is a fancy name for tracking your time. You can use super fancy tools like Google Sheets or the Notes app on your phone — or you can go old school with actual paper and pencils.
Personally, I like using Google Sheets, because it’s really easy to color code things at the end and get more insights from the data you collect. See? You get to use fancy terms and everything! Time audits are AWESOME!
In fact, you can access my Time Audit Template right here if you’d like — it’s just a shared Google Sheet, so all you have to do is save a copy to your own Google Drive. And then, for a full week, every 30 minutes, take a few seconds to note what you’ve been doing.
Here’s the catch: you have to be honest. Like, if your PLAN was to spend two hours working on your taxes, but the REALITY is that you watched half of the first season of Veep, then that’s what you have to write down.
How Can Time Audit Help You Find Time to Write?
You will learn fascinating (and perhaps disturbing) things about yourself when you do a time audit.
The first time I did a time audit was about 10 years ago. At the time, I had four kids, ages 1 through 7. And I thought I had a good sense of how I was spending my time every day.
I knew, for example, that I was spending about 12 hours in the kitchen cooking each week. I knew that about 6 hours went to laundry each week. I knew I had 20 hours of paid childcare, and that I used that time to work on writing projects for paying clients, but I also know that I did not have a single free minute to spend on personal writing projects.
My plan was to start ordering in dinner twice a week, and to send out the laundry once a week. These changes would stretch our budget, sure, but I NEEDED that time. I was going to buy myself an extra 10 or so hours a week — PLENTY of time for my personal writing.
And then I did a time audit.
For a whole week, every half hour or so, I would jot down what I had done in a spreadsheet.
The first day, I took my coffee into my office and sat down to work on a client project. But when I opened up the laptop, my brother instant messaged me to ask what we should get our mom for Mother’s Day. We kicked around a few ideas, settled on something, and placed the order at Amazon.
It took about 15 minutes.
I opened the client file and saw the note I’d written to myself the day before reminding me to call my daughter’s teacher about — well, this was 10 years ago. I have no recollection of what we had to talk about, but I had put the reminder there because the teacher was ONLY available during the morning hours.
In my head, when I sat down at my desk, I was working. And I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with talking to my brother or speaking with my kid’s teacher — those are important tasks. But I couldn’t count that time as “working.”
Guess what else I found out?
I was spending five hours cooking each week, TOPS. I was spending MAYBE two hours on laundry.
So where was my time going? Well, it turned out that I was playing an INSANE amount of Words with Friends on my phone. In my head, I was doing that for maybe 2-3 minutes here and there. In reality? Half an hour at a time, a couple times a day.
I was also spending a ridiculous amount of time running errands in my car, driving all over town a couple of times a week at dumb times of day for no good reason other than I thought of something, and then and there, I took care of it.
So when I had that real information, in writing, in a chart in front of me, it became a lot easier for me to say, I need to delete Words with Friends from my phone, and I need to consolidate my errands.
Those two tiny changes wound up giving me about 10 hours back in my week, and I didn’t spend money on ordering food or sending out laundry — which wouldn’t have saved me any real time, anyway.
Use Your Data to Make Smart Decisions
Think of a time audit as a totally free, totally awesome gift you can give yourself.
When you know where your time is really going, you can make smart decisions.
It is truly one of the most effective things you can do for yourself. It costs absolutely NOTHING, and I promise you that the results will surprise you.
Once you conduct a time audit, you can think about how you want to use your time, and where you can find the time you want to use for writing.
You won’t make incorrect assumptions and cut out the wrong things — the things you might THINK are taking up your time — and instead, you’ll find the things that feel totally innocent but are actually EATING UP your time.
Time audits are one of the most important strategies you can use to write more consistently. I’ve never met anyone who completed a time audit and said, “Yeah, I didn’t learn anything from that.”
You might be sure you’re getting to bed at a decent hour, but your time audit will reveal that “getting ready for bed” includes making lunches, vacuuming the living room, and folding two loads of laundry, and takes until 2 a.m.
This cartoon from Becky Mansfield of Your Modern Family sums it up pretty well.
Suddenly, you’ll understand why you are so dang tired all the time.
When you have this in writing in front of you, it starts to make so much sense.
You think you have no free time, but when your time audit shows you that you actually spent six hours this week hanging out with friends in the park while your kids played, you’ll learn to treat that time differently.
If you want to find the time to write consistently, a time audit is a critical first step. You can’t figure out where to find time for anything until you know where your time is going right now.
Here's an actual excerpt from a time audit I did at some point in the last two years. Please note that I’m not saying this is an ideal excerpt — it’s just a factual excerpt. This is how I actually spent my time over those three days.
There was cleaning (I have NO IDEA why I was cleaning the air conditioner!), time with a friend, and even time at the pool with my son. I read, I fell asleep while working and took a nap, had calls with clients, and even got a mani/pedi.
You can see that I got in an hour and a half of prep time for a client call in the middle of the second day — after coming home from the pool with my son. I must have figured that taking him to the pool for a bit would help calm him and make it easier for me to do my work afterwards. I also have no idea what I’m talking about when I wrote “sitting” on the first day at 3:30. At the time, it must have meant something to me.
On the third day, I was clearly tired (I fell asleep while working on a podcast that I needed to listen to for a client.), so I took a nap, switched gears, and took my kid to the pool. Then I came home and worked with one minor lasagna interruption for 5 hours.
Sure, 12 to 5pm might not be a typical work from home schedule, but it worked for me that day.
Take a close look at where your time really goes, and think carefully about how that matches up to what you envision.
Have you ever tried a time audit? What was the most surprising thing you learned? Let me know!