A data-fuelled exercise in awareness of how I invest my time

230 days worked, 1,327 hours in meetings, 1,602,783 steps, 17,894 minutes on my phone screen, 2,585 hours in bed and 456 hours practicing awareness through meditation, yoga, journaling and reading. That is how I invested most of 2017.

Pick what’s important to you and become aware of it. That’s not a quote from anyone famous, but rather something I believe strongly in.

For me, it’s time. More specifically, where I invest my time. Time is my most valued resource, more so than money. It is easy to track money, but tracking time has become more valuable for me now. I believe that awareness is the key to everything and without the awareness of how I’m investing my most valued resource (time), I have no idea if I’m making decisions that align with my values and intentions on a day-to-day basis.

This is my third year sharing how I invested my time in the previous year. One year ago, I shared how I invested 2,504 hours in work in 2016 and two years ago, I shared my lesson in understanding where I spend my time covering high-level insights in 2015.

My analysis on 2017 is more comprehensive than ever before, looking at both personal and professional time investments and habits tracked, combining data from several sources. This analysis covers where I physically was (location), how many hours I invest in meetings (and the type), how many steps I take (sliced and diced from different views), how long I spend on my phone screen, tons of sleep related insights, how much time I took off and my consistency with practices (including meditation and yoga).

Note: this can be a DIY exercise if you’re really determined to sort through and merge multiple data sources manually. I am planning to build an easier process for 2018 and will share it once ready.

51% of my days invested outside of Toronto.

Not a real surprise, however useful for me to self-audit where I am physically. In 2017, the majority of my days were outside of Toronto. New York, London and Sydney are the other cities our business has offices, and I did invest decently in these places.

I think what’s more telling though is where I spent my “work days”. 56% of them outside Toronto. There were 230 of them in 2017. That’s 365 days in the year, minus weekends and minus time away (more on how I invested my time away, while not working, below). I’m glad to see I invested almost as much time in Toronto as New York while working, as I had sent the soft intention at the start of the year to be more in New York than before. And in 2018, I’ll easily cross 50% for work days in New York.

The source of this location data is a spreadsheet I update from time-to-time by referencing my calendar (manually).

5.6 hours per work day invested in meetings.

1,327 hours of my time in 2017 was invested in meetings. That’s 61% externally (with partners primarily) and 39% internally (with people on my team). Total meeting time decreased from a high of 399 hours in Q1 down to 327 in Q4 (with an average of 300 in Q2 and Q3). And surprisingly, I took the fewest days off in Q2 (more on that below).

The above data was derived from our team accessing the Google Calendar API to pull all of the meeting invites on our calendars, categorizing them to see who else was on the invites to classify internal versus external. Note: team stand-ups and internal social gatherings and events were excluded from the internal meetings time.

Overall, I invested 5.6 hours a day in meetings. My initial reaction was that it felt low, as I often feel I’m in meetings continuously throughout the day (and enjoy it, I’m not complaining whatsoever!). However the time is based on calendar events, so does not account for the odd 15 or 30 minutes between meetings, the time it takes me to travel to/from meetings, etc.

In 2017, we made a deliberate strategy decision in the business to really lean in and invest time with our core partners. It was a successful strategy, in that our revenue from core partners grew 100% in 2017 and that is a result of us investing more time. 63% of my external meeting hours were invested in our core partners with 37% of my time invested with our non-core partners. This is a helpful self-audit tool.

And yes, I have the above data for every person on my team. We discuss it up on a monthly basis as a team, and it guides conversations about how people are investing their time.

30 days invested away from the business in 2017.

I took 30 days away from the business in 2017. Time away is week days where I am not working and 100% disconnected from the business (that means no Slack, no email, no meetings, no phone calls). This was less than 2016, where I had 45 days away.

While taking time away, it is critical for me to disconnect from the day-to-day noise and stimuli that becomes a distraction for me from developing deeper insights and perspectives on the business. Here is a post I shared two years ago on what I learned by disconnecting. When away, I may not necessarily be traveling (although I normally am). Over the recent year-end holiday break, I actually spent two weeks, disconnected, with my parents, enjoying a “home retreat”.

I find when taking time away, it is easier for me to work “on the business” versus “in the business”. There are many times in the past year where I feel I added more value to the business by taking time to gain perspective and really think about the direction we take.

My strategy for time away in 2018 is a little different, ask me personally or stay tuned for my 2018 recap post one year from now to hear how it went!

The source of this data is the same spreadsheet where I update from time-to-time my location, referencing my calendar.

5,500 steps per day, fewer than I thought.

On average, I took 5,527 steps. This was fewer than I would have guessed (hence the importance of looking at data). The source of this data was the Apple Health app on my phone. Now my phone is not always with me (as those who know me know that I’m not always glued to my phone…and I have data below to prove that!), so my actual average is likely 10% higher.

When I was in London (9% of the year), I took on average 64% more steps than my average days in Toronto. And when in New York (31% of the year), I took on average 45% more steps than when in Toronto. That is considerable, and representative of how I often feel at the end of a day in one of those cities (exhausted) after running around between partner offices all day.

I did not anticipate the seasonality of my steps. January and December had considerably fewer steps on average than the rest of the year. May and July were the best months. I guess weather does impact my willingness to stay active throughout the day!

Fun fact: my daily step count average for January 2018 month-to-date is 7,217. Most of this month has been invested in New York.

49 minutes invested per day on my phone screen.

On average, I invested 49 minutes per day looking at my phone screen. And I checked my phone 38 times per day.

This was tracked using an app called Moment, which is the one app you have to download. According to Moment, the average user spends 3 hours and 57 minutes per day looking at their screen and picks up their phone 52 times everyday. Although I feel that 49 minutes is high, I understand that it’s far below the average.

Looking at my phone screen time per month, it was in early June I set the intention to dramatically reduce my phone screen time (as an experiment) and it worked. I got down to 26 minutes and that was proof enough to me that I could do it. Now I “let go” of the experiment at the end of June but it took 3 months before the habit go undone. And after the high in Sept., based on the data, I clearly unconsciously started to reduce my usage again (this time it was not deliberate, I did not look at the data for the second half of 2017 until a few weeks ago). What I have learned from this is that I really can control how much time I invest on my phone screen.

The ratio of screen minutes to pickups varied greatly. When I was in Australia, each screen session lasted on average 2.0 minutes compared to 1.1 minutes when I was in Canada, although the daily average of pickups was the same. No surprise that my daily average while in the US (primarily New York) was 2x higher than the overall average, as I find myself often running around the city from meeting-to-meeting getting lots and looking at Google Maps.

Proof that I generally disconnect on weekends, my average screen time on weekdays was 53 minutes (Wed. being the highest at 64 minutes) where it was only 40 minutes on weekends (Saturday being the lowest at 38 minutes).

The average times per day I glanced at my screen varied greatly by time of the year. Overall the average pickups per day was 38, although for the first 9 months of the year, my average was 31 (August being the lowest with an average of 20 per day) and over the last 3 months of the year my average was 57. Almost twice as high, as I clearly was more liberal with my frequency of screen pickups.

7 hours, 5 minutes is the average time I invested in sleep each night.

The source of my sleep related data is from an app called SleepCycle, a previously more detailed analysis can be found here. For this most recent year’s analysis, I cross-referenced my sleep data with my location data.

The median time I woke up each day was 6:14 AM (and average was 6:28 AM). On weekdays, I woke up on average at 5:53 AM and on weekends at 7:58 AM. I think what’s telling is how consistent I am throughout the week (as you can see, I let myself sleep in by about 20 minutes until 6:09 AM on Friday mornings).

The median time I went to bed was 11:07 PM and the average time was 11:20 PM. As you can see, it varied with Tuesday and Saturday evenings being my latest and Monday evenings being my earliest, although the time I went to bed was consistently within a 1 hour time bracket.

On average, I was in bed for 7 hours and 5 minutes per night. It varied widely between work nights (Sunday through Thursday) versus weekend nights (Friday and Saturday). Friday evenings I clearly got a well-deserved night’s rest.

Although not a surprise, the time I spent in bed was far less while I was traveling in New York and London versus Toronto. And most of my time in Australia and in Other places was on vacation or retreat, so it’s expected I would be spending more time in bed. I am curious how this will change this year, as I now have a place in New York and fully expect my average time in bed to increase here.

Practicing awareness for at least 75 minutes per day.

Meditation, yoga, journaling and reading are all forms of “practice” for me. What am I practicing specifically? Awareness. These tools help me stay grounded, calm and balanced. What I have now come to learn about practice is that it’s less about how I feel while practicing and more about building the capacity and skills, on a continuous basis, to learn to become more aware. And that ability to become aware shows up in other parts of my day constantly.

I practice awareness a lot. 75 minutes per day on average. That’s 75 minutes every single day (or 456 hours in 2017).

Note: I only tracked these practices if I invested at least 30 minutes in each per day. How did I track my practices? Using the sleep notes feature of SleepCycle. I turned it into my own habit tracker, in that each night before I set my alarm on the app, I customized a checklist and then was able to analyze that data on my own.

On average, I meditated 82% of days (for at least 30 minutes, I actually meditate daily without question), which feels about right for me. I practiced yoga only 33% of days, which was a surprise, I thought it was higher (and have set the intention to practice on 50% of days in 2018). Journaling was 42% and I think that can get to 50% fairly easily this year. And my reading practice I am the most satisfied with, as I had set the deliberate intention to increase the number of days I read for fun and that did increase throughout the year from 44% to 68% (the average being 51%). In case you’re curious what I read, I’ll share a more detailed post later this year on the topic, the only hint I’ll give you is that it’s not business books.

As you can see from the above graph, my consistency in practice varied widely throughout the year. Lots of ups and downs which signals to me that I clearly feel drawn to use different tools at different times. I feel grateful to have a variety of tools available to me to practice.

This data reinforces for me that the specific tool used (e.g. meditation vs reading) matters less and the consistency of practice to cultivate a greater sense of awareness is what matters more.

Pick what’s important to you and become aware of it.

For me, awareness has become the answer to everything. The data I surfaced for my investments in 2017 have definitely influenced my intentions and practices for the year ahead. Now I don’t live and die by the data on my own habits, behaviours and time investments. I use it as a soft feedback loop to check is my reality consistent with what my expectations are. This awareness is subtly influencing hundreds of micro decisions on a continual basis which ultimately shape my day-to-day experience in life. Put differently, becoming more aware of my own reality gives me the choice of how to invest going forward, and why wouldn’t I want the power to choose?

Finally, if you have not already set a one-word intention for 2018, I encourage you to do so soon (it’s not too late). If you are not sure, pick awareness and see how it shows up for you this year.

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Kunal Gupta is the Founder & CEO of Polar, a technology platform provider whose mission is to enable a business model for premium content. Polar’s partners include major global publishers and the business is headquartered in Toronto with offices in New York, London and Sydney.

Kunal is passionate about finding calm and focus in a modern era. Kunal is on the board for CAMH, Canada’s leading mental health hospital and research organization. He writes regularly on the topics of leadership, mindfulness and technology culture on his blog at findfocus.today.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn.

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