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Changing habits with a Pie Chart Diary

Recently I have been working with a number of clients who are finding hybrid working habits hard to change. Busy days blend into each other, and at the end of a week or even a month, routine tasks like answering emails or attending meetings have taken up all the time and other priorities or more creative work have had to take a back seat.

I have struggled with this for years. Changing habits to make more time for writing, research or simply finding a moment to hear yourself think can be a challenge. Particularly when your working days are punctuated by the ping of notifications, endless emails or mandatory meetings, finding what some call the right cadence, a balance between busy work and creative tasks merits our attention.

Setting abstract targets like “make more time for…” or “be more research-focused” can feel unachievable. So where do you start? One place to start is to get a new perspective on how you spend your time, so that you can pick a good moment to change your habits.

For me, a bit of a spreadsheet nerd, I decided to track my time manually. I spend 2-3 minutes at the end of each day making a pie chart of what I had done that day. I continued to do this every day, always just before leaving my desk, and over the period of a month or two, I learnt some things about how I work:

  • I found that Tuesday, for example, were days when I never achieved my goals because they are dominated by meetings.
  • Wednesday mornings and Friday mornings were most productive for me.
  • I generally found time for things once I had a firm deadline.

Here is an example of the Pie Chart Diary tool and how it can be used:

Use it over a period of a few weeks or months, and reflect on:

What do you spend most/least time on?
What days of the week are you more likely to you achieve your goals?
What is missing from your days?
What could you change most easily to find better balance
or to meet your goals?

You can download this template if you’d like to try it out for yourself. Depending on your preference, you may want to print the template and write on it or simply use a blank piece of paper to make your charts. Or, if you prefer, use a spreadsheet or similar to track your categories and how you spend your time.

The important part is to take a moment at the end of each day, and honestly reflect on what you actually did during the day. If there is something that takes up time, distracts you or interrupts you, consider adding it to your chart.

When my dog was a puppy, my pie chart diary would have definitely included a “puppy” category as it took a lot of time out of my day to look after her.

Look out for a podcast episode exploring the pie chart diary. As always, I’m curious to hear from you, what tools you use to track your days and what you learn along the way.