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Language use

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I try to do at least one time log every time I change my habits drastically, usually because of larger changes in my life in general. This is the first time log I’ve made since returning to Taiwan and the goal was to examine how I generally spend my time. If you have no idea what I time log is, read the next section. If you already know and only want to read about the result, skip the next section. If you don’t care about my time log at all, you shouldn’t be reading this article. Read this Wikipedia article about the velar lateral ejective affricate instead.

What is time logging and what is it for?

A time log is very simple. Just write down everything you do for a given period of time and you have one. Exactly how detailed you are and for how long you keep at it depends on what your goal is, but you should be fairly specific and do it for at least one “normal” day (i.e. don’t choose a weekend or a day which isn’t typical of how you normally spend your time).

The goal with a time log is to become aware of how you spend your time. What you want to do with this information is up to you, but in my case, I want to see if my perception of how I spend my time matches how I actually spend it. Most people who do their first time log find out that they actually spend much less time working or studying than they really think, for instance. I’ve done many time logs in my life and I’m sort of past that, though.

You don’t need to be a personal development freak to be interested in time logs. A time log isn’t about controlling everything you do and trying to become more productive, it’s about awareness. I’m fine with spending ten hours a week playing computer games, but I want to be aware of the fact that I’m doing it. I want to do it because I want to do it, not because I do it without actually thinking about it. Or, to quote Socrates:

“The unexamined life is not worth living for a human being.”

This quote obviously has problems, but it I do think that self-awareness is one of the most important abilities or skills to posses. It influences everything we do and enables us to understand who we are, who we want to become and how to get there. Doing a time log is one step on the road towards better understanding of oneself.

My time log for a week in March 2013

Since my schedule is radically different each day of the week, I decided to record a whole week. This means that I wrote down everything I did between 2013-03-15 and 2013-03-21. I also sorted everything I did into crude categories to facilitate the analysis and the writing of this article. To give you an idea of how detailed my time log is, I recorded about 300 activities in seven days.

Below, I have presented some stuff I find interesting from the time log:

  1. Time spent using different languages
  2. Time spent on different types activities
  3. A closer look at overlapping tasks
  4. What I have learnt from this time log

Time spent using different languages

People sometimes ask me how much time I spend using different languages and I have written about this earlier (Internal discourse and operational languages). Of course, it’s close to impossible to time internal discourse, so this is merely an overview of the languages I use for the various activities I’m engaged in. Note that I have omitted activities that aren’t related to languages at all, such as sleeping, eating or playing non-language related games.


  • Chinese: 67 hours
  • English: 29 hours
  • Swedish: 2 hour
  • (Non-language): 70 hours

Is this result surprising? No, not really. Is it representative for what I normal week looks like? Sort of, although I do believe that I normally spend more than one hour a week listening/speaking/reading/writing Swedish. This almost matches my expectations, although I think I would spend more time using English than I actually did. Most of the English comes from listening to the Economist and a lecture series about linguistics, as well as editing and writing articles on Hacking Chinese.

Time spent on different activities

The list below is a breakdown of different kinds of activities in my life. The categories aren’t very well defined and should be taken with a pinch of salt. For instance, “studying” doesn’t merely include actual studying (reading textbooks, reviewing vocabulary and so on), but also using Chinese to do other things.

  • Studying (85 hours)

    • Chinese: 37 hours
    • Linguistics: 28 hours
    • Meta: 4 hours
    • Not Chinese: 16 hours

The high number for “linguistics” comes from reading a book about Chinese phonology, listening to lectures about Chinese grammar (both live and recorded) along with related homework and so on. “Not Chinese” refers to other attempts at educating myself, including a lecture series in general linguistics (the other category is only for Chinese linguistics in Chinese) and some other projects I have running in the background.

  • Essential (62 hours)
    • Sleep: 51 hours
    • Other: 11 hours

“Sleep” should be obvious; “other” means things like eating, showering, brushing my teeth and so on. This category is pretty boring in general, but I will say some interesting things about it below.

  • Gymnastics (16 hours)

This is self-explanatory, I think. Includes stretching.

  • Social (13 hours)

Mostly with classmates, team mates (gymnastics) and online (social media not included).

  • Hacking Chinese (4 hours)
    • Writing, editing: 2 hours
    • Social media, updates: 2 hours

Again, this should be self-explanatory.

  • Miscellaneous (22 hours)

    • Games: 13 hours
    • Social media, news, Wikipedia: 4 hours
    • Teaching Swedish: 3 hours
    • Snigel.nu: 1 hour
    • Time-log: 1 hour

Any category system will have a “all the other stuff I couldn’t fit into the other categories” category and here it is. Games refer to various online games or Rubik’s cube (mostly the former, though). The second point is somewhat arbitrarily grouped, but since I didn’t spend much time on any of those things, it simply didn’t feel worthwhile to analyse further.

A closer look at overlapping tasks

I really hope you have better things to do than adding all those numbers up, but if you do, you will find that the total time is 202 hours. A week has 168 hours. This is because some tasks overlap. However, I only note overlapping tasks if I’m able to do both adequately at once.

The activities that most often overlap are the “essential” ones plus any kind of studying (I almost always listen to lectures or something educational while eating, walking, doing the laundry and so on). The “games” category actually overlaps 100% with other activities, meaning that I never play games without listening to something worthwhile at the same time.

A typical day in March 2013

What follows is an edited extract from my time log. I’ve removed references to particular people, overly detailed category information and some other things I don’t want to share online. I have also swapped some activities to try to make this day match what is most typical of my life right now. The time noted is the time when that activity ends. Asterisks (*) denote activities mainly in Chinese. In cases where activities overlap, I have simply omitted the less important one (often “eating”, “walking” and so on).

This is a slightly modified version of Monday 18th:

06:05    Sleep
06:12    Essential
06:47    Social*
06:59    HC    Daily check-up
07:08    Misc    Social media, news
08:28    Phonology*    Writing
08:31    Misc    Social media
09:01    Grammar*    Lecture
09:15    Social*
12:14    Class*    Teaching
14:02    Social*
14:04    Meta    Time log management
14:06    Misc    Social media, news
15:16    Phonology*    Writing
15:28    Grammar*    Lecture
16:10    Phonology*    Discussion
16:26    Phonolgy    Planning
16:30    Meta    Time-log management
17:23    Economist
17:50    Sleep
17:56    Essential
18:12    Grammar*    Lecture
21:01    Physical    Gymnastics
21:14    Grammar*    Lecture
21:23    HC    E-mail, comments
21:30    Misc    Social media, e-mail
22:00    Economist
22:31    Phonology*    Writing
22:54    HC    Social media, e-mail
23:06    Physical    Stretching
23:44    Economist

What I have learnt from this time log

These are my thoughts after doing this time log, looking through the result and writing this article:

  • I spend more time than I think doing things I want to do
  • I spend much less time on social media than I thought I did
  • I spend much more time on language consumption rather than production
  • I spend almost no time at all being creative
  • I sleep more than I thought (slightly above seven hours per day)

To be honest, though, this time log is probably the least helpful I have ever done. It mostly tells me that I’m on the right track and that I spend a huge majority of my time doing things I actually want to do for various reasons. Now, this might be useful in itself (it’s a great morale boost if nothing else), but it isn’t very helpful.

The two major things that are lacking include deliberate practice target at areas of Chinese I know I have problems with (I’m talking about actual skills here, so linguistics doesn’t count) and creative output. I need more of that. Much more. However, I also feel that I’m way behind in my reading, so as long as I feel that writing articles like this one is enough to satisfy my need to express myself in writing, I might be fine with this for the foreseeable future.

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