How Do You Spend Your Time Working?

two professional women sitting in front of a computer, with one woman possibly training the second woman

How much time do you spend on email, meetings, research, writing, training, admin, and other work-related tasks? What does your task breakdown look like? Is it consistent or does it vary from week to week? (Related question: Do you think this task breakdown suits your personality?)

{related: personality tests everyone should take}

I was curious after our discussion on mental health days a while ago because I noticed a lot of people seemed to think that offering to check email if you’re calling in sick at the last minute was a “big ask” and not mentally restful. But to me, that promise was more like a 15-minute commitment — 5 minutes at the beginning of the day, 5 minutes midday, and 5 minutes at the end of the day, just to make sure that balls weren’t being dropped and urgent questions could be forwarded to someone else. But then, I don’t spend a lot of time on email at all these days — so I’m curious.

{related: is your job right for you?}

This kind of comes back to my post about a speech I heard from the former CEO of, Carter Cast, about how a lot of job happiness comes down to the day-to-day micro task kind of stuff.

…[H]e added a new way to know whether your job is right for you: the micro level, day-to-day happiness stuff, which he called Red Yellow Green. He noted that when he sat down and thought about his job as CEO, most of the day was red for him — stuff he didn’t want to do, stuff he dreaded doing, stuff he felt was a waste of time.

On the flip side, when he thought about the job right before CEO, he found that his day was mostly green — he looked forward to it, thought it was a great match for his skills, strengths, and passions — and ultimately wanted to do the tasks in front of him.

Back when I was a lawyer at a firm, I would say my general time was spent like this, at least at the beginning:

  • 15% email, meetings, calls
  • 60% research/writing/reviewing/editing (where “research” could include doc review)
  • 5% time tracking and administrative tasks
  • 5% presentation tasks — checking binders and things like that
  • 5% travel
  • 5% learning/education (like sitting passively in a CLE)

I was really happy to spend a lot of time researching and writing. As I got farther along at the firm, the time spent in meetings and on calls got a lot more substantial, as well as training more junior associates or supervising their work. I enjoyed that work but I think it didn’t suit my personality as well as just researching and writing.

{related: how your career affects your happiness}

When I changed to being a lawyer at a nonprofit, my time breakdown changed to this:

  • 40% meetings, calls, email
  • 40% research/writing/reviewing/editing
  • 10% admin
  • 10% travel

Meanwhile, my time as a blogger is spent like this:

  • 75% research/writing/reviewing/editing
  • 15% learning
  • 5% team management/training
  • 5% emails, calls, meetings

I’m really happy with the current breakdown — I’m an introverted writer! — but it’s limited certain aspects of the business because, for example, to plan/organize meetups or things like that is a totally different skillset, and even hiring someone else to do it would mean I’d have to be involved in calls and meetings.

So what are your thoughts? How do you currently spend your time working? Do you think it suits your personality? (And for those of you whose tasks have changed a lot over the course of your career — how did you grow to meet those newer challenges? If you’ve always known you’re best suited for management-type tasks, how did you survive the earlier years that were maybe filled with more research/writing-type tasks?)

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