Sleep trackers and feed trackers: what are we missing?
Do you use a sleep tracker or a feed tracker?
Tracking apps are really popular with parents. There can be so much anxiety around how and when your child sleeps, or you want to make sure that your baby is getting enough milk and is feeding frequently enough. Sleep is important for development, and we want to make sure our babies have adequate nutrition, right?
I’m going to suggest that we widen our perspective a little and think beyond these two trackers, think about the bigger picture and how we can use our time intentionally.
Tracking my time has transformed my life
For the last 4 months, I’ve tracked how I spend my time. It’s been transformational. Long story short, I have a Google spreadsheet, with each cell representing 30 minutes of my time, and each column represents a day. The idea comes from Laura Vanderkam’s book I Know How She Does It. She did a fantastic piece of research where she asked successful business women, who also had children, to track their life by recording how they spent their time. Gemma Bray has a similar approach in her book, The Organised Time Technique (2020)
What I've learned about time tracking
We are not very good at estimating where we spend our time
We tend to overestimate the time we spend on things we don’t enjoy, and underestimate the time we spend on things we do enjoy. Did you know that most of us underestimate how much sleep we get? And we over-estimate how much work we do? We tend to remember those “bad” days or nights, rather than get an accurate feel for how things pan out over a week.
One very interesting fact I’ve learned about my own sleep is that I average about seven hours a night. This means that some nights I get six hours, some nights I get 8 hours. Tracking my time has shown me that it evens out over a week, so now when I wake up at 4:30 some mornings (yep, it’s hateful – thank you, perimenopause), I don’t get frustrated like I did a few weeks ago. You know what I do? I get up, make a cup of coffee and sit in front of my computer. I’ve been churning out content for my website and social media rather than lying in bed, frustrated, trying to get back to sleep. Tracking time has helped change my perspective on my sleep (or lack thereof). AND something good comes out of it.
Time is a limited resource
We get 168 hours a week. How we spend those hours is a choice. We never repeat those hours again. Your baby will never be exactly 6 months again, you’ll never get that 20 minutes back where you could have sat and looked at bugs in the garden with your three year old. Clearly you can’t spend every single waking moment engaging with your child, but… When we recognize that time is limited, it makes us much more intentional about how we spend our time.
What is really important to you? Where do you want to invest your time, your attention? When you track your time, you start to see where you waste it (ehem, social media scrolling on your phone), and how with a few tweaks, you can probably get rid of stuff that doesn’t really matter. You can get rid of the activities that are wasting your time. And when you get rid of the stuff that doesn’t matter, you make time for the stuff that does. Which leads me onto my next point.
Prioritize the good stuff
I now plan my week in advance. I put in all the regular activities we do as a family, plus my work hours, and any extra activities (like birthday parties) on to my spreadsheet. However, I’ve started prioritizing the good stuff in the remaining time, which means prioritizing myself and my family time. For example, I now block out half an hour between finishing work and collecting the kids from school. This is time just for me, to rest and relax. This means I consciously make an effort to finish work on time. I have to plan ahead and make sure I’m keeping on track with work activities so that I can have that time to myself.
I put family time in every day as well to remind myself not to get caught up in the tidying or laundry. Then the gaps get filled with things like housework, laundry, meal prep, etc. I still manage to clock up around 15 hours of housework a week and my house still looks messy. But you know what? When I planned my week and decided how much time I wanted to spend on the good stuff, I had to limit the amount of time I spent on things like housework and meal prep. These were things that had to be done, but were certainly not activities I enjoyed.
Now on a Sunday, instead of looking around at the things I could be doing, I take a quick look at my weekly tracker and remind myself that I’ve done as much as I need to this week. And then I reach for a magazine, a book, or just snuggle up on the sofa with one of my kids to watch a movie. Time tracking has massively improved my life because I have clarity on both where I want to spend my time, and how I actually do it. It’s taken a few weeks of tweaking and experimenting, but I’ve got a pretty amazing work-life balance. I genuinely think my life is pretty awesome right now.
But what does this have to do with sleep trackers and feed trackers??
For a lot of families, these apps can seem really helpful. There can be advantages. For example, they can help you see the patterns to your child’s sleep, or reassure you that your child is getting enough sleep. One of my biggest issues with sleep trackers overnight is that using them engages your “thinking” brain. I much prefer an approach at night that isn’t clock based: respond to your child, get them back to sleep as quickly as possible and DON’T record how often they woke up or how long you were awake. Plus, because the sleep tracker app is on your phone, you’ll be tempted to do a quick scroll, or Google something or do an Amazon order. Not only can this be expensive, it interrupts your sleep!
Feed trackers can be helpful. You get a feel for how often your baby feeds, or when they cluster feed. However, especially where breastfeeding is concerned, I think that tracking feeds isn’t a good indicator of how well breastfeeding is going. Certainly in the early days we want a flexible, relaxed approach to feeding – you rarely go wrong with offering a boob, no matter how soon it is since the last feed! A good breastfeeding assessment with an IBCLC is often a much better indicator of how well feeding is going.
What is my biggest issue with trackers?
They fix your attention on one aspect of parenting. They don’t really account for the time you spend doing other things with your child. And because you’re not tracking the time you spend on other activities that you do with your child, you probably don’t have a really clear idea of how much time you’re actually spending on them. Without a doubt, if I was filling out a time tracker when my children were younger, I’d have to allocate a significant proportion of my time to feeding, soothing, cuddling them. I’d have a lot less time for some of the other activities I do regularly. I’d certainly spend WAY less time doing housework!
We can’t really look at sleep or feeding in isolation. They are just a part of parenting. I suspect that for a lot of parents, tracking only sleep or feeding makes you fixate on these aspects so that it feels like that’s ALL you’re doing. When we widen our perspective and take in everything we do in a week, then we realize that we do more than just just breastfeed, and that we’re not spending all day trying to get them to sleep. For example, if you are helping your baby sleep 5 times a day and 4 times overnight, well… it’s maybe 3 hours of your day, and you still have 21 other hours for other stuff. What’s happening with those other hours?
You see how that changes your perspective?
Feel like experimenting with a time tracker?
While I divide my day into half hour segments, I’d probably recommend 15 minute blocks if you have a baby or a toddler. Let’s face it, if you want do something that isn’t child related, that’s usually about all the time you get before you have to attend to them again. But see how much you CAN get done in 15 minutes before your child needs your attention. For a week, record what you do. You can use a notebook with times written out, or you can do what I do – a Google spreadsheet with each cell representing a time block. Don’t forget to record those 15 minute blocks you sit on your phone!! Those scrolling sessions can very quickly take up 2-3 blocks at a time. (Or 7 or 8…)
When you’ve done that for a week, sit down and work out exactly where you spend your time. Add it all up in categories. eg. driving, housework, meals, feeding baby, playtime, sleep routines, exercise, self-care, tv, phone time.
Next: scrutinize your week. Are there areas where you are spending more time than you’d like? Are there areas where you aren’t spending enough time? What activities aren’t necessary? What can you get rid of? What do you need to prioritize so that you don’t feel guilty or stressed?
Ask yourself one big question: What would happen if I DIDN’T do this?
You’ll probably be surprised at how little time it takes to do some activities. For the record, I can unload my dishwasher in 3 minutes. Yep, I timed it. Before I timed myself I thought it took about 15-20 minutes, therefore I didn’t have time to do it in the morning. Once I realized it’s only 3 minutes, it somehow became easy to do as part of my morning routine. I can unload a tumble dryer, move a wet load into the dryer, and fold the dry clothes in 15 minutes. Do that twice a day and you’ve done two loads of laundry, and perhaps even optimistically, put them away. (Bonus: if you fold them straight away, you don’t need to iron them later.)
Start building an intentional life
Prioritize the things that matter to you. Actually schedule them in to your day. Plan your fun activities with your kids. Block them out in your calendar or diary.
I cannot stress this next point enough: Schedule a couple of 15 minute blocks for yourself every day. Even if this means a cup of coffee and a bun while doing a contact nap. Or taking your child for a walk in the pram at naptime, while listening to a podcast on your headphones. Or taking 4 (!) 15 minute blocks on a Saturday morning while your partner looks after the kids to do a yoga class. Absolutely prioritize yourself – put these in your diary, or put them on your phone calendar. If you don’t schedule them, they won’t happen, because you’ll get caught up in all the other stuff that always needs to be done. You won’t EVER get on top of the other stuff so you need to prioritize time to meet your needs.
If you like reading, I highly recommend both of Gemma Bray’s books:
The Organised Mum Method
The Organised Time Technique (a mum-orientated version of time tracking)
You can also find out more on her website.