Australia’s Time Use Survey – Frequently Asked Questions

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About this survey

Completing the time use diary

About this survey

I've been chosen to be in the Time Use Survey – what is this?

This is an important national survey that collects information about how Australians balance their time between work, family, leisure, caring and other activities.

How is the information from this survey used and why is it important?

Your participation in this survey is an opportunity to make a real difference. Results are used by governments, researchers and community groups to better understand how Australians live and about the time pressures we experience. The information you provide will contribute to important decisions being made for your local area and the wider Australian community.

By taking part, you can ensure that your experiences and circumstances become part of the story of life in Australia today. Decisions about employment, families, child care and volunteering can be made by analysing data from this survey. The information you provide will help to shape policies and services which improve the lives of all Australians.

Why was my household selected?

Each year, we collect data about all aspects of life from thousands of households and businesses throughout Australia in order to better understand our population and future needs. Households from every state and territory are selected at random to participate in this survey.

Rather than survey the whole population, we use a scientific sampling process designed to collect data which builds a picture that includes people from all areas of Australia. Everyone has a chance of being selected for this important national survey.

Once a household has been selected, another household cannot be substituted in its place, as changing the random selection could mean some parts of the community are under or over represented.

It is important that all selected households complete the survey in order to make sure the results represent the whole community. This means that decisions made about services provided by government, local councils and community groups are made using the most accurate information.

How is the information collected?

Your household will have received a letter and flyer informing you about your selection in this survey. There are two parts to this survey:

    • Part 1: Questions about your household

The questions in the first part of this survey focus on employment, childcare and health. To answer these questions, please choose someone from your household to be your representative. This should be the person best placed to answer these kinds of questions on behalf of everyone in the household.

You will need to begin the survey online. Simply follow the instructions on the letter to create your ABS Survey Account, and complete the first part of the survey.

    • Part 2: Filling out a time use diary

After your household representative has completed the first part of the survey, we then ask that everyone in the household who is aged 15 years or over, complete a time use diary and record all their activities over a two-day period.

Once you have completed Part 1 of the survey, one of our interviewers will contact you and arrange a time to deliver the diaries to your home. We ask that each person keeps track of their activities, including how long each activity takes, over a two day period.

The information collected in the diaries is crucial in gaining an understanding of how Australians spend their time. If we don't hear anything from you before the due date (shown on the letter we sent), one of our interviewers will make contact to set up an appointment to complete part 1 of this survey and deliver the time use diaries.

Can I complete the survey online?

This survey includes two parts and the first part can be completed online. The second part requires you to complete a paper time use diary. For more information about completing each part of this survey, see ‘How is the information collected?’

Who in my household will be required to participate?

For the first part of this survey, one household representative will be asked for general information about everyone in the household. For the second part of the survey, we ask everyone in the household who is aged 15 years or over, to complete a time use diary and record all their activities over a two-day period.

What kinds of questions will you ask?

This survey collects general information on everyone in the household and includes questions about employment, childcare and health. We then ask everyone in the household who is aged 15 years or over to complete a time use diary and record all their activities over a two-day period.

How do I know the person contacting me is from the ABS?

If your household has been selected to participate in this survey, you will have received a letter and flyer informing you about your selection.

For any personal visits, our staff will always identify themselves, show you their official ABS photo identification and clearly explain the information they are seeking and how this will be used.

Remember -The ABS will NEVER ask you to provide or confirm your bank details.

If you are concerned, call us on 1800 246 878 and we will confirm your selection in the survey and the identity of the staff member who is contacting you.

What happens if there are people in my household who don't speak English?

Where possible, we can arrange for an ABS interviewer who is fluent in the language of the householder to conduct the survey. If there is someone in the household who can translate, and the respondent agrees, they can help the interviewer.

Will I be paid for my time?

No. There is no provision within the Census and Statistics Act 1905 to reimburse people for the cost of providing statistical information. In line with other national statistical organisations throughout the world, individuals, businesses and other organisations are asked to supply information for statistical purposes without compensation. It is only with the support of people like you that we can continue to produce the statistics that inform Australia's important decisions.

How will you keep my information safe, secure and confidential?

We take the security of the information you provide to us very seriously. Your information remains strictly confidential to the ABS and is not shared with other agencies. We use the information you provide to calculate statistics, which are released in ways that do not allow for the identification of individuals or households.

All ABS employees have signed a legally enforceable Undertaking of Fidelity and Security in which they agree to keep any information, including personal information which they may deal with in the course of their work, private and confidential. This agreement applies to ABS employees for the rest of their lives, even if they leave the ABS. The penalty for breaching this is two years jail, a $21,600 fine, or both.

We comply with the Australian Privacy Principles. If you believe we have breached these principles, please see the information on how to lodge a complaint about privacy matters, contained within our privacy policy.

Will the information I provide be combined with other data?

The information you provide will be combined with the information from other respondents to produce vital statistics about Australian households.

We often combine data from two or more surveys because combining data helps fill the gaps — and saves you time. Combining data helps provide a clearer picture of Australia than what can be achieved by any one survey alone, and creates new insights about our society and the economy. By reusing existing data, we reduce the need for Australian households and businesses to provide more information.

Governments, researchers and community groups will use this vital data to better understand how Australians live and the time pressures we experience. This will help design policies and services to improve the lives of Australians.

How can I provide feedback about my experience in the Time Use Survey?

If you have participated in this survey, or any of our other surveys, we want to hear about your experience. We value your feedback and will use it to improve how we work with our survey participants.

You can use our feedback form to provide us with feedback. For this survey, please select the option "Participation in an ABS Household Survey".

I'm having trouble completing the survey online – where can I find help?

Please see our Survey Account Help page for assistance with technical difficulties and answers to frequently asked questions on creating and using an ABS Survey Account.

You can also call us on 1800 246 878 and one of our team will be happy to assist you.

Who can I contact for more information?

For help or more information about this survey, please call us on 1800 246 878 during business hours. For help outside these hours, please leave a message with your contact details and we will return your call as soon as possible.

Completing the time use diary

How do I complete the time use diary?

The time use diary covers how you spend your time over a two day period. Here are some tips to help you complete the diary:
    • The front of the diary advises which two days have been allocated to you.
    • Across each day of the diary, there are rows and columns for you to complete. Each row represents a five minute interval and each column relates to a different aspect of how you spend your time.
    • Please provide as much detail about an activity as you can. It doesn’t matter how uninteresting or routine you think something is, please record it.
    • Please record all activities, even if they lasted only a few minutes.
    • At the beginning of the diary, there are instructions and examples of completed diary pages which are designed to help you complete the diary.
    • There are questions at the beginning of the diary that you will be required to answer before recording your activities. You will also find questions to answer at the end of each day. These questions cover your health and well-being, what type of day it was and any unpaid voluntary work you may have done.

When should I fill in the diary?

The front of the diary shows you which two days have been allocated to you. The diary starts at midnight on day one and covers the following two-day period. Please record your activities in the diary on the allocated days. This way, you are less likely to forget what activities you have completed on those days.

Can someone else in my household complete the diary on my behalf?

It is best if each person allocated a diary records their own activities to ensure an accurate account. If you are unable to complete the diary yourself, then someone else can complete it on your behalf.

If you are completing the diary on behalf of someone else in your household, you will need to obtain their consent before doing so.

If you are not sure whether you should complete the diary please call our team on 1800 246 878 during business hours.

Can I change the diary days I’ve been allocated?

Diary days are allocated to each household in advance to ensure that we gather information which represents every day of the week. It is important for you to complete the diary on the days allocated to you. When choosing the diary days, we have taken into consideration the seasons and other times of the year that may influence people’s activities, such as public and school holidays.

What if my allocated diary days are not like my usual days?

If you are not doing what you would usually do on your allocated diary days; for example, if you were travelling, or you were sick, please continue to record what you did on each day as this information is just as important.

Do I need to record activities for every five minutes?

No. If you were engaged in an activity that lasted longer than five minutes, such as sleeping, you can record the activity in the diary at its start time and draw an arrow down the page until the time that you finished the activity. This way, you can easily show when an activity started and finished.

How do I record more than one activity at a time in the diary?

The diary contains two columns for recording your activities. The first column is for recording your main activity and a second column is for recording any other activities you were doing at the same time.
    • In the main activity column, record what you consider to be the main activity you were engaged in at the time. For example, if you were commuting, cooking, or reading a book.
    • In the second activity column, record any other activities you were doing at the same time as the main activity. For example, if you were cooking dinner and listening to the radio at the same time, you would record listening to the radio in the ‘other activity’ column.

What should I include as technology?

The diary asks you to record specific details of any technology you used for either your main activity or other activity. When completing this part, please include any technology or device you used for connecting to the internet. Also, record any technology you used to watch or listen to media; such as TV shows, the radio, podcasts, and movies.

Technology includes devices such as smart phones, land line phones, laptop computers, desktop computers, televisions, and radios. Please do not include devices such as cars, washing machines, toasters and appliances.

How do I record my location if I’m travelling or using transport?

If you were travelling or using transport, please record the mode of transport in the “Where were you?” question. For example, if you were travelling to work on a bus, please record “bus” in this column.

Do I only record the people I was doing the activity with?

No. Please include those people who are in the same place as you at the time, even if they were not doing the same activity. For example:
    • If everyone that you live with was with you at the time, you can simply write household.
    • If you were only with some of the people you live with, specify who they were, including their age.
    • Record the people who were with you even if you do not live with them, or you do not know them.
    • You don’t have to record people's names, just their relationship to you, such as, partner, friend, colleague, bus driver, staff, customers, people on the street.
    • If there wasn’t anyone with you at the time, you can record 'no-one'.

What happens after I’ve completed the diary?

When our interviewer delivers the diaries to your home, they will arrange a date and time to collect the completed diaries. If the arranged date and time has passed and your diaries have not been collected, or if you would like to arrange an alternative collection date and time, please call one of our team on 1800 246 878.

Who can I contact for help with completing the time use diary?

For help, or more information about completing the diary, please call us on 1800 246 878 during business hours. For help outside these hours, please leave a message with your contact details and we will return your call as soon as possible.