Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Timetracking and Too Much of a Good Thing

I am a huge fan of timetracking as a tool to help you improve how you use your time. To me, the results of a timetracking exercise are to time usage what an expense log is to spending money- you can have the best intentions (or budget) in the world, but what really matters is how you actually use your limited resources of time and money.  I've done several different timetracking exercises in recent years, and doing a timetracking exercise is a key recommendation in Taming the Work Week.

I have a heap of data accumulated from two recent extended stints of timetracking, and I swear that one of these days, I will carefully analyze it and write up some posts about what I learn. The exercises accomplished their goals at the time I did them, namely to help me tune up my use of time at work. I find that this is something I need to do periodically, because if I'm not paying attention, meetings and the minutiae of management will expand to fill the available space. I'll notice that I'm not doing anything fun at work anymore, and I'll do a timetracking exercise to see where the time is going as a first step to figuring out how to fix the problem.

These two recent timetracking exercises taught me something else, though, and it surprised me. They

taught me that there is such a thing as too much timetracking- at least for me. Timetracking immediately makes me more efficient in how I use my time. There is an old adage that you get what you measure, and I think that is very true. When I am doing a timetracking exercise, I am effectively measuring my efficiency, and so I get more efficient. It is not just that I see where my time is going when I look at the summaries for the weeks. I become very aware of wasted minutes as they are happening and I tend to eliminate the waste. I know this sounds like a good thing, and for the most part it is. However, even though optimization comes fairly easily to me, it is still work. Therefore, the effect of doing an extended 24/7 timetracking exercise is that I'm always working on some level- and that burns me out and causes me to spin into a week or two of extreme inefficiency.

The first time it happened, I thought I was just working too hard- it was in the midst of a very busy time at work. The second time it happened, I got the hint. I'm still tracking my time, but only at work and when I work on my non-work projects (like the next kids' book I'm writing). I learned enough about how I spend the rest of my time in previous exercises. I know my kids are getting plenty of attention, and that I should always be on the lookout for ways to optimize chores. I am aware of the fact that my weekend time tends to get fragmented, and I watch out for that now. I like the immediate efficiency boost timetracking at work gives me, so I'm hoping that by easing up at home, I can keep up my work time logs. I suspect this will be fine, since I've done it before: I was a contractor who had to charge time in 15 minute increments for more than five years. I may come back and do a week or two of 24/7 tracking every year, just to check in and see that I'm still using my non-work time on the things that matter most to me, but for now, extended stretches of 24/7 timetracking are definitely too much of a good thing.


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Anytime I write about timetracking, people ask me what tool I use to do it. Originally, I used a spreadsheet I devised (and have described previously). I started wanting to track more metrics, though- I wanted to indicate when work was growth work and I wanted to track what I call my "total work hours," which are the hours I am at work or at my computer working at home, including breaks (planned or otherwise). My spreadsheet wasn't up to the task, so I went searching for a timetracking app. I found Toggl, which I love. It is free unless you want some professional features that I don't need. There is an app that I never use since I decided I will only track work time, a website that I use every work day, and a "work offline" option that I haven't explored. So far, it has done everything I have wanted it to do. It has some built in graphs and an export to Excel function that I can use when I get around to analyzing the data. There are other apps available, too, and I'm sure some are also awesome. If you're looking to do timetracking and don't want to spend a lot of time figuring out how to do it, consider just setting up a Toggl account and giving it a try.

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Have you ever done a timetracking exercise? Did it have immediate effect, or did you need to analyze the data first? Also please feel free to leave other timetracking tool suggestions in the comments!

6 comments:

  1. :) Measuring productivity affect your productivity! You are like a quantum mechanical system, where any type of measurement is bound to drastically perturb the measured system. Cloud's Productivity Cat!

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    1. Indeed! But in this case at least I don't mind....

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  2. I'm afraid to measure my time (as I still haven't gotten a handle on a detailed money budget) but I do try to schedule fun stuff for weekends and be more mindful of time at work. Fun work often gets shoved aside for immediate deadlines and meetings but I'm still managing to squeeze in my pet projects for now!

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  3. I have kept track of my time...many times...but yes, like you, I get a little burned out on recording. I find that doing it twice a year or so is optimal. You tweak anything that's out of whack, and get a mindfulness refresher on the minutes ticking past. What I think you've figured out is that we do need downtime, which is completely fine. I just think it's important to be mindful of it. Surfing the web is a break, even if you're at your work computer...so acknowledge it as such.

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  4. I had been having bad days at work often when it was time to submit the monthly consolidated report for making time management decisions. But, I somehow came to know about Replicon's time recording software and since then it is not at all a difficult task for me.

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  5. You might want to check out Daily (www.dailytimeapp.com). It works by asking what you're doing instead of requiring you to start/stop timers. Handy for people who sometimes forget to control their time tracking software.

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