For the last four years now I have consistently tracked every minute of time I work on different projects. I started keeping track of the time I spent on projects using a Google spreadsheet in December 2013. I heard a few writers and entrepreneurs talk about doing this and because I’m an analytical person, I found the practice to be very valuable. In October 2014 I started using Toggl to track my time and I’ve been very happy with it. Some people also use RescueTime.
Why I Track My Time
Here are six reasons why I find tracking my time to be so valuable.
It keeps me focused on the task at hand.
We live in an age of distractions. It can be very difficult to focus on just one task without glancing over at email or Facebook. When you have a clock running and a declaration that you are working on a specific project, there is an added level of guilt when you start to do anything else.
Strangely enough, I found myself sitting at a computer years ago forgetting what I was supposed to be working on at any given time. I found that writing down the project I was focused on really helped me be more productive and focused. Even before tracking my time, I would write down the name of a project on a sheet of paper during the time I was focused on working on it. Then I would cross it out and write another project down to keep me focused.
I work faster.
With better focus comes better speed. When you see that clock tick up into the half-hour, forty-five minute, or hour range, you start to realize maybe you are spending too much time on something. The clock motivates you to move faster. Just the thought of knowing your being timed adds a level of urgency to your work. Even as I write this post I see I need to work quickly to get it finished so I can move on to the next thing.
It works well with time blocking.
Time blocking, also called time boxing, is a productivity tactic in which you block out chunks of time during your day to work on specific projects. I schedule out my day ahead of time with a separate Google Calendar I call “Personal Productivity.” Tracking my time helps me align the amount of time I actually work on a project and the time I had planned to work on it in the time blocks I scheduled ahead of time.
It keeps me focused on creative work rather than administrative work.
You would be surprised how much time we spend on email. One of the earliest lessons I learned from this practice is that we, as creative people, spend an overwhelming amount of time in our email inboxes. Email can become a to do list if you are not careful. It can be the only thing we do all day unless we force ourselves to set aside the unanswered emails and focus on creative work instead. Once I started tracking my time, I forced myself to work on creative projects outside of email and I dedicated my time to the kind of work only I could do.
The other, possibly unavoidable observation I made early on is that we spend a lot of time in meetings in office work rather than doing actual creative work.
I can see if I’m spending too much time on ineffective projects.
During my Weekly Review at the end of the week, I go back through a report of the time I spent on projects in Toggl. It categorizes everything I’ve done for me. I’m able to see where I spent my time. Often it will be obvious that I did not spend enough time on the more important projects for the week. This makes planning the next week more effective.
I use this 80/20 Analysis Template regularly to evaluate the work I did each week.
It makes reviewing and remembering the day much easier.
At the end of each day, I write a list of at least three things I’m thankful for. While this list isn’t always inspired by the running list of time I spent on projects, Toggl makes it much easier to remember what I did during the day. It helps jog my memory about the morning and the projects I worked on. It helps me remember the conversations I had and the people I talked to. It helps me remember the progress I made and the work I loved doing the most. It also makes answering my wife’s question “How was your day?” much easier.
I’m sure this practice isn’t for everyone, but it has become such a habit for me that I have a hard time working on anything anymore without tracking the amount of time I spend on it. It is a habit that continues to help me grow and improve every single day.