So, you want to be more productive? Great!
Most people who are trying to optimise their productivity spend time trying different productivity tools, implementing new routines and saving time wherever possible.
This is all well and good but is it actually working? Realistically, it’s hard to know unless you’re tracking your time.
But on the flip side, time tracking is pointless if you’re not using the information and putting it to good use.
In this post, I’m going to explore the benefits of time tracking and some options for getting started.
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Here are some of the ways time tracking can help you to be more productive:
1. Increase your awareness
This is probably the most commonly cited reason for tracking your time. Peter Drucker famously said, “What gets measured gets managed”. So logic says you can’t manage your time effectively if you’re not tracking it in some way.
Time tracking helps you to identify where your time is being spent. Not just the apps, tools or websites you're using but the actual nature of your work. e.g. Planning time vs. creative work vs. admin vs. communication.
With this information and awareness, you can make better decisions about how you allocate your time so you can use it in more effective ways.
2. Identify work-life trends
Another reason you might track your time is so you can identify the balance between time spent at work and time at home.
By calculating how many hours a week you spend at work you can track your work-life balance to make sure you’re not spending too much time at work or on your business.
For me, I try not to work more than 40 hours a week (this is what most people consider to be a full-time job). In fact, for the last few months, I’ve averaged about 35 hours a week. For me, the goal is to increase or even just maintain my income while working fewer hours.
Obviously, for most full-time salaried employees, you’re contracted to work 40 hours week and you can’t always go home when the work is done (this is part of the reason why I wanted to work for myself). But what you can do is make sure you don’t work more than you need to. A lot of people who are only contracted to work 40 hours per week often end up working more like 50 to 60+ hours either because they’re not using their time well or because they feel like they need to work this much to get ahead.
Either way, time tracking will make you more aware of how this increase is subtracting time for your home life and time with friends and family.
3. Identify distractions and sources of procrastination
Certain time tracking tools (discussed below) will track how much time you spend on different apps and websites.
With this information, you're able to identify common sources of distraction that waste time and lead to procrastination.
For example, it’s easy to spend a few harmless minutes checking Twitter or scrolling through Instagram. But when you do this 20 times per day, those few minutes add up. Time tracking apps make this very clear and you may even be a little shocked by what you learn.
With this improved awareness, you can now set goals to reduce time spent on distracting things.
4. Useful for billing (optional)
Finally, if you need time tracking for billing purposes, naturally you need to track your time so you know how much to charge.
In my own consulting business I bill using a combination of fixed price quotes and hourly billing depending on the client and scope of work. But even if I charge using a fixed price I still track my time so I can see if my time is being used well. This also helps me to inform future quotes and judge whether my price estimates are accurate based on the time spent on a job.
WHEN YOU SHOULDN’T TRACK YOUR TIME
So far time tracking sounds like a pretty beneficial thing to do. The main reason why you shouldn’t track your time is if you’re tracking your time simply for the sake of it.
And this is where I feel most people trip up.
A lot of people start time tracking with the best of intentions but don’t use the information to make any kind of improvement to their routine.
While some time trackers are pretty passive and don’t require a lot of input, others give you the option to manually input tracked activities. This can be useful. But again, if you’re not using this information then this is simply wasted time.
TIME TRACKING TOOLS AND APPS
Here are some of the time trackers I’ve had experience with.
- Timing2 – Available for the Mac as a one-time purchase or via the Setapp store. Timing is one of my favourite time trackers as it tracks the apps, documents and websites I visit and auto-categorises this time for me. However, I still have the option to go in and manually enter activities or override categories if I need to. I like that it shows me the specific tools I use but also gives me the option to add context. So for example, I might use Asana for “Planning”. But sometimes I’m using Asana as part of “Client Work”. Timing gives me the option to override the default category and link the tool to a specific category if I need to. It’s the perfect balance between automatic and manual time tracking. The reporting is great and shows me very clearly which apps, tools and types of work I spend time on each week.
- RescueTime – Similar to Timing, RescueTime tracks the apps and tools you spend time on. However, if you use an app for multiple types of work you can’t categorise this to different activities like you can with Timing. I’m currently using RescueTime to log time spent on my computer which then syncs to my Gyroscope account. This is more of a lifestyle tracking app and it can pull in data from RescueTime to provide insight into your work-life balance.
- Harvest – Harvest is a time tracker designed for billing purposes. You can integrate it with a task manager like Asana so you and your team can track time spent on specific tasks and allocate this to projects and clients in Harvest. This all gets added to a time sheet and is deducted from the clients budget which can later be used to generate invoices and collect payment.
- Life Cycle – Life Cycle is an iPhone app that follows your location and tracks how long you spend at different places. I find this useful for tracking your work-life balance so you can compare time spent at work to home and other locations. The longer you use the app the more powerful it gets as you can see monthly comparisons of time spent sleeping, working etc. so you can see how your routines are changing. I’ve been using this for the last 5 months or so but have now switched to Gyroscope instead (see below).
- Gyroscope – As mentioned above, this is more of a lifestyle tracker. It tracks your location, health data and productivity to provide a holistic view of your life. It’s handy to go back and see how long you’ve spent at work, home and sleeping so you can identify long-term trends and changes in your routine over time.
- Toggl – This is another popular time tracker that integrates with task management tools like Asana and Basecamp. Similar to Harvest, you can allocate time spent on projects and clients. However, you can’t generate invoices or collect payments from this time like you can with Harvest.
- Calendar – And finally, your calendar can be a used as a simple way to track your time. Because I use time blocking to plan and track my time I’m able to go back at the end of the week and see specifically how I spent my time. At the end of each month, I calculate the total time spent on work activities and add this to a profit and loss spreadsheet so I can see how effectively I’m using my time in comparison to the income I’m generating.
There are loads of other apps out there that can help you to track your time and improve your awareness. As mentioned above, the key takeaway here it to put the information you collect to good use.
Let me know if you have any good time tracking tips. Share your recommended apps and time tracking success stories in the comments below!