How do I (try to) keep track of my time?
This post is one that I have been willing to write for a while and it has been sitting in in my drafts folder since march. It's a bit sad/funny having to say this as this post is about time management and/or time keeping. All I know is that, as is the case for the most of you, I don't have enough time and that I want/need to keep track of it. Time is the only concept that we can only spend once and when we do, we really need to be conscious about it! That is why I wrote this post about getting insights on your (personal) time!
- I need to track time because: I'm a consultant and at the end of the day (or week/month) I need to be able to report on my so called activities. I never have been the best person to do this part of the administration, so I tend to postpone the "timesheet activities" as much as possible... And in the past, filling out my timesheets (yes, one for the employer and one for the customer) always was a pain. When there were differences between the 2, then I had to figure out what was wrong (and why) and come up with a solution...
- I want to track time because: I do a lot of different things and it is more often than not that I ask myself at the end of the day/week/month what I've been doing. So, the reason that I want to keep track of my time in a decent manner, is that I can better understand where all my time went (even months later) so that I can find an approach to do something about it.
For a few years, I have been trying to find an approach that worked for me. The concept that I learned along the way, was that I need a solution that helps me in doing the following:
keep track of time and this in an easy, "easy to use manner", preferably on desktop and mobile and that allows me to track and organize my time so that I can easily look back in time and see clearly what I have been up to for any given period in time. It should, on top of that, be able to (easily) overcome impediments that have been imposed implicitly of explicitly by the surrounding environment/context/customer/... (firewalls, organization policies,...)
Typical tracking applications
While a lot of tools/platforms allow for this, there were always drawbacks:
- Being unable to use the desktop tools: Customer firewall/proxy blocking access to the tool, thereby effectively eliminating the integrated "tracking" approach that a lot of tools offer. The fallback is a mobile device
- Only being able to use a mobile device:This is typically a result of previous point; You install the app of your solution on your mobile device and register your time entries that way. The big issue with this device is that the "barrier" to start/stop/change a time registration lies in the fact that you need to (1) take out your device, (2) open the app, (3) apply the change (start/stop/change) in the app. The big issue with this is that you loose quite some time with this and typically held on to this approach for a day (max). (This is even more the case when you have a lot of context switches)
At the end of each month I always had to fall back to my calendar, to figure out what I did on a given day and that process was elaborate and time consuming.
Geolocation / Geofencing
Because I only had to manage a simple timesheet (only a few lines to fill out) and because I mostly had to work "on-site" at the customer, I adopted another approach that required no timekeeping at all: I installed a location tracking app and specified the customer as a "known location" and each time that I was within a given boundary, a counter would start running. At the end of the month, I only had to count the time that I was on site to understand "how much time I had to register for this customer". This information, combined with what I could find in my calendar, was typically enough to be able to come up with the obligatory timesheet... (I realize that there are a few flaws in this approach, but I chose to live with them...)
An example of such an app (on IOS) is "Geofency" It is available in the Apple/Mac app store and it allows you (with guaranteed privacy) to track your whereabouts, to register locations that are important to you and consequently report on your "presence on these locations".
If you are interested in this app and the approach, then I really want to recommend it. I have been using it (actively) for 2 years and I still do, to a much lesser extent (because of Covid-19 and (almost) not going on-site anymore), but the idea is great and I really like it.
Timeular (External hardware): Unlock your time (usage)
The idea is easy, I already explained that I need a easy-to-use, multi-platform solution that allows me to track my time wherever I want and however I want. I didn't know/understand what I missed until I discovered Timeular. Timeular is a combination of all of the above, but with a "hardware component" as the added dimension. In this solution, you start from a battery-powered "dice" that allows you to assign "things that you want to track" to each side. By then positioning the device in such a way that the "active task" is facing up, your work is being tracked. All you have to do is taking it out of its stand when you start, change it accordingly during your day and put it back in when you are done and everything is tracked for you. You can then add more contextual information such as tags and clarifications if you want to be able to do even more granular tracking...
I have been using this solution for a year now and I must say that I really love it. One thing that it was able to do, is to keep me hooked and using the approach and this really is something
The idea is that the tracking-dice can connect to both your PC and/or your mobile phone via Bluetooth and that it can use the app on the respective devices to send your tracking info to the Timeular service.
Once the data is "available" in one of the apps, You can then add tags, link people, re-assign if needed. The nice thing is that you can work with projects and underlying tasks to make it easier to structure and to organize for yourself. The projects, tasks, tags and links to people allow you to structure your time tracking completely to your liking!
Below, you can see one of my (recent) tracked weeks, nicely plotted on a calendar view:
All this information can then be used (by you) to get insights on how you did spend your time. You can then use all those dimensions (projects, tasks, tags and "links to people") to get the best picture possible. There is an entire section dedicated to "Insights".
It gives you a lot of information:
- breakdown of your time
- shows you trends (compared with previous periods)
- how you spent your time on a daily basis
- time spent on a linked tag or time spent with someone that you linked (there is a team plan, that makes this interesting)
Additionally, if you want to be more specific in the insights that you want to obtain, you can filter, drill down in the information, exclude information, look over a bigger time interval etc...
The options in this setup are numerous, but it all comes down to what it can do for you and how you (create and) use the information that you need to get the insights that you need! To give you some inspiration, here are some use cases that might be useful:
- getting insights on where you loose (too much) of your valuable time
- You are working towards a goal and need to make sure that you "put in the hours and the necessary effort".
- Tracking your time make visible some inconvenient truths and it can therefore help to get your focus (back)
- You need to do reporting on a regular basis and when that moment is due, you need to have the information at your fingertips
Recently, a cool new feature was added: "My Goals". This feature allows you to specify a set of goals that you want to achieve (once or on a regular interval) and reports on those goals based on the information that you get from your Timeular context!. I really like this feature and it allows me to focus more on the things that are really important to me by actively following up on my goals... 😃
In this post, I talked about different ways to do time tracking. I talked about apps where you needed to do the interaction yourself, "location based tracking" and finally about "time tracking based on a device". I must say that I really love the latter one as it gives me the most value and as it has kept me going for over a year now. The main driver behind this post was that time is (to me) our most scarce resource that we can only spend once! I really hope that it can help you in any way possible!
I really like/love my Timeular-dice and it has really helped me over the past year with regard to my time management/keeping. I know that there is a (rather modest) price linked to the device, but I am a 100% convinced that it is worth it!
PS: I was not paid, in any way, for this post: I only wanted to write about these services/products as I believe that they can help you too!
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