Long-time readers may recall that about a year ago I actually said I wasn’t a fan of time blocking because I hated planning out my days in excruciating detail. Yet, here I am today about to tell you how I’m tracking my time.
I’ve read countless books that recommend tracking your time. I’ve never doubted that it’s a valuable exercise. That being said, I’m also lazy, so I’ve avoided doing it because, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!”
In the world of customer support, my days are pretty reactionary. My core work is providing support for the projects others have rolled out. Most of my time doesn’t fit neatly into deliverables, milestones, and deadlines, but is instead reserved for being available and ready to help someone in the event things happen to go wrong.
The project I’m currently working on, however, does fit neatly into deliverables and deadlines, and the people I’m working with on it are used to tracking their time to make sure they hit their milestones. We’ve also been given a particularly ambitious go live date for this particular project. Not only was I not about to oppose how my colleagues usually do things, but I also saw the value in being able to document how much time I’m spending on this project, and equally as important, why I’m not spending more time on it as a way to manage expectations around a realistic scope and timeline.
I’m also not one to do something half way, so if I was going to be tracking time for this project, I might as well track the rest of my time too.
I settled on using Toggl. It’s free, highly recommended, and also syncs with Exist.io which I’ve been using for years (albeit with a brief hiatus) to discover trends in health, activity, and other aspects of my life. The Mac and iOS apps for Toggle do what you’d expect, and I also appreciate that they include a Pomodoro function. More on that in a bit.
Because Exist considers time tracked in Toggl productive time, I settled on tracking the time I spend on things on my Today list in Things, with the exception of workouts. While I definitely consider working out as productive time, Exist already tracks working out via Apple Health. Tracking it with both Toggl and Apple Health effectively double counts it in the weekly summary report it sends out which I don’t want.
I also track a few things that aren’t on my list, like the amount of time I spend providing customer support. Because I don’t know when a customer is going to reach out with a question those tasks generally aren’t part of my daily task list.
After tracking my time for a little over a month, I have noticed a few benefits:
- I’m more productive than I thought. It may be shocking to readers to know that I don’t feel a productive person. Like I said earlier, I’m admittedly quite lazy. The systems I use in my daily life are there so that I can work through my to do list as quickly as possible because I want to be able to do absolutely nothing for the rest of the day. Tracking my time showed me I’m more productive than I was giving my credit for. It’s hard to argue with actual data.
- I batch my tasks more. Again with the laziness, constantly starting and stopping timers in Toggl got old quickly. Not only was I forgetting to start and stop timers, I didn’t like seeing my day broken up into tons of little time blocks. As a result, I started batching my tasks so that I could set one timer and work through multiple related tasks at once.
- I’m less distracted. By now we know multitasking doesn’t work. Batching my tasks already helps with that, but I also find that I’m less likely to switch out of a task to go do something like check my email because I don’t want to stop a timer.
- I procrastinate less. For tasks that I feel inclined to defer to another day repeatedly, I’ve been using the Pomodoro function. I tell myself I’ll just work on the task for 20 minutes set the timer and work until it’s done. I’m doing it right now for this blog post. I hadn’t had much success with the Pomodoro method in the past, but combining it with checking something off in my task manager and not wanting to pause or start timers seems to be the the magic combination to making the Pomodoro method work for me.
- I get things done faster. Laziness here again, I want to get things done as quickly as possible so I can do nothing, so I try to check of as many tasks as I can within a timer, particularly if I’m using the Pomodoro function. This morning I had a few extra minutes before I had to leave and I had a Chores timer running, so I looked back through my to do list to see if there were any additional chores I could tackle before stopping my timer.
The jury is honestly still out as to whether I will continue tracking my time beyond this project. That being said, after reading all those books that recommend tracking your time, I can now say I’ve actually done it. I can also say it was a worthwhile exercise even if I choose not to continue.