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Productivity

Why I Track Time

There is only one subject in the productivity space I’ve seen to be so highly contentious and subjective: time tracking.

If you’ve listened to Cortex (one of my favorite productivity/business podcasts), the topic has come up a number of times, with highly polarizing reactions from the audience.

I get it, too. Time tracking can be a pain. You have to remember to start and stop timers, look at the data, and then actually do something with it. All of that can be downright stressful.

Despite all the pain associated with it, I am a big proponent of time tracking.

When I worked in IT, I was required by my employer to track my time. It was an odd habit to get used to at first, but when you end up working multiple support tickets a day, each one requiring the time to be tracked, you get the motions ingrained in you. Starting a new task — start the timer — okay I’m moving on, remember to stop it.

Now that I’m self-employed, nobody is making me track my time, but I find a high value in having the data available.

Time Tracking Gives Perspective

Everyone gets to the point in life where they need to choose to stop doing something. Especially if projects or tasks are business related, these decisions can be difficult. Do I stop working on the side project I like, even though it’s not making me much money? Do I keep doing the thing that stresses me out, but brings in the most money?

There are many scenarios in life where having more data can help me make better decisions. Time tracking gives me yet another reference point.

Without having time tracking data, I’m limited to making decisions on my emotions or just how much money something makes me. Adding time into the equation gives more perspective.

For example, that project I really like doing but doesn’t make much money is only taking five hours a week. Having that data makes the justification to keep doing it easier. Or maybe I calculated an hourly wage of my main moneymaking project. Turns out it’s only making me $12.50/hr because I sink 60 hours into it a week.

While the data never makes the decision for you, having the extra data does help make the decision easier.

Time Tracking Shows Reality

Ever started working on something thinking you’d only spend 90 minutes on it, and once you completed the task three hours had passed?

People tend to be poor at guessing how much time a task will take them. Factor in distractions, and our sense of time can really get messed up throughout a block of working on a task.

Time tracking corrects that. The clock can’t lie. The numbers will tell you exactly how much time you edited that blog post or watched that documentary on YouTube.

I personally feel like I have a good sense of time, but when I get deep into a project, the hours slip away. I only have 24 hours in the day, and with having small kids at home, I need to be keenly aware of how much time I’m spending where. Time tracking enables me to do this more effectively.

Time Tracking Helps You Batch Tasks

Since I started time tracking for my business, the process of setting a timer and the awareness of it running has helped me be aware of how I’m batching tasks throughout the day. Instead of stopping a timer and having to start another frequently when switching tasks, I am more conscious of being able to group my tasks together.

Batching tasks has numerous advantages, number one of which is maintaining deeper focus for longer. On average it takes approximately 20 minutes to regain focus after switching contexts or getting interrupted. Do that multiple times per hour, and your effectiveness drops drastically.

While time tracking isn’t the magic bullet to begin batching tasks, the very process of thinking about what you’re going to do and starting a timer for it helps keep focus toward the front of your mind.

Time Tracking Allows Better Client Billing

Though this may not pertain to everyone who may be interested in tracking time, it is one major advantage and reason I track my time. If you ever bill a client for hourly work, TRACK THE TIME.

Not only does the tracked time give you the ability to bill more accurately, but you also have a record you can show the client if they ever challenge you.

I never work on a billable client project without having a timer running in the background — ever. I highly recommend you do the same, because it may just save your bacon down the road (and everyone likes bacon, right?).

Why Wouldn’t You Track Time?

While I highly value tracking time and recommend it as a general practice, especially for those involved in their own business, there may be reasons tracking time isn’t a good fit for you.

  1. You don’t have a good reason to. — This is the well, duh answer, but part of effectively tracking time is knowing what and why you need to track. You can’t sustain a time tracking habit without knowing your why.
  2. Time tracking stresses you out. — For some people, having a clock running in the background may cause undue stress. There are options that may help you track time without the stress of a timer, but you may want to evaluate if it’s right for you if the idea causes stress.
  3. You don’t consistently focus on one task. — If you jump between tasks frequently, tracking time may be extremely difficult for you. There are different types of jobs where this is likely the norm (i.e. most management roles), so evaluate if tracking time is worth the investment.

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