First step of continuous improvement (or just improvement in general) is monitoring and what better way to do this than to track time. Time is relevant to everything and a good way to see where it goes. When someone says “I’m too busy” or “I just don’t have the time” well now with time tracking I can show them where my time has gone.
I use Toggl service because the online reports are good and their API is very comprehensive. I’m sure there are other possibly better service but the API makes it really easy to integrate. The other concept Toggl enforces is one timer at a time.
There is also a Windows desktop application which works fairly well.
Timers have name, projects and labels. All 3 can be used to aggregated to generate reports so try to keep all of them as consistent as possible. Timers have a start datetime and a stop datetime which is used to calculate the length of the timer. Starting and stopping timers are fairly self explanatory.
Basic reporting is available on the apps but the real power is on the website.
Another example is by description. Below shows I have spent 74 hours in the year watching Madam Secretary but more importantly the video steaming service provider switched at some point from Netflix to NowTV. Such is the nature of licensing deals in the TV and movie industry compared to Music.
I have a project for each “thing” that cannot occur at the same time as a rule. For example, I cannot (realistically) watch Amazone Prime and Netflix at the same time. Equally I could be ironing whilst watching TV but watching TV is a result of main activity – ironing.
I tend use projects to compare to other projects and the time spent for each so seeing how much I spent working v.s. time I spent on leisure. I would generally use it to filter time spent in one category and look at dividing that one category down. E.g Within work, how much time was spent travelling (using travel label) but projects are a good why to see where time is spent at a high level.
Names applied to the timer should be kept as consistently as possible to help reporting find the same timer with the same name. This means having a rule or keeping variations to a minimum where possible. I use these to describe what I’m timing such as the film or show I’m watching.
I use labels to tag things that are common across projects. Whilst I may have a Travel project to show how much of my time is spent going to places, I also have a work label. This label would be used to tag all timers recorded in non work project such as Travel. That way, all timers record in work are hours I can report on my timesheet. If I use the label, it will also bring back timers for travelling to and from work i.e commuting for example. The label would give me total time regardless of project I spent for work activities.
Automate! Timers are manual but anything to make them start and stop automatically will reduce remembering to start and stop timers and time to do it. Especially with the buggy Android app even after Toggl rewrote the app. More on this in future articles.
Keep types of timers to a minimum. This applies to projects, labels and descriptions so there is less data inconsistency and what to enter to start a timer.
Don’t worry about pin point accuracy. It would be good to have timers right down to the second but life is too short to worry about that and it’s better to record the activity than to miss it all together. There is a balance and human perception of time is usually inaccurate. Can you remember what you did and when even yesterday down to the minute?
Record the activity as a whole and break them down using labels. For example going for a run involves getting changed before and after. I would include this time in the running timer because if I wasn’t going running then getting ready to run wouldn’t have existed. I would start the timer 3 times, one for getting changed and ready, one for the actual run itself and then shower / getting changed after the run with labels to separate the running from the preparation.
Special thanks to CGP Grey for sharing and inspiring me for time tracking. It has been quite an eye opener on how much and little I spent in some of my activities and good way to visualise the things I do.