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Discussion Forum > Is time tracking useful?

Im time tracking my activities since 2008 using 3 level model (area of focus, project, task) but I do not summarize this data consequently, so I do not have much material to analyze.

I was thinking about summarize this data back to 2008, but it took me 2 hours to do one month, so I am questioning sense of doing this summarizing and doing time tracking at all, as having raw data from each day is not useful if not combined with altogether.

My main reasons to do this was gathering info about time allocated, which can give data necessary to better project planing, having each project time summed up (and if time allocation is extended, ability to cut involvement), ability to choose investing time in project with better return rate.

It was very helpful to build map of areas of focus, responsibilities and roles.

But on the other hand, it was grand pain in my ass, I tried to sum this for many months and without this, I do not see sense if making time tracking at all.

Also I think, my need of time tracking raised from my control anything attitude, which is not good path to follow.

I am thinking about making some very simple model of project time tracking, just for my work and delete all that past data, but maybe I do not need any time tracking at all.

What is your opinion on that and do you time track your activities?
March 25, 2012 at 16:20 | Registered CommenterNavigare
Navigare,

I don't track time, but I've considered doing it, and here is how I would probably go about it to avoid having a lot of work:

Estimate the distribution you want, e.g., 1/3 creative work, 1/3 maintenance, 1/3 personal time.

Track your time in each area using a simple method such as marking a tally for every 20 minutes worked.

When you notice one area lagging behind its target, put more time into it.

When you notice you have achieved the target balance, "close" the counting, and start a fresh count. For example, suppose on the fourth day, you reach an equal balance among the three areas; then, you might draw a heavy line, with the date, at the end of your chart and draw a new chart. Start over counting in the new chart, again looking to achieve the target balance. I think a good way to draw these charts is on grid paper, where one square represents maybe an hour. Then it will be easy to glance at the chart and see when the categories are even.

If you become unhappy with the targets, adjust them as needed, but don't bother going back over old data. Just use the new target for new data.

Before Final Version came out, I was very near starting this idea. Now that FV is out, I am trying it as-is, but if I feel like I'm not achieving the balance I want, I am still interested in counting this way, and using the targets to influence preselection of FV tasks.

FYI, this concept was strongly influenced by the "kanban" ideas of another user named "Erik" who used to post regularly on this site. It is a very simplified version of a system he was using. He has a web site of his own, which you may find by searching on this site for "Erik."

I hope this helps. Since I've never actually used this idea, I'd be interested to hear how it works if you decide to try it.
March 25, 2012 at 21:16 | Registered CommenterBernie
If you want to track time spent at your computer, ManicTime www.manictime.com is very hard to beat.
March 26, 2012 at 7:48 | Registered CommenterWill
Thanks Bernie - I think your idea is smart, but I somehow implement it via my daily plan - I work in my office for 8-9 hours, have some organized sport activities 1-2 (trainings), some personal development group which I attend 3 times a week for two hours and then some free time to read, watch movie. So I think I will stick to my feelings rather, then time analyzing.

For me the biggest problem was to focus on my work, when I was in my office and not doing procrastination tasks. I thought that time tracking would cure this, but was wrong.

Thanks Will for link, but if I would embark again with time tracking I would need simole app for my mobile and computer, where I could just create projects/tasks and hit in/out button.

I am feeling such great liberation from necessarity of doing this - as I felt when I moved from gtd to Mark's system in 2009 :)

Anyway - I am very interested in other opinions about time tracking and their implementation.
March 26, 2012 at 8:45 | Registered CommenterNavigare
Navigare -

In theory, time tracking makes sense. Yet I've found the habit, and analyzing of data, to be tedious. Perhaps it's because I'm a therapist (as well as being in therapy), or prone to self-growth work/exercises, but I've never been surprised by the data. However I do recommend time tracking exercises for clients who are unable to recall how they spent their day(s).
March 26, 2012 at 16:06 | Registered Commenteravrum
Hi, Navigare,

I would recommend just doing the minimum time tracking you need for work (e.g., for your boss, clients), and forgetting the whole time tracking for yourself for a while.

I myself tried to time track to "balance my life". It took me a year to get a perfectly balanced week. And you know what? I felt terrible at the end of that perfectly balanced week, because it was perfect only on paper. That was when I dropped GTD and all that, and have been using very uncomplicated task managament systems since (Marks Forster's DIT, then AF, DWM, SF, and now the Final Version). It got me through my finishing my PhD and three moves across the ocean.

First, procrastination issues just got became non-issues most of the time. Second, I realized I was doing very good doing what I had to do with Mark's systems, no need to tweak my "time-spending" from first principles.

Of course your specific case may be different, but I again suggest abandoning all time tracking you can get away with, adopting a simple task (not time)-based system, and see what happens.
March 26, 2012 at 17:41 | Unregistered CommenterNatalia
Thank you for your replies avrum and Natalia. I think doing time tracking for some period of time could give nice benchmark, but for now on I will just go without this :)

Even when doing time tracking I was prone to procrastination, so what I loose.

I am just excited how life looks without necessarity of doing time tracking.
March 27, 2012 at 11:22 | Registered CommenterNavigare
I've been tracking work time allocation for a while now, because it has external bureaucratic value. You'd think it might have value to me personally, but it's very minimal. The best that can be said is I can look over a month and say "Hm, I didn't do much of that" and maybe decide to do more of that.

So I say, ignore your 3 years of recording, look at the last month, and draw any conclusions. And make your recording as easy as possible. I use a spreadsheet with categories on the left, dates on the top, and hours in the grid. Each day I type hours in each category I spend time on. (And to keep it simple, it's whole hours only, so I have 8 to hand out per day) It takes 5 minutes, and honestly it's not worth more effort.

A program like RescueTime has a potential here if you do a lot of computer work. It will either simplify your efforts and help you control your time usage, or it will suck you into endless tinkering and monitoring.
March 27, 2012 at 15:00 | Registered CommenterAlan Baljeu
Are you doing it to help you set reasonable expectations for projects (so you don't over-commit), or to decide what areas of your life need more work, or because you feel you should?

For prediction, much has probably changed in three years. The old data is no longer valid. You're faster at some things. You know more. You have better (or worse) tools. You now know that, even though you finished on time, it was rushed and next time you want to spend longer.

The goal is to be able to estimate accurately and to do more in less time.

A faster way to get better at judging time needed is estimate and compare, live. At the start of each session, estimate how long you'll work and how much you'll get done. At session end, compare. Same on the week, month, sub-project and project levels. If you're off, consider why. Not as much time in the day as you'd hoped? Unexpected complexities? Unavailable resources? Poor project definition?

This type of analysis is best done fresh. Will you remember that the reason a project took so long is you did it the wrong way, or the tool broke every five minutes, or you were fighting the flu? Or it went faster because you had a really assistant, but the current assistant will need more help?

That's not to say hard data isn't useful, just that it's not the entire story. You need to think about things while the other factors are still fresh in your mind.

If you want to know which areas of your life need more (or less) attention, again, ancient data is irrelevant. You might have balanced an area perfectly for three years, but if something changed yesterday, you need to rebalance. If you neglected an area for years, you don't need an analysis to know it needs work today.

Also, time isn't the right measure. How do you count tasks that count to two areas at once? What about multi-tasking (in the rare cases when that increases efficiency)? What about areas that need time rather than intensity? What about areas that need active work and others that mostly need maintenance? What about areas that need more work for a short time?

I prefer satisfaction as a measurement. Am I satisfied with my progress from Current Reality to Future Reality, looking at each point? (Current Reality comes from Mark's Book How to Make Your Dreams Come True.)

Finally, if you feel you should analyze all that data because someone told you, why? What good will it do? Will analyzing all that data be a better use of your time than carefully thinking through all that might affect the time you need for your current projects? Will you discover an area of your life you wouldn't otherwise consider? Will it feel good to get it done and cross it off the todo list -- better than the other equally old and resisted projects?
March 28, 2012 at 16:39 | Unregistered CommenterCricket
Thanks Alan and Cricket. I am feeling much better after I dumped this habit. I think it did me more worse then I even thought. I find here nice similarity with Waiting For lists in GTD - where I did something fast - some sms with question to Friend, I felt that I should put it on my WF's - but sometimes I was in motion, in a car or whatever and cannot do this or it was to much pain in ass - so this bulit up my resistanse to whole GTD system.

Now with my intution and FV I just do more because I dont feel anxiety which was dominant earlier.
March 29, 2012 at 12:18 | Registered CommenterNavigare
Here's a very interesting article by Daniel Reeves and Bethany Soule of Beeminder on time tracking (with especial reference to Bethany's program TagTime).

http://messymatters.com/tagtime/
March 30, 2012 at 1:39 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
I find that it does help to dip into my time tracker from time to time and compare what I actually spent my time on with what I felt I spent time on. The two are often very different.
March 30, 2012 at 11:23 | Registered CommenterWill
Will:

In the Army we used to say that we produced three weekly training programmes for our soldiers:

1) the one we sent to the Commanding Officer.

2) the one we really intended to do.

3) the one we actually did.

Needless to say they didn't bear much resemblance to each other.
March 31, 2012 at 2:02 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Trying out Bethany's tagtime on my SGS2 Android mobile, using the same tags as I used in my EN FV list. Would there be much correlation?
April 1, 2012 at 4:32 | Unregistered Commentersabre23t
when I first started consulting I found it bothersome that clients needed me to track hours, I just wanted to focus on the design work. of course I DID need to track hours. once I did I found an unexpected benefit. I realized how much I was actually doing, and the overall sense of what I was doing. WOW, doing much more than I thought. tending before to keep telling myself that I did not get much done.

in writing the invoices I also needed to learn to summarize. so research logo, sketch logo, finish logo, call printers etc became in final summary, new client logo. this also gave me a better sense of what I got done and ALSO helped me with future similar projects to estimate and plan them.

overall this has also carried into non billable hours work life. and I believe this is similar to Mark's dreams book/ideas. I'm able to both look into the future to what I want life to be with both big picture vision and smaller chunks AND look back over the week of details of what I DID get done and as weeks go by, larger and larger summary of what I accomplished.

so, might be walked 1 mile recorded each day last week, then overall summary of week, might be walked 7 miles which was more than the 5 I did last week. and then summary from year might be made walking regular part of life and lost 20 pounds.

I don't have any perfect tracking method, this is all loose (other than for paid hours), but is needed as I tend to always otherwise discount what I'm doing, which makes me feel I get nothing done, which breeds procrastination and then I don't get stuff done and .....
April 1, 2012 at 21:26 | Registered CommentermatthewS
Time tracking is VERY useful based on experience.
It avoids procrastination and helps a lot in productivity, especially if you're one to work on the last minute.
Some even have the capability to handle invoicing/billing, so you don't have to worry about getting paid on time and accurately. Billing, if done manually, could eat a significant amount of time especially if you work on several projects.
There are a lot of time tracking apps out there and you just have to check which one contains the features that really work for you.
I use Freckle ever since I started my freelance career.
April 14, 2012 at 20:18 | Unregistered CommenterJenny Myrtle
Hey Navigare,

Did you tried Replicon's time tracking solution. We had been using it since quite some time and it is really a cool application for small businesses as well. One can track various time and expense related issues.

http://www.replicon.com/time-tracking-software
April 18, 2012 at 13:09 | Unregistered Commentertime tracker
It is important for me to track the time I spent on my projects. I had a hard time looking for the right app that could help me track my time, and help me focus on my task when I'm on my pc, as I easily get distracted. I read a review about TimeDoctor : http://reorg.co/timedoctor-review-2012-04 , which made me try the app. And I find myself more productive now. It encourages me to manage my daily priorities and tracks the time I spent on particular tasks.
May 1, 2012 at 10:42 | Unregistered CommenterJoshua
I've been time tracking for years. I'm intrigued that others are also doing this. I thought I was a lunatic for doing it. The way I look at it, is this... How can you improve your own productivity if you don't know how you are currently using it? The Current State... I'm a Process Engineer with an Engineering Lean background in Toyota Production System, so to me constantly improving has become my nature in virtually everything I do.

Recently I've been trying Mark's Final Version in an application called Gleeo Time Tracker on my Android device. It fits in nicely with Mark's rules, and also at the same time allows me to start the clock on the task and stop it when I am finished working on it. You can then download the data to excel for further exploration. Seems to make time tracking a little easier, but I find that it still gets tedious doing it.

For some reason, everything seems to always come back around to the element of time for me. I go in cycles and get away from doing it then I gravitate back to investigating where my time is spent. I haven't found the right balance yet. When measuring time, do you virtually measure every single little thing you do? I've tried doing that, and then feel like I need a shot of whiskey after a full day of that. It literally will drive you nuts. I'd be interested in how others have tried doing this, in what different ways. I've tried so many different ways over the years from Outlook, to Task Manager, to Mark's systems, to just a plain old notebooks, the list goes on and on.
May 6, 2012 at 9:32 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Sauer
<< When measuring time, do you virtually measure every single little thing you do? I've tried doing that, and then feel like I need a shot of whiskey after a full day of that. It literally will drive you nuts. >>

Matthew, have you tried Bethany's TagTime ("The idea is to randomly sample yourself") that Mark suggested earlier? Been using TagTime on my Android. Pretty lilghtweight but does make you concious of where your time gets frittered away. Ref ...
http://messymatters.com/tagtime/
http://bethaknee.com/projects/tagtime/
http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=bsoule.tagtime
May 6, 2012 at 10:50 | Unregistered Commentersabre23t
Joshua,

Thank you for letting me know about timedoctor. Their website sells much too aggressively for my taste. But I ended up using their free solo version (not the free introductory period, but completely free [for now]) and I find it is a fantastic app.

It has just the right degree of annoyingness. If it senses that something's not right it pops up with a question asking me to confirm that I am doing what I am saying I am doing. If not, it tells me to update the system with what I am really doing.

It tracks on two levels: tasks and projects. After the first day of use, I realized that I don't have to use the "projects" field to measure products. I could divide my activities into some broad categories, and assign each task to one of those categories. At the end of the day, I get wonderful reports showing how I spent every second, along with aggregated totals of how much time I spent on each category.

One theoretical downside is that I now have a double-entry time management system. Items are in both my time tracker system (timedoctor) and my FV system. You might say that one is descriptive and the other is prescriptive. This was a big concern of mine, when I first started using timedoctor. But once I started doing it, I found that it was quite easy to do. And the whole thing took much less time that it used to take me when I did FV on paper.

I agree wholeheartedly with Matthew Sauer that accurate self-monitoring is an essential component of self-improvement. I first tried tracking time about 15 years ago. The problem was that I was never able to do it accurately. The tracking activity was too intrusive. So, I never continued the tracking for very long.

What I like so much about timedoctor is that using it is so effortless, the intrusiveness objection just melted away. I've only been doing it for a few days, so there is always the possibility that I will tire of it and abandon it. Right now though, I can't see that happening. Since it is not prescriptive, it has more of a feel of a journal. It's not a big "should" telling me what to do.
May 6, 2012 at 22:35 | Registered Commentermoises
You’re in the middle of some task and you are asked to give a report on the status of the tasks being done by your subordinates. What would you do?

To avoid this kind of situation, tracking time is very important and also useful too. I wouldn’t panic because i use online time recording software, it helps me to know the status of the ongoing tasks and tracks the time accurately.

To know more about this software, Visit this url - http://www.replicon.com/olp/online-time-recording-software.aspx
July 23, 2013 at 18:10 | Unregistered CommenterGrace.bjorn
When developing a time tracking software we were implementing ideas of many people who post their thoughts online on all kinds of forums. Let us know if we can be of any help for you too.

Best regards,
The team of http://www.scnsoft.com/
September 20, 2013 at 13:35 | Unregistered Commentersoftware development company
Hello all,
Yes it was difficult earlier but now time has changed and the products too. I am also in the same business. And will be obliged to help you with your problems.
Thanks
http://www.labortimetracker.com/
February 8, 2014 at 4:17 | Unregistered Commenterterredean111
I just want to make update. After solid time without time tracking system, I decided to give idea another try. After some research I started to use Toggl and this site really does the job. I run timer only for mayor work projects, before I measured also my personal commitments, but that was too much.
February 11, 2014 at 10:47 | Registered CommenterNavigare
If most of your work is at the computer, you might want to try something like TimeSnapper, which records what is on your screen throughout the day. You can then play it back at fast speed and see exactly what you've been up to!
February 11, 2014 at 11:52 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Thanks Mark for your suggestion. I do work mainly in front of my computer, but I need AreaofFocus/Project/Task structure of time tracking to get most of it. I combined this with Asana and then use SMEMA/DIT approach to choose right task.
February 13, 2014 at 10:51 | Registered CommenterNavigare
Have you checked out T-Sheets? It's super easy to use, the support is EXCELLENT! No only easy to use but it gives you several ways to track your time. I really like tracking billable time for my customers on my iPhone. The pricing is very reasonable and doesn't lock you in a contract either.

Click here to learn more: http://www.tsheets.com/resources/time-tracking-online?
March 30, 2015 at 17:31 | Unregistered CommenterCarrie Kahn
It is useful to me. I've been working at this company that uses Yaware.TimeTracker (http://timetracker.yaware.com/)

What can I say. It's a great thing to have. First of all I can track my time at ease, so if someday I don't work a full day, I know that I can work out that time any other day. So it's just important to make sure that you work a standart 40 hour workweek.

Secondly, such software really helps me to stay away from wasting my time on social media. Just thinking that if I spend an hour on Facebook and that my boss will know about that, makes say away from them.

So, time tracking software helps me to:
a) track my time (duh)
b) don't waste my time on social media or any other unrelated website
c) increase self-discipline level
April 6, 2015 at 15:52 | Unregistered CommenterNick Waan
Well...as it`s 2015, I think we shouldn`t waste time with manual entries!!! I got a recommendation from a friend for DeskTime and actually I`m satisfied so far (the best thing is that it`s for free) but just haven`t tried it on my iPhone, but hope it will work!
July 13, 2015 at 13:55 | Unregistered CommenterTereze
I find it useful. Yet, I agree that it's not for everyone. Some businesses might benefit form it, some might not. It really depends on the type of business you do, obviously, a flower shop does not need a time tracking software designed to track working time at the computer.

So, before choosing a time tracking software for your business/ yourself, think about why you need. Maybe a simple paper and a pen will do the job.

http://timetracker.yaware.com/useful-time-tracking-software
August 1, 2015 at 13:50 | Unregistered CommenterNick Waan
I got interested in the topic recently and started to use Excel for tracking by activities. I still beleive that Excel is the best tool if you are to organize you work day. However, if your life is more dynamics than sitting at the desktop and just work, mobile app is the best tool to get your activities in one place.

There are basically, two wide approaches for the applications. First is "stopwatch" scheme, which is followed by numerous apps like Time Meter, Toggl, aTimeLogger, etc. The second is "total time" approach where you do not have to press start and stop buttons to fix time of the activitiy. The time runs on its own and, thus, you will not miss a minute. Actually, I found only one such app so far - TDouble, and start using that as it is more comfortable to me personally.
August 16, 2015 at 16:41 | Unregistered CommenterPavel
Pavel, I haven't been able to find TDouble. Could you post a link?

Thanks
August 20, 2015 at 17:29 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Chris Cooper:

I think this is probably the one:

http://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=ru.vertigo.time.tracker
August 20, 2015 at 21:53 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
Yes, this is the link. Thanks, Mark!
August 21, 2015 at 11:59 | Unregistered CommenterPavel
Thanks, Mark and Pavel. Hey, a free Android app! Even better.
August 21, 2015 at 14:02 | Unregistered CommenterChris Cooper
Of course it is useful - it helps people improve their time management skills. I wrote an article where I tried to explain who really uses it: http://www.timecamp.com/blog/index.php/2016/02/who-really-uses-time-tracking/ . I hope you will find it interesting.
February 24, 2016 at 12:39 | Unregistered CommenterOla Rybacka
I find automated time tracking to be the best. We are currently working on a new tool that will make this easier for developers. They'll be able to extract user activity information from their users and feed it into their own application using our API. Might be interesting for developers out there: http://www.vitaltiming.com
March 28, 2016 at 11:33 | Unregistered CommenterTom Storms
Time tracking is very useful by few reasons:
1. After using time tracker for some time you may see what things you have to delegate or stop to do.
2. Using time tracking improves your time sense, concentration , attentiveness.
3. You begin better appreciate the time....
I use TimeStats Pomodoro Planner. There are calendar, scheduler, time tracking, Pomodoro timer in the app. Welcome here to get more information http://colibrysoft.com/
May 12, 2016 at 13:17 | Unregistered CommenterAnna
I can say that time tracking changed the way I work. It was really difficult for me to concentrate on the work and time tracking software solved this problem. I am using SCREENish and I want to recommend it to all of you! There is a free trial period, it's worth trying it! Incredibly easy to use and get used to!
July 2, 2017 at 15:58 | Unregistered CommenterSlavyana