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Discussion Forum > 24 Hour Time Tracking?

I've been tracking time now for almost a year, but it's using a tool I built myself. I started it out of tracking time for work, but eventually I made the leap to track the time outside as well. Most of the tools I've found are for tracking work time, but I think that's silly. Most of the time you can't change what you're doing at work. You couldn't shorten or eliminate the time, unless you plan on quitting. The vast majority of my time that I can improve or change is personal time, and the options are much better because I could go anywhere or do anything.

My key has always been to focus on the outcome. What is it that I gained from that minute? Did it go towards a tool that can save me future time? Was it spent to eat? Was I asleep? Was I relaxing outside? Or was I wasting it watching funny videos? It's good to have some downtime but you really have no idea how much time you spend until you can see it.

I do a review every 10 days of my time, and what I've been able to find fairly consistently is that I can go through the time items and pull out vast gobs of time. I don't worry about the sleep - which is almost always the biggest item (and now it's by far the biggest), because we as people need sleep. It's not an option to not sleep. If you don't sleep, you get sick or make stupid mistakes that cost even more time. Instead I focus on the biggest other items that I have control over.

I could have done that faster, or why did I spend so much time doing something, or that was a complete waste. Then I think of a specific concrete step that I can take, and how much time it will save. I focus on 3 defined goals for the next 10 days, which usually add up to 5-15% of the waking time. Proceeding like that, in 7 sessions I can double the amount I've gotten done. Of course, I'm not always perfect and sometimes will get back into bad habits or old failures from weeks ago, but overall I find I have a lot more time now.

I don't see any tool online that is anything close to what I do, where I input the time and what I was last doing. Nothing to show a visual breakdown of the day. Most (like 80%) are focused on businesses, and the ones that remain are just simple stop/start timers, nothing is really 24 hour tracking or would have enough categories to represent the complexity of the number of tasks I'm engaged in. There's nothing to support multitasking (which I admit I'm still working on. I presently just put a separate entry half way through which cuts the time in half for each item). No colour coding of what was time well spent, time on a task but could have been faster, time of questionable benefit, or time of absolutely certain uselessness.

What I want to know is, is there a market out there for this? Would people want a tool like the one I have? It's a lot of effort to build a login system and harden the code and all that. I don't want to waste my time, if at the end of the day I'd be the only one using it. So, is there anyone out there who would use it? Anyone reading this where that sounds like something you would end up using? What would be the main concerns for you with some software like this? Any features I should focus on?
September 11, 2017 at 19:07 | Unregistered CommenterMatt
I did time tracking with paper, then put it into Excel and made pivot tables, but only for two months Never did get around to entering and analyzing the third month.

It gave me some good information, but was a lot of work, even after I'd worked out most of the bugs.

I'm not sure if or when I'll time track again, but here are things that I missed in the existing apps.

1. Easily enter previous day(s). It's often easier for me to enter times on paper during the day than phone or computer.

2. Having said that, I liked cloud-based apps. One let me start on one device, and end on another. Not a big need, though, since like I said, it's often easier to use paper than turn on and fight through the small keyboard.

3. Assume that next start time is previous end time. Allow over-ride.

4. Allow entry by stop time or duration or "now". Allow easy small adjustments, +/-5 minutes. "Stopped Now minus 5 minutes." "Will start in 5 minutes."

5. Report on un-declared time, maybe in ranges. Undeclared morning, evening, weekend. Otherwise, there are many small entries between activities.

6. Don't make me use the ":" key.

6a. Short and long date formats, and day of week. Include yyyy-mm-dd and day of week options. Do not rely on the system settings for date format. I don't like my country's default.

7. Long list of frequently-used activities. One app listed them by last-used, and by the next morning, breakfast was already off the screen. Maybe recommend based on what I usually do at that time of day. (Yep, thinking ideal app, not realistic first release.)

8. Categories and sub-categories. Also labels, so we can put multiple labels on an entry. Kid#1, appointment, school.

8a. Easy to add activity types on the fly and adjust later.

9. Recognize that some activities fall into both Useful and Non-Useful use of time. For example, reading. A little bit is relaxing. Too much is procrastination.

10. Ability to squeeze in new entry, or split existing. Eg. I recorded FaceBook between 2 and 4. When looking at it more carefully, I want to change it to FaceBook-ok for half an hour and the rest Facebook-too-much.

11. Chart showing time use by time of day. Date across the bottom (mark columns for weekends differently), time of day the side. Colour each cell by activity.

11a. Record energy type or mood, and show on similar chart to 11. I might learn that planning to do difficult computer work between 2 and 4 usually results in FaceBook rather than work. (Oh, the joys of working for yourself from home.)

11b. How on task was I? add this to each entry, and combine with the chart. Maybe two columns per day? Or density of colour?

11c. Note field for the day. Might explain why I couldn't focus.

11d. Show/hide weekends, holidays and sick days. Replace them with a visible line. The day after staying home sick will be different, but how much different?

11e. Day satisfaction rating. Looking back, was I happy with how I spent the day?

12. Ideal time. Did I do as much as I wanted? More? Less? Many things have a sweet spot.
September 12, 2017 at 22:19 | Registered CommenterCricket
I give an easy method of time tracking in my first book "Get Everything Done". It requires nothing except paper and pencil and doubles as an effective No List system.

You just write down the current time and what you are about to do, e.g.

2318 Write Comment

When you've finished that write the current time again and what you are about to do next, e.g.

2323 Go to Bed

Interruptions are done in the same way but indented with a finishing time as well as a start time.

That's all there is to it, but it's highly effective and above all simple.
September 12, 2017 at 23:23 | Registered CommenterMark Forster
@Matt, yes, there is certainly a need for a tool such as you describe. What is your current tool, paper, spreadsheet or your own built software? And if software, is it an application or web service?

As to what it should do. As simple as possible, with one click to start time, one click to end time. And easy way to enter what the category is. From there, easy way to go back and enter or edit time if forgot or where away from computer and want to enter hours later (maybe kept a log while out on paper).

And if you want to keep going, to see trends over time.

I'd suggest NOT build all this at once, and use the Lean Startup ideas to build modular upgrades as you go.

So that is enter. And then, nice ways to see at a glance where time it going. With as you mentioned easy at a glance colors.

I suppose various round to 15m or 30m or no rounding sort of settings. Maybe visual drag time bars as well as or instead of enter numbers.

If it could double as also time predicted or scheduled, planned. That could be useful. To compare and or just use as calendar.
September 14, 2017 at 0:42 | Registered CommentermatthewS
The tracking is easy, but without analysis it's not terribly useful.

Now I'm thinking of ways to do the analysis directly on the page, starting with Mark's simple list of start times. Heresy for us (we?) spreadsheet lovers.

Maybe record it on a timeline, so you position the entry at the start time (or close-enough). Then colour the timeline by action type. Easy to look at timelines of several days to find patterns. Could even do several timelines per page to see patterns.

Or add columns for activity type, calculate the duration of each activity, then total each column. Can be combined with the previous method. Lots of info on a single page. Hard to program, easy to do by hand.

David Seah has an Emergent Task Timer. Variations are at the bottom of the page.
Each action gets a line. Column per hour, with 4 bubbles per hour and 3 sections per bubble, for 5-minute divisions. Some room in each cell for exact times or a symbol. I like that if you do more on a project later in the day, it goes on the same line. Keeps it compact. You could also pre-load the activities with goals for the day, and even pencil-in a plan, although that level of planning doesn't work for me unless the day is very tight. If you're doing project A and someone from project B interrupts you, easy enough to mark a few minutes on B's line. Add a column to the right for totals for each activity. More work than the previous idea, but an easy way to get total times, and if you write the activities in the same order every day you can see patterns.

David also has a Task Progress Tracker.

Lots to think about next time I wonder where my time's going. (On a roll so far this month. Enough of my time is going into the important things that I don't care where the rest is going.)

September 14, 2017 at 3:10 | Registered CommenterCricket

If you want to make a time-tracking app that people absolutely HATE, then just don't support the Apple Watch nor any other wearable. ;-)
September 14, 2017 at 11:37 | Unregistered CommenterChristopher