How to boost productivity with time tracking

Anton Korenyushkin
July 11, 2016

If you work for clients on a time and material basis, logging your time is not a matter of choice, but rather a fact of life. To maintain trust, accuracy is a must and tracking your working hours weekly or even daily is not an option — you have to record time spent on a task right after completing it.

At first, putting each piece of work into a time sheet seems like quite a boring and time consuming burden. But after a while I discovered that logging time is a really effective productivity hack.

In fact, logging is the flip side of planning. The time sheet is the main source of feedback for your planning. It lets you check if your plans were realistic, which tasks you underestimated, which overestimated, how much time was spent on unplanned tasks and how much was wasted. This feedback makes you a better planner. Next time you think you could write an email in a minute, you will remember that a similar email took you almost an hour.

Besides refining plans, tracking time provides the following advantages:

  • You commit to completing a task: if you started it, you have to finish it or get some intermediate results, you simply cannot leave it unfinished.
  • You concentrate better: until a task is finished, you won’t switch to Facebook.
  • You are more satisfied with your workday: you can now clearly understand what has been done.
  • You actually spend less time and accomplish more: some tasks are simply not worth doing. Logging forces you to consider this before embarking on the task, allowing you to drop it completely or delegate it to someone else.

As a result, logging your time really pays for itself. Some basic steps to get started:

  • Choose a tool: you can use a Google Spreadsheet, but it will quickly become inconvenient enough for you to want to switch to a specialized app. At Toughbyte we use Toggl and are happy with it, but there are plenty of other SaaS services available. Most of the services are free for personal use.
  • Choose a method: I prefer to log time after I complete a task with 15-minute granularity. If you are more disciplined than I am, you may prefer to use a timer, but don’t forget to turn it on and off at the right time.
  • Start logging your time: just record a short task name and the time spent. Don’t be too serious about naming.
  • Add some structure to your logs: use projects, tags or whatever is available in your tool of choice.
  • Review your logs weekly: don’t spend more than 15 minutes on it!

Finally, become more organized and share your experiences in the comments below!

By the way, time tracking works really well in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique which I recommend a lot. If you work in 30 minute chunks, you always know how many chunks you have spent on a task and doing regular breaks helps to keep you focused.

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