Experiment in Time Tracking

A little while back, I started an experiment. I began tracking my time while working. I record what project I’m working on and the type of activity.

I’m a contractor, so I bill hourly, but that wasn’t the primary reason I began time tracking. I’d been billing my hours just fine with less rigorous tracking for years. Instead, I hoped that doing regular tracking would help me account for how much time I spent in different places. Was one project taking more time than it deserved relative to others? How much time was I in meetings versus heads-down writing code?

And it worked. I did get a better objective view of these questions. And I made some adjustments to improve some of those misalignments. But if that were all I got out of the practice, I probably would have stopped after a few months. Instead, I kept it up because of another benefit I hadn’t expected.

I was much less likely to check my email or Slack because I had defined my focus.

The second perk came not in examining the data retroactively but when I physically started the next timer. There was a simple power in this moment of being intentional. Because I had to label a block of time with a project and activity, it forced me to be conscious about what I intended to concentrate on for the next little bit. I was not always perfect, but saying, for example, “now I’m working on planning for project X,” did help me follow through. I was much less likely to check my email or Slack because I had defined my focus, and it remained at the top of my mind.

In fact (and maybe you recognize this quicker than I did), I’d backed myself into rediscovering the Pomodoro Technique. I’d previously tried working with pomodoro timers once or twice without getting a lot out of it. During those attempts, I was focused solely on the work intervals and the breaks. Those are both really important, but I think the “decide on the task to be done” piece never truly sunk in. At least for me, at least right now, that’s the final key that’s brought it all together and made it stick.

And yes, it’s also good to ensure I’m not getting sucked into too many meetings.