Reclaim ‘unproductive’ work time by time-tracking
January 23rd 2010
I have been running my own business full time for 2 and a half years now and one of the most difficult things to learn has been how little billable time you actually get done in a day/week. (I was reassured to read this week that the well established designer Jon Hicks is still getting used to this too.)
What I found most frustrating about this situation—aside from the fact that I’d have no bills to send out—was that I didn’t know where my time was going. I would spend 8 hours sat at my desk 5 days in a row and then look at a measley 10 hours of client work logged and think –
“What the hell have I been DOING?”
Then I discovered BubbleTimer. It took me a while to come round to the idea, but I have been now been using this little application for a year. In helping me keep track of what I have been doing, it has prevented me from completely losing my mind (and giving up on my business!).
BubbleTimer is an online application, and what you’re seeing above is basically it. You add your activities down the side, as many as you like. You can add and delete them whenever you need to. Then you check off your time in 15 minute increments by filling in the little lozenges. The 15 minute segments encourages you focus on each separate activity for longer without jumping around so much.
As you can see from today’s example, my BubbleTimer records often make me look a bit A.D.D. The problem with “multi-tasking” is that if I’m all over the place, I’m most likely to be forgetting to track what I’m doing in BubbleTimer too. This is when I resort to one or two other tools. The history of my web browser Firefox, and a “web-based time management and analytics tool” called RescueTime.
Firefox‘s history records every single webpage you visit as well as the date and time* when you visited it (*Safari, unfortunately, doesn’t track the time, which is partly why I don’t use it!). Considering probably 90% of my time is spent using a web browser, a quick look at the history for the last hour will likely show me where I’ve been and so reminding me what I’ve been working on.
Or not. You’ll see in the screenshot of Monday’s Firefox history that I either took at 3 hour lunchbreak, or I wasn’t using my browser for a change. In this case, if I have forgotten to track what I’ve been doing I’ll take a look at my RescueTime account. To use RescueTime you need to install an application on your computer which tracks what software and websites are actively being used.
By viewing the complete report I can see what activities I was engaged in for this particular hour down to the minutes and seconds. This should usually remind me what I was working on so I can go back to BubbleTimer and fill in the bubbles.
And don’t forget the billable hours too!
Here is a screenshot of a more focused day tracked in BubbleTimer.
At the end of the week I need to make sure all my client project time has actually been logged, so that I won’t forget to bill for it. At this point I will print off a summary report which shows the total time spent on each activity for my chosen time period.
Once I’ve printed off my summary I add up all the billable hours and check that they’re logged against the relevant project’s timesheets or added to an invoice.
Most of my projects are quoted for in advance so I use this paper based Task Project Tracker (from The Printable CEO series) for this. For the few separate invoiceable tasks I have done, I will add the time to Freeagent.
Productivity assessment – how am I doing?
The BubbleTimer summary report is crucial for seeing the bigger picture and it gives me a bit of a reality check about how I’m doing productivity wise. I’m learning not to feel stressed out when my billable hours only add up to 30% of my work time. Instead I look at what I HAVE been doing. It was a complete revelation when I first started using this app and I realised that I was getting things done after all. I was managing new business enquiries, doing the bookkeeping, dealing with IT issues or keeping up with the latest industry news online.
I have another chart from The Printable CEO series called “When is something worth doing?” which I have stuck on my wall. This helps me remember that generating new business is equally as valuable as time spent on client projects. It helps me focus on what is important. (In fact, I need to reorder my activities in BubbleTimer according to importance. Then I would be able to see how productive I’m being at a glance – the more bubbles filled in towards the top of the sheet the better).
There is another potential benefit of being able to see exactly how long I’m spending on all these other tasks. At some point I might want to consider getting a book-keeper or an administrator in to help me with these tasks. Since I’ve been tracking how long I’ve spent on them, I know how much work I might be able to provide a part-time freelancer with and I’ll be able to estimate how much it will cost me too.
The working title for this blogpost was something along these lines
“BubbleTimer has improved my productivity and maintained my sanity”
It didn’t seem to fit once I’d written the article in full, but the statement holds true. If you feel like you are being unproductive or work is making you feel a little insane, I recommend getting serious with your time-tracking!
My review of BubbleTimer on the Boagworld Podcast (00:38:32 – 00:43:56)
Project 52 stats: Week 3, Post # 4
Time spent: 5 hours