If you’re familiar with the concept of time tracking then you probably associate it with incredibly annoying experiences at your job. For the rest of you, I’m guessing this is something you’ve probably never spent much time thinking about – if at all.
At my first job I was expected to track my time down to every half hour and at the end of the week I had to assign all 40 hours of my time to various buckets (project codes). Each bucket would relate to a different software project that was going on in our company and since it was a life insurance company and software development was just overhead (I’ll get into that another day) they would use our time tracking to bill our time to other departments. I’m not going to rant too much about how much I hate time tracking for my job but essentially I would end up spending a couple hours a week just focused on tracking my time and figuring out which bucket each half hour of my day would go into. Don’t get me started on my annoyance of figuring out how we were supposed to track our time using the restroom, stepping away from our desks to give our minds a break, or just connecting with our coworkers about (gasp) things not related to work.
All this is to say that my first experience hearing about or having to do time tracking was not a great one. Obviously it’s not the worst thing I’ve ever experienced but it certainly isn’t pleasant nor would I choose a job today where I would be forced to do it.
Fast forward 6-7 years to when I started a wedding photography company. I’ve listened to many tech podcasts over the years and a theme that ran through them from time to time was the concept of time tracking. Many of them are independent app developers or bloggers who work full time for themselves and do time tracking as a way to see where/how they are spending their time and as a way to add efficiency to their businesses. When I started Schendel Photo I decided I was going to start doing time tracking as well to determine what is taking me the most time and what could be done better. It also helped me justify my prices (just to myself) as not only was I providing a great service to my clients, I was also giving a lot of time to each of them whether in person with them or behind the scenes. For Schendel Photo I didn’t end up using the information as much as I would have expected. I mainly used it to determine if I felt like I spent enough time on the business each week. If a lot of time went by without putting in many hours then I would try to be more intentional. I could’ve done more with the information but for reasons I will get into in the future – I’m not going to.
Now here we are today. About a week ago I decided to pick up time tracking yet again in my life. This time instead of tracking my time in my day job, or a business I’m starting, I decided I am going to use time tracking in my daily life. I’m very specifically not tracking any time related to my software job nor am I tracking time for Schendel Photo beyond an all encompassing category for when I do absolutely anything for the business. I am also very specifically not trying to track all my free time because I don’t want this to become a chore because if it becomes a chore I will simply stop doing it. So those are all the things I’m NOT tracking – so what am I tracking?
A few of the categories I’ve currently decided to track:
- Video Games
- Time with Friends
- Home Finances (Time doing budgeting, etc)
- Creation (Doing things like writing this blog post, programming personal stuff, etc)
- Consumption (Movies, TV, YouTube, etc)
- Non-Weekly Home (Various home projects that aren’t standard weekly chores)
In total I have 13 categories right now which may sound like a lot, but many of them aren’t used daily. The key is that through these 13 categories I am tracking the majority of the non-tedious parts of my day. Also, very crucially, there are digital ways to be able to do this time tracking. If I had to use a clock and write down on paper what I spent time doing I would simply never do this. Personally, I use a service named Toggl to track my time. It allows you to create Projects which are the categories I mentioned above. Toggl also allows developers to hook into their service and create nicer user interfaces which is excellent because frankly their applications are not great. This is where I introduce an excellent app by an independent iOS/macOS developer named Joe Hribar – Timery. Timery allows you to not only create/manage these categories but it lets you create simple saved timers with them so that when I start doing one of these tasks I just open Timery and tap on which thing I’m doing. When I finish whatever I’m working on (or watching, let’s be honest) I just tap the stop button and it automatically logs that time for me. Timery has built in reports over various time periods, custom Home Screen widgets, and even more. I’m a big fan for how simple it makes a lot of this to do and honestly without it I wouldn’t be able to manage to do time tracking for myself. Toggl is free to use with no restrictions that most people would every run into and Timery is free to use for up to 4 timers and $10/year for unlimited everything (just do it, support indie developers!).
I find myself often at the end of the day feeling like I didn’t do enough. Enough to better myself, enough to feel like I accomplished something, enough to feel proud of how I spent my time that day. I’ll be the first to admit, some of this is just my own brain and things I’m working through to be kinder to myself. There is also an aspect here of the toxic productivity culture in this country – if you rest you are bad. If you take time off of work you are bad. If you don’t have 3 side hustles, you are bad. I don’t believe in any of that. However, I also recognize places in my life where I am moving towards my “default future” instead of one I am actively choosing. I also recently went through an exercise with my therapist to come up with core values in my life, things that I want to guide where I spend my time. I’m hoping time tracking will reveal where I am following those values as well as time where I’m defaulting to things that don’t align with my values.