How to Use Time Tracking to Supercharge Your Productivity

Hello everyone!

I’m back on this little blog after a few weeks of just feeling like crap. I developed plantar fasciitis and some sort of sickness (probably flu, and maybe also strep) at the same time. Which, according to the podiatrist I saw, is probably not a coincidence. I’ve had flat feet all my life, but getting sick with something like flu can exacerbate the strain that overpronation puts on your feet. So for a few weeks I was just frustrated with all of the weird symptoms I was getting. I had weird fatigue, fever, body aches, really bad arch pain that then spread pain to my knees and hips… Some evenings I couldn’t make it down the stairs and had to sit and scoot down. I even had an allergic reaction to my antibiotics and my hands swelled up and my skin got blotchy. My migraines have also gotten a lot more frequent despite getting more sleep.

So yeah, it’s been quite the ride, and even though I’m hesitant to say this, I thiiiink I’m getting better. I’m going to get custom orthotics, as well as better, more supportive shoes, and just wait for this flu business to exit my body and let me return to being ME.

So while I was trying to just survive school and extracurriculars, blogging fell to the back burner, unfortunately. Which made me sad because it’s my thing, you know. It’s my creative outlet, my little hobby that very few people know about. My own little home on the internet. But now I’m back, baby! And today I’m talking about something that has totally changed the way that I work - time tracking. This is something I started at the beginning of the school year. I knew that junior year would get craaazy, and I wanted some way to keep myself accountable for how I was using my limited time. Enter a little app that changed my life.

Today I want to tell you about why exactly time tracking is so critical for anyone juggling a lot in their life or trying to maximize their time, and how YOU can do it, too. Let’s get started with why you should track your time, eh?

Time tracking provides a big picture view of where your time is going

I’m part of my school’s newspaper. As layout editor, I use InDesign to compile and edit the work of section editors, design a cover page, insert ads, and more. During layout weeks, it takes up a lot of my time. An issue can take around ten hours of work, total. So that week, it seems like a huge part of my life. But in the grand scope of things? 10-15 hours a month of work isn’t much.

Many of the things we do can be deceiving in this way. For example, you might really love drawing and spend a little bit of time on it every day. The time flies and you think you spend ten hours a month drawing when really it’s more like thirty. Or maybe you clean your refrigerator every month and you hate doing it so it feels like it takes an entire day, when really you only spent three hours. Tracking your time will clear up those misperceptions, and show you precisely where your time is going.

Time tracking becomes a habit

I don’t always time track. For example, when I’m on vacation or sick for a few days, time tracking definitely has no purpose. But even during those times, I will occasionally feel the urge to press a button to indicate that I started cooking, or that I started checking my e-mail, etc. It becomes such an integral part of your life that without even realizing it, you become more mindful of your time.

Time tracking encourages mindful planning

Time tracking and planning are like best buds. It’s hard to time track when you’re not entirely sure WHAT you need to accomplish in a day. When you don’t know what the next item up on your to-do list is, you waste time just trying to decide what to do, and time tracking can point that out to you. It encourages you to plan more carefully. A little planning session in the morning goes a long way to having a plan of action for the day. Once you’ve got your to-do list, all you need to to is tap play and get working!!

Time tracking prevents meaningless multitasking

You literally can’t multitask when you’re time tracking. At least not when you’re using the app I use. You can’t select that you are checking e-mail and doing homework at the same time. I sure hope you’re not doing that, but if you are, time tracking can help you kick that habit. Once you become accustomed to doing one thing at a time, you’ll see how much more efficient that makes you. 

Now, there are instances when multitasking truly does work. For example, while I eat dinner, my family and I play the daily Jeopardy game on Amazon Echo. I could count that as “Eating Dinner” or as “Family Time”. So what do I choose? In this instance, “Eating Dinner”. My general rule of thumb is, what is the task I would be doing if I could only choose one? Heck, I’d be eating dinner, because I’m HUNGRY. Playing Jeopardy with my family is just a way to enhance that time. It’s not always this easy to make the call, but when it does get harder, I assure you it won’t make that big of a difference. Just choose and move on.

Hey you! Get off of Instagram.

Hey you! Get off of Instagram.

Time tracking reveals little time sinks

I’m looking at you, internet. Yes, you. The way you suck people in and warp their perception of time. You know what’s fascinating to me? When I take a break from working and just get up, move around, take deep breaths, do some headstands, etc. 5 minutes feels like an eternity. But as I soon as I pull my phone out for a little bit of “harmless Instagram scrolling” 10-15 minutes go by in a SNAP. It’s quite scary, actually. With time tracking, you can recognize these little time sinks and try to avoid them. 

Time tracking makes you more aware of your days

I don’t have the greatest memory, and I used to be the type of person who could sometimes forget what I did that day by the time I was going to bed. Journaling has helped with that, but so has time tracking. Clicking start and stop at the beginning and end of each of your activities makes you acutely aware of how you’ve been spending your day. And if you journal before bed like I do, it’s an extremely useful little tool to jog your memory about what you can write about.

How to track your time

Spreadsheet method

Some people track their time simply by using an online spreadsheet. Basically, you make tons of rows in 15-minute or so chunks of time, and you just write down in the second column what you did. If you’re good with spreadsheets, I’m sure you could also incorporate some sort of categorizing system. But all of that manual inputting and organizing of data seems like too much work to me. 

Now Then Pro app

The best tool I’ve found, for me personally, is the Now Then Pro app. The name of the app doesn’t clearly indicate what it does, so I’ll tell you. It’s a truly spectacular time-tracking app. This post isn’t sponsored, I just want to tell you about this amazing piece of software that I use.

Setting up Your Tasks

Start out in the app by making a bunch of broad tasks for the activities that make up a majority of your life. This could include things like work, homework, eating, relaxing, blogging ;) etc. 

You can then add tasks UNDER those categories. So for example, under homework, I have each of the classes that I’m currently taking at school so that I can see how much time each individual class consumes. You can make this as simple or as complex as you wish. For example, if you’re a freelancer and charge based on how much time a project takes you, you’ll want to keep careful tabs on exactly which project your time is going to. So make a task for each separate one.

Tracking Your Activities

When you start a task, simply click on the little play button next to the task. When you finish, either click the stop button, or click on another task. It’s way easier than typing into a spreadsheet, right?

Forgot to tap start when you started a task? You can add tasks to the past, and edit start and end times of tasks you’ve already inputted.

Viewing Your Time

There’s a “then” view, where you can see a schedule that shows how your day was spent. You can even see a view of the full week, with colors representing your different categories. 

Finally, one of my favorite features, the “Chart” section, allows you to quickly organize all of this data. You can view pie graphs or bar graphs in a bunch of different ways. For example, you can expand all of the tasks out so that you see every individual task, or you can group them so you only see the highest hierarchical level, your broadest categories. You can use the filter feature to select a time range, or a specific task. For example, I can ask the app to show me a bar graph that shows me only the homework task, starting in second semester. I can see how much time I’ve spent on each of my classes since second semester began.

Your System Evolves With You

Your time tracking system will evolve as you use it. You’ll add new tasks, remove others, recategorize some, etc. You can make it as simple or as complex as you want. The only thing I wish this app could do is merge tasks that you determine are too similar to be worth tracking separately. The best way I can think of to do this would be to make them all sub-tasks of a new, broader task.

Honestly, though, I’m so happy overall with the app and that’s really the only improvement I could ask for. 

The app has a free version that you can try out, and then the full version is $2.99. Unfortunately, it is only available for Apple devices, but there are many other tools out there. I really liked this article from Time Doctor that has recommendations for different time tracking apps as well as a bunch of other tools for making you (and your team, if you have one) super duper productive.

Let me know if you try out time tracking, and how it goes for you. Remember, the best time to start is now, even though the season of New Year's resolutions has passed ;) What was the most surprising thing that tracking your time revealed? Or, if you haven’t tried it yet, what is the biggest reason that you might try it? I hope you enjoyed this post and find it helpful in your productive efforts! :) Also make sure to check out my other posts on the topic of organization!

Happy Sunday!