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Background: I'm a vocational student and have recently received my Bachelor-Thesis project. Quite a cool thing imo - I get to completely build the customer reporting system for my IT department within the corporation. Even though I have this project, for which I have sufficient support and involvement from the department, I am not really a managed resource, and I still have several other assignments that I have to take care of. This creates for me a constraint on the time that I can spend on my project.

Situation: I would like to log the time I spend on my various assignments, but am not really sure how to do it, since they intertwine often. (Ex. I start on my project, then I get a call that requires immediate reaction; I return to my project, after lunch there's a meeting; followed by an administrative assignment; then I have to write a report;...). This is also connected with the fact, that constatly switching between tasks doesn't allow me to really get into a constant flow which I feel I need to make good results.

Question: How can I log time/effort allocated to assignments/tasks/projects in such a way, that it can be meaningfully presented afterwards. (Summing up hours doesn't show how fragmented my work gets. Is it maybe better to roughly measure(Mon, Tue, spent primarily on Assignment A, Wed - no clue what I did there, Thurs - meetings/reports, Fri - my project).

Goal: I would like to use the logs on time spent on my assignments to leverage what assignments I get, and how much priority gets assigned to each assignment(i.e. what quality/deadlines can be expected from my assignments). Ideally I would like to concentrate on my primary project, but I know reality demands efforts on side-tracks as well - I just want better control of what is expected of me.

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  • Your problem isn't measuring time spent on projects, your problem is that you seem to have no logical structure to how you tackle issues, you seem to do it as and when, rather than finishing one problem before beginning the next. Though i understand of course that urgent matters usually trump simple work.
    – user5305
    Apr 3, 2013 at 10:13
  • If the above issues are solved, then measuring time spent becomes much easier, as its done in chunks, rather than 10 minute blocks here and there throughout the day
    – user5305
    Apr 3, 2013 at 10:14
  • Ok, sounds reasonable. I understand "chunking" would mean ignoring all asignments other than the one I'm working on for a certain period of time during the day. Apr 3, 2013 at 10:25
  • I found a very useful blog post somewhere about why constantly changing between projects is bad for productivity due to having to constantly change your mindset and change what knowledge you are holding in memory, i will see if i can dig it up again
    – user5305
    Apr 3, 2013 at 10:39
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    This probably isn't the blog post @RhysW is thinking of, but it also speaks to the multitasking myth. The human brain can't multitask the way one would like it to. What you're really doing is dozens of context switches every day, and working efficiently in this manner is almost impossible. Reserve your morning for the dozen small tasks you get, and your afternoon for focusing on the large project (including shutting off your email, that's a massive timesink).
    – alroc
    Apr 3, 2013 at 11:40

2 Answers 2

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In my experience, you should start by analyzing how your time currently is spent. How much time is used for doing things that aren't really in your job profile? How much due to interruptions or short assistance tasks ("Hey! This is Tom from Sales. Can you just have a short look over this presentation? Thanks!"). How much on handling communication, how much on administrative overhead? Also, do you lose much time on breaks and chatting, or Facebook without really noticing?

How much time do you really have left to put into the tasks you have been hired to do?

In my opinion, you won't be successful in analyzing that without using a tool of some kind.

There are several tools available to help you with time tracking. Some are targeted at freelancers which need to bill their efforts to their clients, some are more suited for personal purposes.

The following site presents a good overview over freeware, offline, task- and/or time-trackers: Gizmos Freeware - Best Project Time Keeping Utility.

There are also online tools for that purpose, but if you need to quickly (as per tray-icon or hotkey) switch between tasks, I prefer a local solution.

My personal favorite is Rachota:

  • tasks can be freely created, categorized, and renamed
  • tasks can be defined which occur daily or on certain weekdays
  • you can switch between tasks in the application or from a context menu in the system tray
  • you can enter tasks and times if you were unable to track them directly (e.g. when travelling)
  • it can generate statistics/reports
  • it can notify you when you have reached the specified working hours
  • it can notify you when you switch from a high-priority task to a lower-priority one
  • it's portable (Java) and can be run from a thumb drive

For all of these tools, it will take some time using them and setting the correct preferences to suit your needs.

When you have gathered data for some time, you should be able to get a clear picture of how your time is spent.

How you can act on this is another issue, and really depends on the outcome. Do you have to inform your boss that too much time is taken away by other tasks/people? Do you just need a way to track that time? Or is your style of working to blame? Then you could use a method like Getting-Things-Done (GTD) to plan and prioritize tasks. Sometimes you already start to improve your working style and efficiency (or even happiness) by consciously keeping track what you are doing when, and why.

(Note: Edited as @jmac's comment was right. I didn't start at the beginning...)

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  • Welcome to The Workplace. While it looks like you have a good grasp on time-tracking software, it limits the future usefulness of the answer to just list several choices that may change or become outdated. That's why our FAQ discourages poll votes. It seems to me the question is asking a more general question about how to tackle time tracking in general rather than a specific method of time tracking. I could be wrong (it certainly wouldn't be the first time).
    – jmac
    Apr 4, 2013 at 10:32
  • Well, for me I have found that using a tool immensely helps; both in detectiung where the problems are, and to resolve them. In my previous job, that helped a lot: I could see how much time was spent on administrative overhead, phone support, coaching, handling general e-mails, handling questions from sales etc. - for most of which I didn't have any tasks to bill them on. After a month or so, I could take that list and go to my boss, which resulted in additional billing tasks, and clarifications of my job profile. And a computer-generated, detailed report beats any other argument hands-down.
    – TvF
    Apr 4, 2013 at 13:06
  • I'm glad it works for you, and I'm not doubting it's a great tool now -- the issue is that none of us can say with authority that the same tools we promote now will be true in a year, let alone in three or five years. I agree that computer-generated reports are great, and would encourage you to edit your answer to focus on how you manage your time, rather than the specific tool to do that with, as it's a better answer to the question.
    – jmac
    Apr 4, 2013 at 23:07
  • For now it's (much) better than nothing, thanks for posting, I'll look into it. Apr 5, 2013 at 8:27
  • I'm really liking ToDoList by AbstractSpoon. Apr 5, 2013 at 16:35
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Firstly be honest about what you are doing.

You need some practice and after that you will feel everything is ok so include some routine tasks in your daily work

  1. Make it a habit to note down everything you do in whole day.
  2. Note any deviation. Like if your assignment is interrupted with any of the reason (professional) its necessarily to bring it in notice in your reporting.

So note duration and purpose of every meeting, call and work assigned other then the main task.

If you will keep recording your activity everyday. I am sure you will be able to estimate your productivity by yourself.

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  • How can I display all these notes sensibly - a list of 100 things I did with times attached to them isn't very readable? Apr 4, 2013 at 8:58

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