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I'm a fast learner so I often become the go-to guy in the office (and out of it, but that's off topic), I love helping people and I learn much from seeing different perspectives, ideas (even bad ones) and solutions to problems the organization is facing.

Thing is, that my own work sometimes suffers from this.

I want to balance time spent on my own tasks and helping others, but to do that I need to track and see when and if I'm helping too much during the day.

I thought about getting a push counter and pushing it every time a person asks me for help and I oblige, or writing post it notes of who I helped and with what and count them at the end of the day.
The problem with both that they don't help me track time, and the post it option is messy.

Using a stopwatch app will probably alienate my coworkers, thinking I'm timing them.

I'm looking for something that will not take me too long to "activate" so it won't double the time spent on helping others, as most cases helping is a 5 minute process here and there.
Any other ideas how I should do this?

  • 2
    That clearly must be irony. This won't leave a very good impression, if others find out. I'd rather cope with it in a open way. – mike Jul 12 '13 at 11:52
  • 1
    In one of the comments you mention that you are not paid to help these people. However, if you make these people more productive, the company should be supportive of this. If the amount of time you spend helping colleagues becomes too large, you should either stop helping them, or arrange some hours from your manager to help them out with the blessing of the company. – Paul Hiemstra Jul 15 '13 at 8:21
  • I'm not being paid JUST to help. I would assume that I should spend about 20% of my time helping. The reason behind the question is how do I tell when the time I spend is too large. In addition, if people need too much of my help to perform their work, it's better if I do their tasks and they'll receive other tasks. – Didi Kohen Jul 15 '13 at 19:57
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As my side project I implemented an OSQA (Stackoverflow clone) web site at my work. Everytime someone asks me a question I direct them to the site and answer the question on a public forum. This has saved me time as I can easily refer repeat questions to the site and it has enabled others to join the community and help each other. In addition my contributions are recorded in a Karma points and management has visibility into what I know and contribute. You can find more information about OSQA at this link.

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    If the question is general enough, I would even recommend they post it on the relevant StackExchange site. – Paul Hiemstra Jul 15 '13 at 8:19
  • As questions are mostly related to our custom tools and of little to no interest to outsiders... probably not the best idea. Also leaking code out and technologies that you are working for is frowned upon. One guy DID post something to Perl Monks and exposed a private key that he should not have... either way the site worked out well for us. – ojblass Jul 15 '13 at 8:24
  • I like this idea. You could have your own tag e.g. @kohen. When you have time, you answer the questions. It allows you to better keep track, since you decide when you start answering. As a nice side effect, it discourages people to ask you 'silly' questions, because it's an open forum! – mike Jul 15 '13 at 16:19
  • This is something I intend to look into myself, thanks! I have similar problems at my work... – enderland Jul 17 '13 at 22:53
  • Just as an update my site has 686 users over 1000+ questions and over 2000 answers! This has been an epic success. – ojblass May 15 '14 at 16:01
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There's nothing wrong with using a stopwatch application, either openly or discretely. What happens now when somebody comes to your desk for help? You probably say "just a sec", finishing typing whatever you were in the middle of, save a file, kick off a build, or whatever, right? Clicking on a virtual stopwatch is just one more bit of typing. It needn't be invasive, once you've written (or found) the application. (A coworker once wrote something like this so he could track which projects he was spending how much time on; he had it prompt for the project name at the end, not the beginning, so it didn't interrupt the flow while someone was standing there waiting.)

If you're concerned about the impression you're giving, as one commenter suggested, you can just explain to people that you're trying to better understand how you spend your time (optional: so you can give better estimates in the future), and it's not personal and you want to help them. It's just data-collection -- no big deal. If your employer tracks time spent on different projects (daily timesheet), you probably ought to be doing that anyway.

  • There's no daily timesheet, the only reason we have a monthly timesheet is because the law requires it. I voted up your answer but I believe there's still a better option, so I'm waiting a bit before accepting it. – Didi Kohen Jul 13 '13 at 7:06
  • I don't think you should lie about why you're taking the time. If you do so, be upfront! – mike Jul 13 '13 at 10:45
  • @mike, I wasn't proposing that the OP lie. I thought he was trying to understand better how he spends his time. (The parenthetical comment was my inference, and maybe I should have made that clearer.) – Monica Cellio Jul 14 '13 at 16:46
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Since you're working at a office, why don't you use Office ;) You could invest some time to create a nice little excel template.

A guy working next to me does that, not for your reasons, though. He keeps track of his time, because he is involved in a lot of different projects.


As a sidenote. I wouldn't keep track of things that are just taking minutes. But if you're spending 30mins+, it's probably a good idea.

If you're such a handy guy, why don't you extend your position to a job where people can actually seek your advice?

UPDATE

I came off with another idea, after I read the comments.

It is openly known that you're the handy guy, so bring that up in the next meeting (maybe via mail, but I recommend the meeting). Tell people how these interruptions disturb your workflow, and that a interruption of 5minutes can lead to an effective time loss of 30+mins, since it disturbs your state of mind.

Ask what the others think about it. And how your situation could be improved.

  • A solution would be to have opening hours. People can seek your advice from 10 a.m. till 1 p.m. or sth. like that. For the rest of the day you would like to focus on your work.

  • Ask people to address their problems via email, so you can decide when you want to take a look at the mail. Answer it via mail, or maybe even go to them in person.

  • Maybe combine these two approaches. Opening hours, where people can come by and for the rest of the time ask people to address their needs via mail.

  • 2
    A half-dozen "5 minute requests" eat a half hour every day. I've had days where I've gotten a half-dozen "quick questions" in a matter of 2 hours. If you're programming or debugging a system (aka "in the zone" or in a mental state of "flow" - but this isn't exclusive to programmers), a 5 minute interruption in your concentration can easily cost you 30-60 minutes. If you're getting interrupted to the point where your own work suffers, you need to be documenting the interruptions - even if you just keep tally marks on a post-it next to your mousepad. – alroc Jul 12 '13 at 20:01
  • In the end, regardless of how he keeps track of the times, people will interrupt him. So that is the 'problem' to be solved. He should extend his position, maybe take more responsibility. Or maybe change the field? I don't know exactly, but I don't think it's a good practice to make a mark everytime someone asks you a question. There should be another, better, solution. – mike Jul 12 '13 at 23:00
  • A spreadsheet is good for things that take more than 20 minutes, because the overhead from it is also high. People seek my advice already, but the company doesn't pay me just to help people, also to do my own work, which suffers from this. @alroc I've thought about it, but giving advice is not enough for me, especially since often I'm not getting credit for my help, I need to create things that are "mine" to be happy with my job. – Didi Kohen Jul 13 '13 at 6:48
  • The edit made it worth a vote up, I think you should split it to two answers since they are really different. The opening hours and email ideas are good, but not as relevant in my case, since lots of the things are time-sensitive. – Didi Kohen Jul 13 '13 at 15:56
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    @DavidKohen, ok thanks for the clarification. (I just wanted to make sure I was answering the right question. :-) ) – Monica Cellio Jul 15 '13 at 19:56
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Register on a site like Harvest and simply enter your time spent on activities there. You can take the opposite approach of tracking the time you're actually working and when someone asks you to help them, stop your timer and restart when you're ready to get back to work. The difference between the time you worked and the time you spent at the office (minus lunch) is the time you spent helping others.

0

I keep a journal of what I am working on each day, with the times and project information. It's a simple text file, but the format isn't very important.

I put in the time I come in and the project, and any notes that I might find useful about what I am doing. If I am interrupted, I put the time down, help them, and then make a note about what I did, then put the time down and go back to what I was working on.

This has several advantages. If I want to know how much time I spent on something, I can go back and find out, but I'm spending very little time tracking something that I may not want to check. I do have to put in some time at the end of the day, and I can look at my journal and tell how much time I spent on each project. I send a weekly status report to my boss, and I look at this to see what I worked on during the week and issues I had that are still unresolved. And if I remember solving the same problem in the past, I can easily search my journals, find how I fixed it last time, and resolve it quicker this time. (This is especially handy for me, since I don't remember the details for more than a week or so.)

So, I am tracking the time, but not adding it up unless I need to know. It takes seconds to write it down, as I have the journal open for notes at all times anyway.

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