Keeping track of where you're spending your time at work

Hi Everyone,

Sometime back I spent time auditing my calendar and bucketing my events. (I also block time on my calendar for deep work) The findings were eye opening and embarrassing. This brought me to the following:

  1. Do you look back at your calendar and audit where you are spending your time? If yes, how often do you do that?
  2. What are the large buckets where you spend your time? Also, how much time do you budget for each bucket. For instance, for me I grouped them as Strategy and Planning, Reviews and Stakeholder Management, Execution, People Management and Research
  3. The auditing activity was extremely manual, and I have been working on finding ways to automate it. Will such a tool interest you? And if yes, will you be open to trying it out
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I’d love to have an outlook integration with this. Something that allows me to easily categorize each meeting - especially if I could categorize at the beginning of the week, as I accept meetings, and then have a prompt at the end of a meeting that asks me if the categorization was correct as well as if the meeting was successful/productive.

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@RobMartin, once you have this visibility, can you share what are the key actions you foresee yourself taking?

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I’m not entirely sure what actions I would take. As a data-driven PM I try to have a hypothesis and a roadmap of what I might do based on results but at this point, I know I need to be more productive, and I want to track where I’m spending unproductive time.

I might look at who was invited to the meeting I deem as unproductive. Most likely I’ll figure out how I can automate or delegate high-time/low-productivity meetings/activities.

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I second these requirements! It’d be great to have some hindsight on how productive the set time was. For me I’d need a prompt at the end of the day as well.

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Checkout clockwise! It’s an add-in for google calendar. It does really lightweight analysis that is automated / useful. From there you could use their categorization to dig a level deeper. It also helps defragment your calendar and resolve conflicts automatically if you’d like it to.

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@MarioRomero, Clockwise looks interesting. I will check them out

Can you let me know how your experience has been with Clockwise?

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@MarioRomero, I used it for about a year and a half, and I haven’t found it to be helpful at all.

The main thing it does is integrate with Slack so people know if I’m in a meeting before they start pinging me, but as far as where time spent is going, unless you are religious about marking what you did on your calendar (vs hopping into 1-off meetings and bouncing between 2 or 3 different projects like i am) then all it is going to tell you is “you spent X hours in meetings” which you can figure out from just looking at your calendar.

TLDR it was fine to use when it was a free tool, but it’s not solving a problem that I or any of my peers have, so we all decided to not pay to continue using it when they came asking for money.

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@MarcoSilva, May I know what percentage of the meetings you actually do is on your calendar? Also, do you block time for your own work on calendar?

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Probably somewhere between 60-70% of the meetings I have are on my calendar. I do block time if I need to focus on things, but normally I just work on things when I organically have the time / between meetings / after hours.

Clockwise doesn’t have a mechanism to tell you what you were working on during a given “blocked time”, it just tell you that there were X hours in meetings and Y hours of blocked time

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This is helpful. One last question.

If you had a tool that automatically categorized your events and showed you that, will you find it helpful?

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I use Toggl, typically for a few weeks at a time whenever time seems to be getting out of hand. It is hard to remember to tap the button, and it takes some extra typing when you first start (mainly for categories which I used their “projects” function for). However, it does give a great breakdown of what you are working on.

Essentially, I captured the big buckets - one general category for processing email, a couple admin items, and then the top 2-4 tasks for each grouping of work (e.g., reviewing others’ reqs, creating my own, coordinating with PjM, communicating with the org). Mtg: xxxx is how I would label a time item for meetings, categorizing in the appropriate bucket (e.g., Mtg: prod launch → communicating with the org → Product X).

As the week progresses, you can see what % of your time is in each category (be sure to color code projects to make this simple at a glance), and there are reports that break down to the item level should you so desire.

After a few weeks, I am able to figure out where I am spending time out of alignment with my goals and adjust accordingly.

Free version is sufficient for my needs.

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Thanks for the insights @RichardsonEva, can you let me know how often do you find yourself doing this say in a quarter?

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When I was earlier in my career, I tried to keep it up most of the time just because I was really struggling with focus. I would put in 60-hour weeks and never seem to get anywhere on my tasks. Seeing the focus switching in particular was eye opening (sometimes more than a dozen topics an hour).

Now I generally only check once a quarter, typically when my activities are mixed too broadly - I am now in “strategy” and often bounce across a number of products as an internal consultant in addition to working on the left side of the Pragmatic chart. This usually ends with me actively cutting meetings, tasks, and even whole initiatives as I reset on the most important and urgent items.

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  1. RescueTime tracks all my time and dumps it into a category. I look back at it on super busy weeks to see where all my time went. I friggin love RescueTime.
  2. Most of my time goes into ‘software development’, ‘business’, ‘reference & learning’, ‘communication’, and ‘design and composition’. There are lots of other categories but those are used most frequently.
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@CarlosDubois, Is there any gap you see in RescueTime or wished it did better?

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@NaomiNwosu, Honestly…not really. It has more features than I need or use :slight_smile:

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Maybe someone will find it useful.

In outlook I created categories for most ongoing meetings. Every Monday script is showing me how many hours I spent for each category + list of all uncategorized meetings. For those I usually have personal summary notes with ratings and usefulness of the meeting. Now if I see something as a waste, I tag organizer and make note to double check next invites.

I also analyze a list of “let’s take it offline” points and see who could (if possible) answer those on the spot and why he was not invited.

As for productivity I use old fashioned pomodoro app when need to dig in data. This allows me to easily split work into small parts and track how much time I spent on “real” work. This is much easier when wfh as there are not that many interruptions.

Every Monday (at least I try to) I look at my meetings and pomodoro data and see how I can improve and avoid time wasters. I also make a plan for next week and see if I need to book my calendar with catch up work.

From time to time (maybe once a year) I track (almost) every activity in the day. Do it for few days and see if we can improve something. (Drucker method).

Maybe it’s sounds like overdoing, but it works for me, and I don’t spend that much time on this. Got used to it.

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This is only slightly related, but hopefully it’s useful to others. I save many hours of work by keeping an online action tracker, and making requestors update it when they want something done.

A classic example is in a meeting, where someone will request further info on whatever topic. I’ll say “we can look at that. Can you update the task sheet?”. It stops the request about 60% of the time.

My thinking is that it’s really easy to ask someone else to do a task. By putting some friction in the process, I work out who really needs their info and who doesn’t.

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I found this interesting article about tracking time. The author lays out a “50% Rule”, which aligns timeline and work done. Note; it is applied in this article for a project-specific perspective rather than a personal perspective. Check it out: Delivering a Project on Time, but With Flexibility | SingleMind

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