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Do you use time-tracking for work or for your personal time?

lightalloy profile image Anna Buianova ・1 min read

At one of my office jobs, we had a time tracker on our computers that was measuring the time spent at the office, and we needed to spend ~40h/week there. That tracker had a lot of issues, and later the company stopped using it.
At my previous (remote) job, we reported the hours spent on each task, but I was not tracking my time meticulously.

I've recently stumbled upon a Nebulab playbook where they describe pretty strict rules about the time tracking.
E.g. developers need to report separately:

  • billable time (spent working on clients' projects)
  • time spent on other tasks like 1:1s, studying, etc
  • "wasted" time
  • report if they worked more or less than 8 hours a day.

It seems like a convenient way to bill clients, but I suppose it can cause stress for the developers.

Personally, I see time tracking more as a personal productivity technique. I often use the Pomodoro and sometimes plan my day hour by hour, but always add some buffering time for context switching and unpredictable stuff.

And what are your thoughts on time tracking?

Posted on Apr 4 '19 by:

lightalloy profile

Anna Buianova

@lightalloy

[on maternity leave] software developer (web, ruby)

Discussion

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I've tried time tracking during work hours just to get a better sense of where my time goes but ultimately couldn't make a habit of it because it was frustrating to have another context-switching task. I also used to have the RescueTime extension (per @maestromac 's suggestion) but didn't find the data very useful so I turned it off.

I'm glad I've never had to do time track for an employer.

 

Yep, that definitely adds up to context switching. And I often forgot to pause/switch tasks 😬
I have tried RescueTime as well but it didn't stick.

 
 

At the office, each employee is responsible for reporting its billing time on project they work. Usually, people use Toggl to keep track of billable time.

For my personal time management, I use pomodoro-tracker to make sure I take a pause every 25 mins.

 

I am in the early stages of building a solution for this problem for tracking time TimeLync.

I hadn't thought of some of the items listed such as "wasted time".

To me tracking time needs to be as simple as possible with minimal steps involved or else it becomes more of a hastle than it's worth even though it's extremely valuable to see time spent on a project. This is especially true when billing by the hour.

I'm hoping to refine my product into a useful tool for this very reason.

Very informative write-up thanks for sharing!

 

Good luck with your project! Simplicity is really important and lacking in many apps (not only time tracking ones but in general).
As for the "wasted time", I think the name is not perfect (though maybe ok in the work context). "Wasted" time is usually spent resting or miscellaneous tasks which is needed, so that time is not really wasted in my opinion.

 

Great points. Definitely taking all of this into consideration. Maybe user defined time buckets would be nice to separate these time categories simply 🤔

Hi Andrew, I'm working on a time tracker too. I think our products could partner. Please email me if you would like to talk shop. hello@yadafaber.com

Sounds great! I'm in the middle of a relocation but I'll reach out soon.

 
 

I use Toggl at work. It's not required but we like to track how long a story took to complete so management can better estimate how long it will take to build a feature and charge accordingly.

As for my home life, I use Toggl for my personal projects and 144blocks to help me understand how I should structure my time to get the things I want to do done.

 

144blocks looks cool, I'll check it out, though I wouldn't be able to use a tool like this on a regular basis.

 

I'm really bad at time tracking. In terms of health of the worker, I don't think it's helpful to have a time limit looming over people's head. I know I still remember the feeling of "Oh, almost the end of the day!" and my brain would immediately stop taking work seriously.

As for a personal productivity technique, I think it can be helpful! Also a big fan of Pomodoro, although I haven't used it in a while. For me, what it boils down to is just being honest with myself and deciding that "okay I should be doing work instead of distracting-thing", or that setting reasonable time expectations for tasks.

 

my latest project, I estimated it that it will need around two years of dev efford and since we are only two devs on the project :P maybe i'll use time tracking to see whether i needed to buy a lottery or not.

I mean ok, if you are self employed and you feel you need to charge by the hour...its fine. But if you working at a company efford should not be calculated in units of time, but in units of efford (the only thing I agree with the agile idea).

I find the idea of counting time ridiculous.

 

wakatime.com/dashboard anyone?
It does not require any user input, just tracks everytime you type into a compatible IDE.
You register it and forget about it.

It records only the coding time tho.

 

I use wakatime and love it. I have the chrome and terminal plugins for it too. With (more than) a little bit of config to all 3 I get a pretty good idea of where my time is spent. Still only tracking my time coding/working on an actual project but it's the best tool I've found for my role and time tracking requirements

 

I use an app, Pomy for Mac, that tells me to look away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes. I try to get up and stretch during those 20 seconds to get the blood flowing.
Anyway, it also counts how many 20-minute blocks I did. At the end of the day, I just write that number down on my journal and reset the counter.
It’s as accurate as I can do, because I usually close my laptop when I step away for longer than a minute or two. It’s not meant to bill clients or anything like that, just for me to track how long I spent working or studying.
The nice thing about it being 20 minutes is that I can divide the daily number by three and get how many hours I worked precisely.

 

I'm a big fan of time tracker but I'm not using it to it's fullest potential. I passively track my time so I can gauge how productive my day was. Especially now that I'm working from home, it's becoming more apparent to me the time of day I'm better at grinding out works.

 

As an independent contractor I have several projects on the go at any given time so I have to track time for each project. I have tried a few and have hit various limitations for each, my latest is gleeo Time Tracker which I have been using daily for 3 months now. It is very powerful so the learning curve is a bit steeper than one is used to having to deal with on a smartphone app, but well worth it. The most obvious "nice!" about it is how easy it is to switch between tasks and define new ones and replace existing ones.

 

I generally have a repeatable daily flow that I do my tasks in, but I don't use a time tracker.

For the aspects of my role that are repeatable, I'll use my calendar to send me reminders, although I'm not always disciplined about timeboxing these tasks. 😅Still, I think this structure works pretty well for me.

Something different than time tracking that I like to use are weekly to-do lists. While it's obviously not concerned as much with managing small sections of time, it does help to keep me on task, let's me easily easy see the things I need to get done for the week, and marking items off the list helps me keep track of my accomplishments/let's me know what I've left to do.

Still, I can definitely see merits in tracking time to improve personal productivity! Honestly feeling like I might want to test this out.

 

I use a similar approach (especially in terms of discipline :). But still, having a structure definitely helps. I do timeboxing from time to time, and even when done like this, it's a useful exercise to see where the time goes and another reason to revise my schedule once in a while.

 

We use Harvest at work for tracking time spent on different projects/support tasks/meetings. I have my reportable items setup as projects in Harvest, so I just turn on/off a timer for the relevant task. Works great, looks great, and has a public API so I have automated my monthly reports.

 

I think there's a lot of value from tracking billable time and time spent on tasks so you can make more accurate estimates in the future, but hated how my first job had a "Scoreboard" based on the metrics listed in your post, causing a lot of stress to bill as many hours as possible and shave time from tasks (which caused some corner cutting in development...).

 

On one of my projects, we made estimations in half-days, so the smallest unit was 2-4 hours. I found it really useful in terms of estimating, especially larger tasks.
"Scoreboard" seems horrible 😱

 

Yes, I totally use it for my side projects. I like to know how many time I invest on them. Is a way to have a better knowledge about time spent in tasks. It helps me to gut-estimate better.

I use Toogl which is free and very flexible.

 

I log my time in my current role. I'm slowly getting used to it, after 18 months. But honestly I struggle, and I find the work culture impact of time logging is challenging.

In my opinion it's a necessary evil of working in a consultancy. We are currently logging time in Jira using a plugin called Tempo. This is fine when working on project tickets. But a pain for recording more generic time spent doing other things.

 

"necessary evil" seems like a perfect definition 👍 I remember the problem with the more generic time too.

 

This is how I track my day:

  • Code Time and Wakatime extensions on Visual Studio Code
  • Machine uptime monitor (whatever works). Because I use to turn off/on my laptop, this tells me how much time I've been doing screen stuff, work, distractions, etc
  • Notion for notes
 

I use a mix of RescueTime on my PC desktop and laptop to log and categorize all activities and then CodeTime in both VS2019 and VSCode to dive deeper into my coding analysis.

What I've learned over 5 years of data is its easier to track yourself naturally to get a true, honest, review of your time and use that to help adjust your behaviour towards more efficienty. Another benefit from CodeTime is it can auto block off time in my Outlook calendar based on my most productive times I write code. Very handy.

 

I only time track work hours that I have to bill, using Toggl. I don't track personal time.

I use a Pomodoro timer (not very religiously to be honest) as well.

 

Thanks for sharing. I used toggle for a while but it didn't stick.
I had used hamster tracker for a longer time, it's a native Linux app and I loved it. Then they started rewriting it, but at some point, both legacy and a new app stopped working on my machine. It was not essential for my work, but it was useful when I had to work on more than one project in one day and track them separately.
As for the Pomodoro, I don't use it religiously as well because I don't like:

  • having a break when I don't want to
  • too short breaks I experiment with the length from time to time, but usually I just track half-hours of focused work (often w/o breaks in between) and 15-min intervals for writing.
 

I use rescuetime.com/ to monitor personal productivity and help me my goals.
Their $9 a month and it really helps on keeping me accountable.

 

"Don't count the time just get things done"

 

Time tracking is quite frustrating in my experience. I’d rather eat a healthy meal or study some source code. Or...{watch something interesting on YouTube}.

 

We are required to clock in to projects, not so much to see how fast we work but to see how long things take so next time we can quote a little better on timelines.

 

Yes, I'm using tmetric.com/ now. At first it was unusual but I quickly got used to it. Now I switch tasks out of habit. And I check how much time takes a particular task.

 
 

You could try the new app duefocus it aims on helping you determine when you are losing concentration and have some nice reporting.

 

I am freelance web developer and I use Hubstaff to track my working hours for billing purposes.

 

I have used tools for that when I was a billable resource. Best one I've used was Time Snapper