I don’t know how long they’ve been talking about time tracking on Cortex, but ever since the first time Myke and Grey brought it up I thought “ah yes. That sounds interesting. I should do that.” Rinse and repeat for X months/years until I remembered this idea at a time when I wasn’t walking around and unable to act on errant thoughts.
On January 1, 2019, I finally took the leap and signed up for Toggl. There are a few different time-tracking options out there, but Toggl stood out for one extremely compelling reason: it’s free. There is a premium tier that I would probably benefit from and hope to upgrade to at some point. For now I’m 22 years old and my budget is tight, so free tier it is.
Time tracking intrigued me so much because currently, my time is more or less my own. I have a “real job” but it’s part-time and remote, so I get to organize the hours however I choose. The rest of my work hours are taken by freelance podcasting clients, which of course tends to be scheduled irregularly. I also spend plenty of time working on my own podcasts and other projects.
I like Toggl because it allows me to be really basic with how I track. I set up the “project” categories with what I broadly work on the most often (one for each of my own podcasts, one broad category for client work, etc.). I try to keep it as simple as possible, usually just labeling the name of the episode I’m working on in the task bar, not the minutiae of stages. I can see how that could also be useful, but I work on so many completely different projects that I don’t want to get bogged down with more and more specific designations. Click play when I start working, click stop when I stop, and adjust the time manually later when I inevitably forget to hit stop and wake up to a 14 hour task that I allegedly was working on in my sleep.
So based on the last ten weeks of time tracking, here are the greatest advantages I’ve come across:
I’m billing more accurately.
I report my own hours for that “real job” and often bill by the hour for freelance clients. Instead of keeping track by glancing at the clock, I actually have a tool to keep track for me. I genuinely don’t know how I was doing this beforehand—especially since it’s helped me realize I’m doing more work at my jobby job than I was previously reporting!
I have a better picture of how much I work.
While I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could be billing for more hours than I was previously counting, I actually work less total than I thought I did. Some of that is because I’m not tracking household tasks and commutes, which stretch out the work day in my own mind. Some of that is just because humans are bad at measuring time. Time tracking has helped me realize that I have more hours in the day to make use of.
I know where those hours can and should go.
Since I actually know how long tasks take me, I’m better at planning my days. Noticing where I was productive and where tracking dropped off helped me realize that I’m not very productive in the evening, so now I exercise after work instead of before, which increases my overall productive time and helps me get to the gym more consistently. Also, instead of wildly overestimating my ability to get things done, I’m checking off my full to-do list more days than not. I’m actually filling a work day and understanding when is best to be productive, instead of trying to “power through” a task even when I’m uninspired and distracted.
It’s encouraged me to stay on task.
Some time tracking tools automatically track what you do on your computer, which would certainly be even more accurate than the program I’m using now. However, even though Toggl can’t tell if I’m on Twitter, the timer forces me to actively choose to work or not work. If that timer is running but I’m on Instagram, I know that I’m cheating. It’s a neat psychological tool for holding myself accountable.
Obviously, I’ve had a very positive time tracking experience and I don’t intend to stop now. I highly encourage you to time track as well, especially if you’re a student, freelancer, or someone else with a lot of unstructured work time. You have nothing to lose and better knowledge of yourself to gain!