How and why to track your time ⏰

What I've found useful for seeing where my time goes

How many meetings do you have today? (I have 6) How many have you had total in September? (Dozens) If you use Google Calendar, check out your new Time Insights. Google is adding the feature to show you how many meetings you have — and with whom. In today’s post I’m sharing a couple of other tools for tracking time.⏳ We only get about 4,000 Thursdays in a lifetime. Adults may have half that # left. Shouldn’t we make the most of each one remaining?

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Rize = new time tracking app ⏱

Rize is the trendiest new time-tracking tool. Its founders have strong ideas about what a productive day looks like. They start from the premise that we spend much of our time either on:

  • focused work

  • meetings

  • breaks

They created Rize to help people gain awareness of how much time they’re spending on those three categories.

How it works

Once you download Rize, it begins assessing what you’re doing on your computer. It tries to determine whether you’re in meeting, break or focus mode by observing what software you’re using and how you’re using it.

If you’re using Zoom or something similar, chances are you’re in a meeting. If your screen and cursor are static for several minutes and you haven’t touched your mouse, Rize guesses you’re on break. And if you’re typing away in Word, Excel or some other such tool, it guesses you’re doing focused work. You can correct those assessments manually if you want to.


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Rize features I like

  • Daily summary note. Rize emails you a summary of your day’s work, which gives you a quick overview of where you spent your time. I found these to be helpful for a quick glance at my day.

  • Simple interface. The Rize dashboard is easy to understand. It’s clean and well-designed.

  • Useful automatic categories. You can customize the categories that Rize tracks, but even without doing that, it does a nice job of guessing when you’re in a meeting, taking a break, or doing focused work.

  • Flexible customization. You can let Rize know that you use certain apps for a particular kind of work to customize the reports you get. That helps you tailor it to the way that you work and the kind of work you’re doing.

Limitations of Rize

  • Cost. It’s $15/month after a two-week trial period, if you pay monthly. It’s $10/month if you pay up front for a year.

  • Platforms. So far, it works on MacOS and Windows. Linux support is coming soon. No web or mobile version.

  • Target audience. Rize’s default tracking categories are focused on software developers, product managers, startup founders and other techies. Journalists, creators, educators and others may find it tricky to adapt for tracking other less techie work.

  • No manual tracking. You can’t add time spent on your phone or away from devices, so Rize’s time tracking picture is a partial one. It’s useful for those who spend all their time in front of a computer, and those who want to track professional time only.

My verdict

I didn’t feel like spending time adjusting Rize’s categorizations. That’s been a hurdle for me with time tracking software generally. Editing the tracking data can be a nuisance. So after spending a couple of weeks testing Rize — and given the $120 annual bill — it’s not a service I’m relying on for time tracking.

Toggl

Toggl is a longstanding time-tracking tool that works across multiple platforms. Toggl has several advantages:

  • Free. Toggl is free for basic use, which is all I need.

  • Cross platform. It works across devices and platforms. I like being able to use it on my phone if I’m working away from my laptop.

  • More open. It allows me to add and categorize whatever activities I want to, including work I’m doing away from a device.

  • Integrations. Toggl works with 100+ different services, including ones I already use, so it pulls in Google calendar meetings or lets you categorize Google Docs you’re working on as time spent in a certain way. That fits well into my workflow.

Why to track your time

  1. Figure out what’s actually eating away your free time. Research shows that people often don’t realize what they’re spending the most time on until they track it.

  2. Carve out more time for what you love❤️ By identifying where your time is going, you can be more intentional about what you choose to do. And what you choose to stop doing.

  3. Identify opportunities for efficiency. If you love spending four weekly hours on invoices, filing and paperwork, that’s great. But time tracking can help surface opportunities for finding shortcuts, trying new workflows, outsourcing time-intensive tasks, or making other useful adjustments.

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In October I’m aiming to reassess how I’m allocating my time and concentration. To help with this, I’m experimenting with tracking my time in a simple spreadsheet rather than with apps. I’ve done this in the past on a piece of graph paper.

Want to join me in tracking your time for a week in October? Here’s a free time-tracking spreadsheet template I put together. You can use it to track time for a week and see where your hours actually go. A few tips:

  • Update your sheet four times a day: at the end of the morning, mid-afternoon, at the end of the workday, and at the end of the evening.

  • Don’t show anyone your sheet, so that you can be brutally honest with yourself. If you spend 40 minutes down an Internet rabbit hole, mark it as such so you can reflect later on what you might need. What sometimes gets dubbed “laziness” may actually signal a need.

  • Try using fill colors for things you particularly want to assess, like meeting time, creative time, or time spent on a particular project. Colors help provide a visual picture at the end of the week.

  • To track for a month, make several copies of the sheet.

  • At the end of a tracking week, use the notes section to jot down 3 observations about your time usage plus an insight or two about a change you’d like to make.

Recommended Reads

Time-tracking tips and a personal essay on time tracking from Laura Vanderkam, a guru of time log analysis and author of an excellent related book, Off the Clock

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