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  • Time-logging

    Hi all,

    I'm interested in starting a time log because I think it would be an interesting exercise for me.

    I was wondering if anyone had any success with this and if anyone had suggestions about how to put one in place. I'm trying to find a system that won't be too tedious but will still allow some analysis of how I'm spending my time.

    Should I just make an Excel spreadsheet? Does anyone have a good template?

  • #2
    Two Ideas

    vks3,

    There are two ways to do time logging that I know of. The first is mainly to log where time is going among your different projects. The columns of the log might be something like this:
    o Start Time
    o End Time
    o Duration
    o Task
    o Category

    Category is a general classification of the task. It can be the name of the project or ongoing activity to which the task belongs, or it can be an analytic category like "Interruption," "Goofing Off" or "Fiddling With Time Logs When I Should Be Working."

    If you are interested in more of a discovery and diagnostic approach, then you might try setting a timer to go off every ten or fifteen minutes and indicate in the log what you are doing at that moment in time. The columns then would be:
    o Time
    o Task
    o Category

    The second approach is more invasive on your attention and requires much more effort to maintain. However, the reward can be new insights into how you are actually spending your time vs. how you think you are spending your time. (It also requires a lot of honesty.) Another very valuable use of this approach is that it can tell you how much and how often you are interrupted.

    One last thing. When you start really paying attention to what you are doing, you will produce a "Personal Hawthorne Effect." Your behavior will change just because you are paying attention to it. You will need to stay with time logging long enough to get past that.
    Last edited by Scott_L_Lewis; 07-09-2007, 12:11 PM. Reason: Minor rewording.

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    • #3
      I resisted time logging for years because of the percieved overhead of tracking everything. Finally I tried it by using a simple stopwatch program. I thought I would track several kinds of activities, but ultimately I found that just 2 categories were significant: Productive time vs. unproductive time. It is easy to time log this way because you just have to hit start when you are working and hit stop when you get distracted or taken off track. This gave me a very enlightening view of my time use and helped me increase my productivity quite a bit.
      Steve Pavlina has an interesting article on it.

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      • #4
        I kept one for about three days as part of pre-workshop homework for a MissionControl seminar I attended. I'd always avoided doing one (they're tedious), and to tell the truth I already knew where I was wasting time, so for me it wasn't a huge eye-opener. But as others have written, it can definitely be valuable.

        Their format was simple: Two columns (Time & Activity), entered every 15 or 30 minutes (you decide). Doing it throughout the day, rather than at the end, is better.


        What's interesting is that Allen's book does none of the three "standard" (for books on time management, that is) assessments at the start: Time log, Needs assessment/diagnoses quiz (e.g., here, and here), and Personality analysis (e.g., here).

        Because of these omissions, at first I wondered if Allen was "cheating" - was he skipping important customization steps, or just cutting out the chaff? However, I've come to believe that those analyses aren't necessary with his approach: He's created a complete, integrated system that (let's be honest here) is meant to be adopted wholesale. If that's the case, why customize at the start?

        I'd love to hear your thoughts on this...

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        • #5
          Try

          Originally posted by vks3 View Post
          I'm interested in starting a time log because I think it would be an interesting exercise for me.

          I was wondering if anyone had any success with this and if anyone had suggestions about how to put one in place. I'm trying to find a system that won't be too tedious but will still allow some analysis of how I'm spending my time.
          Try a little app I wrote a while ago, JTimeTracker (http://jtimetracker.sourceforge.net/). It pops up a dialog every 15mins (configurable) and asks you what you've been doing since it asked last time. It creates a logbook from your answers which you can export to an Excel sheet. The main benefit is that you aren't forced to use a stopwatch approach (start timer, end timer, start timer, ad nauseam...)

          If you wish, you can configure various types of entries (sets of "fields" to record per logbook entry), but the default one will do just fine for most purposes.

          Comment


          • #6
            Originally posted by cornell View Post
            Because of these omissions, at first I wondered if Allen was "cheating" - was he skipping important customization steps, or just cutting out the chaff? However, I've come to believe that those analyses aren't necessary with his approach: He's created a complete, integrated system that (let's be honest here) is meant to be adopted wholesale. If that's the case, why customize at the start?
            As I understand it, the two most important functions of a time log are to (1) figure out how long things actually take and (2) catch time "leaks" when you think you are being productive but aren't. Neither of these is really a concern of GTD. That is, GTD tells you what you need to do, and (through context lists) what it is possible to do at any given time. What you do with that information is up to you.

            The frequent posts about procrastination, time mapping, and prioritization in this forum suggest that GTD's tools are helpful, but are not necessarily a complete solution.

            Katherine

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            • #7
              I would add that the third major function of GTD is to clear the mind so you can focus on the action that you have chosen to take. I agree that GTD won't necessarily motivate you to take that action, however.

              If procrastination, time wasting, lack of motivation, etc. are problems, then it would seem that the action is not in line with the goals and values or the person is not in touch with their goals and values or the person has not sufficiently connected the action to the goals and values. But these things are addressed in GTD in the altitudes concept. If someone is really working their altitudes and the rest of the GTD system, then they will know what to do in any moment, have a clear head to do it and be motivated to do it by a vision of the successful outcome of a goal that is important to them.

              Thus, I think GTD is a relatively complete system. But that is not to say that most of us couldn't benefit from some additional help in realizing this ideal state.

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              • #8
                Originally posted by kewms View Post
                The frequent posts about procrastination, time mapping, and prioritization in this forum suggest that GTD's tools are helpful, but are not necessarily a complete solution.
                Good point. I think DA's philosophy here goes around like this: create a fantastic life! Only have projects that reasonate with your purpose. Thus have only N/A s you are eager to do.

                The solution to procrastination is not to just do a given task, but to get the information from your subconsciousness why you can't really commit to it. (Once you have sorted out the "spelling errors" in your system like projects in your contexts lists ect).

                Or how Merlin Mann ones wrote: "No amount of meta-crap can magically transform junk tasks into stuff you really want or need to do."

                I think the build-in psychological therapy is one of GTD's most underrated features.

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                • #9
                  What is better use of time? Eliminating unimportant tasks (in GTD: "renegotiate your commitments" (during the weekly review)) or doing more tasks (find additional minutes in your day via a time log)?

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                  • #10
                    Originally posted by Cpu_Modern View Post
                    What is better use of time? Eliminating unimportant tasks (in GTD: "renegotiate your commitments" (during the weekly review)) or doing more tasks (find additional minutes in your day via a time log)?
                    How about catching yourself surfing aimlessly (by keeping a time log) so that you don't have to disappoint people who are counting on you (by renegotiating your commitments)?

                    Just as GTD tells you what your commitments are, a time log tells you where the time is going. What you do with that information is up to you.

                    Katherine

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by Barry View Post
                      If procrastination, time wasting, lack of motivation, etc. are problems, then it would seem that the action is not in line with the goals and values or the person is not in touch with their goals and values or the person has not sufficiently connected the action to the goals and values. But these things are addressed in GTD in the altitudes concept. If someone is really working their altitudes and the rest of the GTD system, then they will know what to do in any moment, have a clear head to do it and be motivated to do it by a vision of the successful outcome of a goal that is important to them.
                      I disagree. Procrastination doesn't arise out of a lack of motivation: there are a whole slew of issues that cause it. At base, I think, it boils down to past conditioning. That is, past experience has conflated the task with an unpleasant sensation (guilt, feeling of failure, stress, whatever), and so present contemplation of the task resurrects those negative effects.

                      So attempts to beat procrastination have to be longer-term, and have an element of deconditioning. Logic won't work, because it's fighting the endocrine system: you need to decouple the physiological response before logical motivation can have a chance.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Barry View Post
                        If procrastination, time wasting, lack of motivation, etc. are problems, then it would seem that the action is not in line with the goals and values or the person is not in touch with their goals and values or the person has not sufficiently connected the action to the goals and values. But these things are addressed in GTD in the altitudes concept. If someone is really working their altitudes and the rest of the GTD system, then they will know what to do in any moment, have a clear head to do it and be motivated to do it by a vision of the successful outcome of a goal that is important to them.
                        Actually, fear of success is a very common cause of procrastination. In that case, the more deeply connected to the importance of the action the person is, the more paralyzed they are when it's time to actually do it.

                        Katherine

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                        • #13
                          I use these worksheets

                          Here's what I use to track time every day. I print out 5 first thing on Monday.

                          http://davidseah.com/archives/2006/1...-form-updates/

                          Specifically I use the form "PCEO-ETT03-PowerUserWideBW.pdf" because it's laser printer friendly black-and-white, and since it's wide it fits more than 8 hours (12 hours), which I think is needed.

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                          • #14
                            Originally posted by kewms View Post
                            How about catching yourself surfing aimlessly (by keeping a time log) so that you don't have to disappoint people who are counting on you (by renegotiating your commitments)?
                            This harks back to the carpenter's adage: Measure twice, cut once.

                            You only have one opportunity to spend this minute. GTD is about planning what to do with your time, logging time is a tool to check that your plans are working. Time tracking is not just about being obsessive-compulsive for billing purposes, it's also about evaluating your past use of time in order to better predict your future consumption of time, and to identify possible problem areas, eg: your time spent handling email has doubled in the last two weeks - why?

                            The main approaches that I've seen to logging time spent are the passive timer, the retrospective log book, and the nagging timer:
                            • The passive timer is simply a stopwatch-type system which lets you total up the number of minutes you have been spending on a task - you switch timers as you switch tasks (eg: Titrax or Slimtimer).
                            • The retrospective log book (or "Time sheet") is a record filled out at some point in time which indicates how much time you think you spent on stuff through the day.
                            • The nagging timer is something which interrupts you regularly to prompt you to update your retrospective log book more frequently than once a day (eg: JTimeTracker).

                            What I haven't seen used much is any way of working with the output of these systems other than generating invoices.

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