Time tracking is a very emotive subject with even the mention of the words likely to cause offense or an immediate defensive stance. This is hardly surprising when many peoples experience of time tracking is either a corporate Orwellian nightmare or a misguided attempt to attribute cost to projects or initiatives.

Many years ago when I worked in a call centre they had a tracking system built into the phones with a series of codes to enter for reasons that included breaks and visiting the toilet. It’s not clear what they were trying to measure with the latter, perhaps they were interested in who had the weakest bladder? It was all very creepy, not helped by the knowledge that a supervisor spent most of the time watching the real time statuses of all the staff and checked on people who had been on extended toilet breaks. Unfortunately for many sectors this has only got worse and worryingly the supervisors are being replaced with AI.

In spite of my bad experiences of time tracking, I’ve recently decided to start tracking my own time within work. The motivation for this is that in a technical leadership role my own time becomes subjected to the System Trap of Tragedy of the Commons. I have multiple people, initiatives, aims, requests all fighting for my attention.

For a while I have been using an Eisenhower Matrix to help determine where I should spend my time, but the missing data is how much of my time I am spending on this versus other day-to-day activities. This is where I believe the time tracking data would be useful. There is also a possibility of using this data to educate those who are fighting for my time, as visualising and educating is a way out of this System Trap.

My Minimum Viable Product(MVP) for time capture is using a Google Sheet to record the time data and the various activity ‘tags’ that I wish to record time against. With this data recorded it is straightforward to build visualisations of the information.

An image of my time tracking system

In the image above it shows the visualisation that I use in my time tracker. For a selected start date and number of days it will generate a log of the activities and a pie chart of the percentage of each activity tag.

What have I learned so far? I’ve noticed that there is an element of Observer Effect occurring. The fact that I am now recording what I’m doing has caused me to think more about how I am using my time. It certainly seems like I am procrastinating less and being more selective about which activities I am doing.

It is only an experiment at the moment and it will be interesting to see whether I stick to it and whether it proves to be useful information (is the value of the information worth the measurement?). Perhaps I should also be mindful that I never get to the level of adding toilet breaks!

If you’d like to try this out yourself there is a public copy of my spreadsheet that you can take a copy of here.