Timing Tasks

Apr 4, 2016
Joe Buhlig
~3 mins

In a previous role I spent some time researching project management software and evaluating it for company use. One of the turn-offs that my end users brought up was an extreme distaste for running a stopwatch on the tasks being tracked. I get it. No one wants to be stuck to a clock, especially when those reviewing the numbers are your managers.

I didn’t want to go that route either. I’ve always had a resistance to due dates, but some of it was fear that the data would be used against me. It would be hard not to compare my times to that of my coworkers. It wouldn’t matter if I came out better or not, quality of work would no longer be the main consideration if speed took over as the primary indicator.

When I started working for myself, I finally came around to the idea of starting a stopwatch at the beginning of every new task. The data was staying in my own hands. It could help me maximize my time without the potential for negative consequences. So I set up a process with Launch Center Pro to help track my time.

My intent was to understand where I spent the most time and look for places to cut back. I was seeking maximum impact for the least amount of time spent since every action I take can directly influence my income. But after timing my work for a while, I found there were more benefits to starting that stopwatch than I expected.

History

The first of these was my original (and only) intent: a record of how much time I spend on tasks. Keeping track of how much time I spend on tasks helps me see if I’m allocating too much of my day to one activity. I can’t say that I had any big aha moments as I’ve looked through the data, but it’s at least interesting to see how much time goes into writing an article or designing and building a website.

Estimations

Once I know how long something usually takes, I can estimate how much time to allocate to a task prior to starting. The past is the most accurate indicator of the future. This is why it’s so dangerous (and manipulative) to make even slight changes to history books and data records. If you want to honestly understand where you currently stand and how something will pan out in the future, you can study the past and see how things work out. History is an indicator for our actions in the present. The same is true for the time it takes to complete a task. The more we know about our completed tasks, the better we are at predicting the outcomes of our current and future tasks.

Self-Competition

If we know how much time something usually takes us and we are about to begin a similar task, we have a benchmark to compare against. We have a time to beat. I think this holds the most value if you are the sole owner of the data and want to get better at the task. You can choose to let the time go longer if you’re working to improve the quality or you can work on speed if you’re trying to gain efficiency. In both cases, though, you know and understand your goal.

Focus

I was caught off-guard by this one. When I start that timer, I know that I’ll be recording the number when I’m done. The time will go into storage and into the broader history of the data I’ve stored. The last thing I want to do is have that number include tasks outside of what I recorded. It will muddy the waters with false data, and I cannot stand false data. If I spend 10 minutes checking Twitter in the middle of designing a logo and I record it as time spent designing, the record is incorrect. So I take advantage of my loathing for bad data sets and use it to stay focused on the task.

Everything?

Absolutely not. Don’t be crazy. You should not have a stopwatch running when you’re having coffee with your spouse. Only time the tasks that need a record or that tend to get away from you. Leisure and play should be allowed to roam. Tasks for work or your side projects are likely the primary commitments worth timing. Those are typically the only areas where we strive for efficiency and focus. It doesn’t work to be laser-focused while at the beach on vacation.