How I track time a little better

I do not like tracking time. But, in our business, as in many businesses, it is a necessary task. For the last month, I’ve been experimenting with a better way to track time. So, here’s the best way I’ve found to track time that doesn’t interrupt my workflow and also does not involve the downloading-of-some-app-on-my-machine.

Start with a sortable to-do list

I’ve written about how I use Tadalist to organize my next 48 hours pretty extensively. Here’s a whole chapter on it. For the rushed, here’s the gist:

  • Set up 4 dividers in your to-do list (“Today”, “Tomorrow”, “Two days from Now”, “Future”). If your app doesn’t support dividers (Tadalist, for one), then just make to-do items that you never check off.
  • As you get more tasks, file them under the appropriate divider.
  • Once you finish a to-do, check it off.
  • If you don’t get to certain things, they’ll be left in your “Today” bucket, for tomorrow.
  • At the end of the day, re-arrange your to-dos in the right buckets for tomorrow. Usually this just means two drags: Drag “Tomorrow” just above “Two days from now” and “Two days from now” just above “Future”.
  • Repeat this daily for the rest of your life.

The “Done for the Day” divider

While this is a great way to keep me on top of my day, there’s a problem: It doesn’t help me track time. When I checked things off, they disappeared into the ether. It didn’t help me track what I did that day.

The tweak? I’ve added a 5th divider, at the bottom, called “Done for the Day”. When I finish a to-do, I do not check it off. I drag it under “Done for the Day.” At the end of the day, I have a bunch of “Done for the Day” items. I then go home.

The next day, the very first thing I do (after I make coffee and put the dishes back into the cupboard) is track time. It usually takes less than 5 minutes. I have a list of things I did in front of me, and yesterday is still fresh enough in my head to remember that Client X’s website took me most of my morning and the Client Y’s bug fix was only 15 minutes of my time. Once I’ve tracked time, I then check these items off for good.

This is the best way I’ve found to keep accurate times consistently without having it become a terribly distracting part of my day.