Have you ever felt you're not doing as much as you want to do in a day or feel like your day flies by?
One of the most effective ways to identify the causes is by tracking your time. It can give you data on how you spend your time which you can use to optimise your day. And for some people, it's an essential habit to stay productive and get the most out of each day.
Time tracking has never been my kind of thing, but I decided to do an experiment for one month where I tracked my activity. In this article, I want to share the tool I used and how tracking your time can help you stay focused, motivated and productive.
It's been a frustrating few weeks for me because I had many days where I felt I got nothing done. At the end of each day in my bed, I was just wondering "where did my time go?"
To understand why, I thought of tracking my time as a fun experiment because, it might be cliche, but as people say, what gets measured gets managed.
If you want to improve something, the first step for me is to measure it to quantify it. It's the same reason why people get a fitness tracker when they want to get healthy; a tracker gives you quantitative data which helps you become aware of your problems. With that feedback, you can take some actions to fix the problems.
It's a similar logic as what Jay Shetty mentioned in his book Think Like a Monk where he said: whenever you face an issue, at first you have to become aware of it. Next, pause to address where the issue comes from. Finally you take action to amend the problem. Aware, Address and Amend. Tracking is a great tool to get to the first step Aware.
Now, how do we track our time? There are different tools we can use. You could keep a record on a note-book, which is similar to interstitial journaling that I talked about in a video before. This is a free option, but of course it's a little cumbersome and you probably forget to keep a record at some points.
Similarly, many digital time tracking tools are manual, meaning you have to remember to log how you spend your time which is actually why I hated time tracking because I can't be bothered to do that every hour.
All those things considered, I decided to go with Rize. I actually used it for a few days for review a while ago and remembered it was such a beautifully designed time-tracker with lots of useful features.
But like I said, there are a bunch of other time-tracking tools too such as Rescue Time, Timely and Toggl. Each one is great, but for my purpose, Rize was perfect because it has automatic time-tracking, useful charts to analyse how I spend my time and a minimalistic user interface that's easy to navigate, all of which are great for lazy people like me.
After tracking my time for one month, I noticed a few things that could be useful for you too.
Tracking your time is the best way to find your time thieves. I found out the culprits of stealing my time the most –– Discord and the browser. Many people use some kind of messaging apps like Slack and Discord on their laptop every day for work or personal conversations. Personally I use Discord. It turns out I open it many times in a day even during focus sessions. The blue vertical bars indicate the times I checked new messages on Discord.
This type of context switching makes it much harder for you to regain the prior level of concentration. If you have a similar issue, I'd recommend turning off the notifications and choosing a specific time when you're allowed to check the new messages.
Also, the other culprit is the browser. It seems I use it often to google totally random things that pop up in my head even when I'm focusing, like "what is the difference between sea and ocean?" or "why are cats scared of cucumbers?". I'm pretty sure it's not just me to get completely irrelevant thoughts like this when you're working. The problem with me is that I give in to those temptations and google them, which is a lot of context switching.
My solution for this issue is batching. Whenever I get a random thought, I write it down on a sticky note or my task list. Then when I have free time, I batch google all of them at once. This way, you can avoid context switching.
For me, morning is the most productive time of any day because I have the most will power. So I try to do important tasks early in the morning. But I noticed I procrastinate a lot before getting to work by going on Youtube or Twitter. Sometimes this goes on until 10 am.
I think it's a bad habit that I didn't even know I had until I started tracking my time. Since it's definitely a primary time-thief, I've been trying to replace it with a better habit like reading 3 pages of a book or replying to messages.
This is something I found really helpful about time-tracking; it lets you find your bad habits you weren’t even aware of.
A main benefit of tracking your time I noticed is it makes you more conscious of how you spend your time. Because you know your activities will be on the record, it makes you pause and think whenever you get tempted to go to Youtube or do something unproductive. I think this is a similar reason why some people like to livestream their study or work session because being seen by somebody else makes you more accountable. In that sense, time-tracker is a very useful tool to resist the urge to procrastinate and keep yourself accountable.
Tracking my time also seems to be helping me quit another bad habit –– multi-tasking. I used to think being good at multi-tasking was something you should be proud of, so much that I have put that on my CV as my strength. But it turns out our brains are not built for multi-tasking. Every time we multi-task, we're just dividing up our focus and dumping down the outcomes. Therefore doing one thing at a time is more efficient and leads to better outcomes.
In this aspect, tracking my time helped me mono-task more since it shows me the data on how much I actually multi-task and switch context.
There have been a few days where I just don't feel like getting out of bed to do anything. It usually comes after a day when I worked too many hours. It's not easy to avoid overworking because sometimes it seems like you have an endless amount of things to do. But tracking my time made it a little bit easier to spot red flags for burnout. Some time-tracking tools like Rize gives you a notification when you're working too much or when you're working without a break for a while. It's a simple nudge, but helps me remember to have some downtime.
Since I started tracking my time, something I look forward to every day is to see the log of how I spent my day. When I see lots of successful focus sessions, it gives me a sense of accomplishment, which I think is a great system because you get rewarded with the feeling for focusing on your study or work. Keeping yourself motivated is hard, but tracking your time might be able to help.
I do my weekly review every Sunday where I reflect on the week and prepare for the next. It usually involves a list of tasks which I covered in my previous video.
But one of them is to journal about what went well, what didn't, and what I can do to make the next week better. I always find this exercise a little challenging just because I don't clearly remember what I did each day of the week. But having a detailed record of my days makes it much easier to reflect and plan for the next week.
It started as a fun experiment, but it ended up becoming an important part of my workflow. If you've never tracked your time before, there are actually many unexpected things you can learn from it. Until recently, time-tracking was tedious because you had to manually log your activities. But now you have a few tools that automatically do tracking for you.
If you do decide to use Rize like me, I want to give you a few tips for getting the most out of it.
First of all, you should read the user guide at the beginning. Rize is simple, intuitive and easy to use, but the user guide helped me a lot to understand how each feature is meant to be used and what you can take away from the graphs and charts.
Secondly, use custom categories to get an accurate result. As Rize tracks your activities in the background, it will categorise each website and app you use such as writing, messaging and browsing.
But sometimes these categories cannot accurately describe your activities. In which case, you should create a custom category. This will make it easier to analyse your tracking result later.
Also, this is optional but I like to apply a project tag to each focus session so I can see how much time I spent on which project. For example, I spend most of my time writing many days a week. But it's not clear which writing project I was working on, so it's helpful to add labels to each session.
If it's writing, it could be the title of articles or video scripts you're working on. This will give you a much more clear insight into where your time went.
Finally, if you're trying to stay away from overworking, using the break timer in Rize can be handy. It's kind of like the pomodoro timer, but it gives you a notification when you work without a break for more than a certain amount of time. For instance, my timer is set 50 mins which means I get a notification to take a break if I keep working non-stop for 50 mins. It's a simple hack but I find it really helpful –– I can get a cup of coffee or stretch during the break and go back to work refreshed.
The idea of time-tracking has been around for quite a while but it's never been so easy mostly because you had to do it manually which was incredibly cumbersome. But now, there are much better tools that do most of the job for you. So, I think it's a good time to try one and track your time for a week or month. You may be surprised to see there are lots of things you can learn from it.
If you decide to use Rize, you can download it from the link in the description and a discount code from ProductHunt.