Sunday, March 09, 2008

Going Old School With Time Tracking

About a year ago, my team began using a tool called Enterplicity to track projects as well as integrate time tracking. It is especially effective in managing large portfolios of projects and tracking them at executive levels.

However, I've personally been challenged when working with it. I stuggled to mesh my desire to have a time tracking tool be my task tracking tool. I felt that if I was working on something, I should have a task in this tool to track it. Unfortunately, life isn't that simple. Is it appropriate to have my project manager add tasks for each little piece of the app I'm working on? It would if I am using it as a task tracker.

Eventually I realized that I was losing productivity trying to get this tool to work for me rather than for the project manager. So, over the past month or so I've been working with a new system to keep track of my time.

It's old school. Paper and pen. Sounds crazy, but it's been highly effective.

Instead of trying to add everything into the tool, I decided it would be better to actually work the task, and then after some time, determine if it's something worth tracking at a granular level.

Enter a tool from David Seah, an interactive designer. Ryan Jacobs pointed me in the direction of David's Printable CEO series of PDFs, of which I've taken to the Emergent Task Timer. The Emergent Task Timer is a very simple bubble sheet with 15 minute increments. Each day, I write down the task I'm working on, be it, a Project Call, Admin (email sorting, HR crud), On-Call, Project coding general, Project coding specific, etc, and I simply fill the bubbles out at the day goes on. I don't have the 15 minute egg timer as is suggested, but I try to keep the thing updated about every hour. It has the added bonus of keeping the day moving and making sure I am working on something worthwhile. Filling out the bubbles means something. You don't want to have too many bubbles in Admin.

Why is this easier for me than Enterplicity? Two main reasons. I don't have to log into Enterplicity to track these random items, and I can very quickly look after a few days and see if it's worth requesting more granularity in the project plan. Once or twice a week, I log in, enter my items off of a task sheet (I generally get 2 or 3 days out of a single sheet) and move on. If the random item only took a couple of hours, I enter it into the general line item or the line item that closest matches what it is I needed to do. If it has been going on for two days, I'll ask the PM for a real task to track it.

I used to feel that Enterplicity hindered me in some respects. What I really wanted was for it to be like the ETT, but that's not what it is. It's a project management tool not a task management tool. Realizing that, and looking for my own productivity methods has been extremely freeing. Now I feel like my time in Enterplicity is accurate and useful to those doing analysis, when at times I just felt like it was in the way.

Moral of the story: Don't try to get the tool to conform to the way you do work. First, be productive. Then and only then, figure out how to deliver the accurate entries into the tracking tool your team uses.


Jordana said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jordana said...

Hi Mike! I will say, ditch the pen and the paper and check out Intervals ( This application has help us immensely in our webdesign firm. We track our time and apply it to every task that we have under the bigger umbrella of projects. Intervals will not only help your project manager but everyone else involved in each and every project.
Besides time tracking and project management, it helps manage budgets, invoices, clients; it produces reports etc.
It is set up in a way that allows you to work either project or task- based. You will not waist any more time tracking time or figuring out ways to keep productivity high.
Hope this works for you.

Mike said...

Nope, that won't work for me. Not nearly as productive, since I'm not always near a PC, and there is no guarantee that it will be available.

Besides, i already have that, it's called Enterplicity.

Dave said...

Hi Mike! I like your pragmatic and insightful approach to productivity, and it's especially cool that you've defined it for yourself and not let something else do that for you. I'm glad that the ETT struck a chord with ya!