Last month, I had an unexpected breakthrough in my productivity. Our developers were finishing up our time tracking app (launching soon!), and asked the team to bug test it. I started tracking the time on all my tasks and I had a few amazing realizations.

Here is what I learned from tracking my own time for a month, and why I have permanently integrated it into my workflow:

Forced to Focus

There is something about hitting a timer, that makes you really focus on the task at hand. Maybe you just want to beat the clock, or beat your own estimate of how long a task would take.

I have found myself, multiple times, veering off my task to chase a stray thought, only to catch myself with a reminder that the timer is ticking. This pulls me back to the task and keeps me on track. I find it works even better if you set an allotted time. For example, if I set 2 hours for writing this post, I know that I need to stay on task to hit or beat that estimate. Even if nothing is riding on me completing it on time, there is still intrinsic motivation and a feel good endorphin rush from completing a task on time.

Harness the power of compressed time

Parkinsons law suggests that “Work expands so as to fill the time available for it’s completion”. This is especially true in offices that have a “butt in the seat” approach to worker productivity. Many make the mistake of confusing busy with productive, and as a result many hours are wasted to unproductive busy work.

But something magical happens when we start imposing time constraints.

The same amount of work can get done, in much less time. This is referred to as compressed time, and it explains why innovative companies like TreeHouse can get just as much done on a 4-day workweek as those with a 5-day workweek. Leadership consultant Peter Bregman wrote in a recent article of the Harvard Business Review that compressed time is “the single most life-changing, business-transforming revelation of my last five years”

The data shows that constraints are great for creativity, but they also have a measurable impact on productivity. Here is how you can use a timer to reap the benefit of time compression in your own work. First, time yourself doing a task without any goal of how long it should take. The next time you need to do a similar task, set a goal to get the work done in 60% of the time that it previously took. Really commit yourself to hitting that goal without compromising quality. Time yourself and observe the power that time compression has on your ability to focus.

Learn how long tasks really take

If you have never tracked your time, but had someone ask you how long you think it would take for you to complete a task, you know it can be difficult to judge these things. Knowing how long tasks take make it much easier for you to structure your day and make sure you get in your Big Rocks. It will also give you a better idea of how much more responsibility or work you can take on.

I think everyone might gain some benefit from tracking their own time. Time tracking may sound like something that only hourly employees have to deal with. It may bring to mind visions of a time card and punching in and out. But the truth is, many technology workers HAVE to track their time.

This biggest use of time tracking is within agencies where people need to track their billable hours so the team needs to be very accurate in tracking the time they spend on the project. Outside this group, very few white collar technology workers track their time and many get uncomfortable at the thought of it. I am here to tell you that tracking your own time can be a great way to break through the most common productivity killers.

So there you have it, time tracking isn’t just for overbearing managers or for calculating billable hours. It’s a fantastic tool for sharpening your own habits and productivity. If you are a TeamGantt user, and would like to beta test our new time tracking feature, let support know and they can turn it on for you.

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