In praise of … Toggl

“I work longer hours than you” … is what so many of us think and occasionally brag.

Running a business so often means we have no defined hours and work can so easily creep into evenings and weekends. Not to mention weekend evening and even nights! We can sometimes add those hours up but are they all really work? I was shocked a few weeks ago to look at my own productivity. It was dire. All the long extra hours was but poor compensation for that problem at my and my family’s expense.

Which was a remarkable discovery in light of my old career in enhancing the productivity of both people and organisations as an Operational Researcher. Time to take my own medicine!

The basic problem is business has moved on from making products you can see and count. Making money was producing as many as possible at minimum cost to some specific quality. The skill of an OR investigator is to model, optimise it, get it implemented and check whether the result matched the prediction.

Success implied you were making good use of resources, both machines and people, Not over use as predicting when a system would break under pressure was crucial. Something that is too often forgotten in today’s environment when so many of us work in less defined environments, where we make the decisions on what we do minute to minute and there is not always oversight by a manager or supervisor.

We fool ourselves we are working hard, we don’t measure the time and way we might relax from heavy pressure before taking on the next stressful task. And, of course, we don’t have time to examine how we work.

I was looking for easy answers to the last point. I’m not sure how I came across it – probably a google search on ‘time management’ – but I discovered Toggl. As the ads claim “it changed my (work)life overnight”. To be honest it took three weeks and it changed my real ife too. I should add that I have no connection with Toggl other than as a happy user. There are bound to be a host of equally, or possibly better, alternatives which you may wish to Google.

All Toggl does is provide a sophisticated stopwatch for your desk, tablet or even smartphone where you can record in realtime what you are working on and categorise it into, say, revenue earning time by client, administration or whatever. The beauty of a cloud based system is that you will nearly always have a recording device at hand and what you start on one you can finish on the other.

Week 1 was dominated by getting used to pushing the button – and as you had to create a new project for many of the early clicks it was a bit awkward. By week two moving from one task to another was usually two clicks – or taps on a tablet or smartphone. Having done that something very obvious became apparent. I was ‘working’ less than 50% of the hours I was at my desk and under half that could be ascribed to directly creating revenue situations. Administration was the biggest kid on the block – and then some. But at least that is useful if not directly. Its the lost hours that were the real horror. It wasn’t just going to the loo, having lunch or coffee, a chat on the phone – social media sites sucked invisible hours away. And I don’t even do Twitter or Facebook!

The bottom line is after three weeks I have nearly doubled ‘productive’ hours and reduced out of hours working. I have also made the biggest impact ever on my Wunderlist To-Do lister. Maybe I should do a write up on that too? Well its given me enough time to write and publish this.

Oh, according to Toggle it took forty seven minutes …

Toggl

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