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Where Does The Time Go?

Where Does The Time Go?

Time = Money. The TimeTracker/LX and Timelogr programs for the HP Palmtop not only help you bill for your time but also help you make better use of the time that's left over.

by Joy Soto Kocar

If you're like me, the question "Where does the time go?" arises all too often. My right-brained thinking gets the better of me and I lose my focus. I end up going willy-nilly between tasks, much to my own chagrin.

At the same time I have to keep close track of my time since I charge for my services by the hour. How I spend my time has a direct impact on my bottom line, and knowing the details helps me in future job estimates.

I decided that the left side of my brain could use some help keeping me in focus and keeping my business in the black. So I spent a small amount of time and found not one but two software tools for tracking billable time. I soon discovered that they both could serve as great time management tools.

Time Tools

The first tool is TIMELOGR.WK1. It's a spreadsheet program developed for the HP Palmtop. It was written by Ben Miller, who contributed it to the HPHAND library on CompuServe. The other tool is the commercially available TIME TRACKER/LX program created by D&A Software. It is designed specifically for the HP Palmtops and has the familiar look and feel of the built-in applications.

TIMELOGR maintains a database of tasks, the time spent, and the billings for each session. It keeps a running total by session, by day, by week, along with a grand total for the entire spreadsheet. TIMELOGR has its own menu system with a rather complete set of macros. It's a very well conceived and executed spreadsheet (Screen 1).

Screen 1: Opening Screen of TIMELOGR

TIMETRACKER/LX also maintains a database of tasks, showing the date, start time, duration, category information, and memo in tabular form. It's more flexible than the TIMELOGR spreadsheet in organizing the data and showing summary information in a variety of ways (Screen 2).

Screen 2: Opening screen of TIMETRACKER/LX (Demo).

How I've Used These Tools

For sure I use these tools to keep track of billable time. It's much easier (and more accurate) to keep track of my time electronically than manually. Having it on the palmtop guarantees that I'll do it! At any given moment, I can determine exactly how much time I've spent for a client or a project. If I'm maintaining a timesheet for a client I can transfer the totals at the end of the day to my desktop for printing. Though both the time tracking programs have report printing capabilities I've yet to find the time to explore this feature.

Doing Business With Timelogr

Whenever I start a project I can press ALT-S, enter the client or other identifier and the billing rate. When I'm done, I press ALT-F. That's it! If I need to make changes to the times, I press ALT-E. For billable time, I use a 4-letter project identifier, which I also use as a prefix to name all files relating to the project (Screen 3).

Screen 3: TIMELOGR Report (Demo).

Over the course of the day, I can see subtotals for the session, day and week, and total billings for the spreadsheet. All of this is done automatically.

TIMELOGR has some handy sorting capabilities. Chief among them is the data in column C which is used to categorize the session by client, project, etc. If I'm keeping a timesheet for the day, I press ALT-C to get the day's totals for each category.

Keeping Track Of Business With TimeTracker/LX

TIMETRACKER/LX automatically opens the last active log. To start an entry I simply press F2 (Add), which creates a new entry based on the last selected entry, containing the current date and time as the start time and default values for the Activity, Client, and Project fields. When I'm done with the task, I just press F7 (Stop Now). That's all it takes (Screen 4)!

Screen 4: TIMETRACKER/LX Category Listing (Demo).

TIMETRACKER/LX has a super-category called Category, with sub-categories called Client and Project. In advanced mode, the Activity can be linked to multiple Client, Project and Category selections. I use the Activity field to classify my tasks, such as: Design, Develop, Manage, Analysis, etc. I associate an entry with a Client and Project. I also link each Activity type to a Billable, Overhead, or Personal super-category. Although TIMETRACKER/LX allows multiple links in advanced mode, I prefer to make them exclusive to these three. TIMETRACKER/LX also has a Memo field that not only lets you jot down notes but also has some calculation capabilities. For example, I can adjust the cost, override the duration time, override the hourly rate or, if I have a fixed number of hours to work on a project, I can keep track of the remaining time (Screen 5).

Screen 5: TIMETRACKER/LX Options Let You Pick An Editor.

TIMETRACKER/LX log files are compact, compared to TIMELOGR, though the program itself consumes more memory. TIMETRACKER/LX allows me to trim the log, depending on the filter I specify, and save to an archive. By setting no filters, I can clear the log, but still maintain the structure (i.e. categories), which is a great time saver.

In an instant, TIMETRACKER/LX allows me to view my data in a variety of ways, either with filters or views. I can select individual records with the Spacebar, and choose Only Marked on the Filter menu. I can set the filter for the current date and get a synopsis for the day which gives the number of hours logged and billed.

Evaluating My Time Usage

More significantly, I also use both these programs as time management tools. All too often, I suspect that I'm not using my time in the most effective manner. I've used both TIMETRACKER/LX and TIMELOGR to confirm these suspicions.

Time management authorities recommend keeping a time log to get a clear picture of how you spend your time. They advise doing so at least once a year or when your situation changes significantly. How we think we use our time can be wildly different from how we actually spend it. Both TIMETRACKER/LX and TIMELOGR make it quite easy to keep track of where I've squandered my time. When doing a time usage analysis I like to keep my log constantly open, so that I can make entries on-the-fly.

As far as keeping track of billable time, both programs fill the bill. However for time usage analysis, I prefer TIMETRACKER/LX primarily because it allows me to pick from a list of categories or speed search. I simply start typing what I'm looking for and each keypress jumps to the first matching category. This reduces the effort in making entries. As far as changes are concerned, if I want to rename a category, I simply use the Edit menu, make my changes, and it is reflected throughout. In TIMELOGR I would need to search and replace all entries manually.

The little conveniences that TIMETRACKER/LX provides, has made an otherwise tedious exercise more bearable and even at times enjoyable. I find myself wondering, how much time do I really spend doing "office-organizing." All I need to do with TIMETRACKER/LX, is to add another Activity: simply select Edit Activities (F4) then F2 (Add), enter the name, associate any categories, edit the hourly rate, and press F10 when done. The Activity type is now always available.

I use the Resource column to indicate the level of importance and urgency. For example, I set A = Vital (urgent *and* important), B = Important (but not urgent), C = Limited value (urgent but not important), D = Complete waste of time (neither urgent nor important). Anything that will give me insight.

I never used to be able to make the tracking exercise last the full week. Ironically, it seemed like such a waste of time, but with these tools, especially TIMETRACKER/LX, I was astounded to discover that I was maintaining 24-hour logs for over a week!

The reason I tend to do a 24-hour log is to get a complete picture of how I spend my time. It seems like the work day never ends, and neither do the chores. How is that? Luckily I have a very flexible schedule so I can intermingle tasks. TIMELOGR assumes that a session occurs in a single day, in other words, it doesn't extend over 2 days. So when doing a 24-hour log, I enter the time I go to bed then finish that session at 11:59 p.m. and start another session at 12:01 a.m. for the following day. When I get up, I finish that session. TIMETRACKER/LX doesn't have this same restriction.

I try to check myself every 30 minutes or so and make entries as necessary. It's better to make entries every time I shift activities so that I don't miss anything. Unfortunately my tendency is to shift my attention too frequently. I have to remind myself to FOCUS: Follow One Course Until Successful, a nice acronym I picked up from a time management book.

I ask the following questions, to try to keep myself focused:

- What is the best use of my time now?

- Am I wasting my time?

- Is there a way to simplify this task?

I dare not wait until the end of the day to make entries as my memory is never as accurate as I think. I've noticed that by entering activities on the Palmtop as I do them, I become painfully aware of how I'm spending my time. This has a subtle way of forcing me to be more selective of what I do.

Making Sense Of It All

So, I have all this data, now what do I do with it? Here again, I use the handy filters and views. The view I use the most is the Activity Totals. It gives me all the hours logged for each activity type, and the total time logged. From this I can calculate the percent time spent on each and the average number of hours spent per day. In the future I plan to export the information to a spreadsheet and have calculations done more automatically.

I can also use filters and views in combination. For example, I can set the filter for the current date, and then use the Activity Totals view. This gives me the breakdown for the day. When it's time to review my log, I try to consider the following:

Look for any patterns. For example, what size are the chunks of time I generally use? If that is intrinsic to the job then I must learn to break up tasks to fit those time chunks.

Who or what caused the most interruptions? Are they built into the job? If so, schedule them in. This doesn't hold true however, for toddlers. "Okay Junior, you can interrupt me between 11:00 and 11:30 a.m. today." Not likely.

How many things did I do that I planned to do? How many things did I put off? In other words, to what extent did I achieve my main goals for the day?

Was my time spent in proportion to my priorities? How much of my time was spent on high priority tasks compared to the low priority tasks. What low priority tasks can be eliminated? This tells me what busywork I used to successfully procrastinate.

What activities could I spend less time on and still obtain acceptable results? I like this one a lot, because it has prevented me from obsessing over details.

What activities could have been delegated? Not too many options here for a small business such as mine.

What telephone calls, meetings, or visits could have been reduced or even eliminated?

How might I consolidate or eliminate routine tasks?

Did I take time out just for myself? I hardly ever pass this test.

What do I want to spend more time doing? Less time?

Most importantly, am I happy with the way I've spent my time? (Trick question.)

I find the following general time management tips from Lehmkuhl & Lamping to be the most helpful. They are geared for right-brain dominant people like me.

Decide what to do first, since divergent thinking produces multiple possibilities.

To avoid bouncing from one activity to another, choose the best time for a given activity.

Concentrate on one aspect of a project at a time.

Make a realistic estimate of how long each task will take.

Do difficult things during peak times-the time of day (or even week) when I am most productive. Conversely, I schedule my "brain dead" tasks during my energy valleys.

I'm never able to address all factors, but just solving one, puts me that much farther ahead of the game. In fact, I limit it to only one so I can focus on it without feeling overwhelmed or dejected about my poor time management. I have to remind myself that it generally takes 21 days of persistently and consistently performing an action before it becomes a habit. I can't allow myself to make exceptions. The minute I do, that's the end of it. At this rate I may be quite organized by the time I'm 80!

In the end, I usually find that I do have more discretionary time than I had thought. It may take me 20-30 minutes to drink a cup of coffee, but usually I also spend it in contemplation. I just hadn't considered it as leisure time before. In fact, by categorizing each item with an Activity, I realized that some tasks are indeed leisure. Once I had identified them as such, I seemed to enjoy them more; I must've been "contaminating" my free times by not appreciating them enough.

Another revelation from this particular exercise, is that I haven't been taking advantage of small time chunks that pop up in a day, especially with a toddler. I've learned to keep a Quickie ToDo list in my LIFEMGMT.GDB database. It's amazing how much work or chores can get done in these windows of time.

The biggest time waster of all, was that I didn't spend enough time planning for the next day. There it was, rather, there it wasn't in my log.

It's Time To End

I'm always looking for tips and resources for simplifying, streamlining, and organizing. This is a continuous battle against my natural, right-brain tendencies; so I welcome, and deeply appreciate any that you would care to share.

Put Time On Your Side!

Commercial products mentioned in this article

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