Personal time tracking with Toggl

My Time, Measured.

I’m always interested in finding ways to increase my personal productivity.

While there is much I want (need?) to get done in an average day, I’ve found that it’s very easy to either lose track of or incorrectly estimate the actual amount of time I’m spending on different activities. There have been more days than I care to remember where I will be getting ready to sleep and think – where did the time go?

The Idea

I recently finished reading Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You, a great book that seeks to dispel the notion of focusing too much on seeking your ‘true passion’ in your working life [I’ll cover the book in more depth in another post].

In the book, Cal interviews a venture capitalist who uses a time tracking spreadsheet to monitor his personal productivity. He sets weekly goals for different activity types and then tracks his time in 15 minute blocks to ensure that he keeps on track.

I like the idea of combing goal setting and time tracking – it makes you more accountable by easily being able to see how well you are sticking to your plan. But while a spreadsheet could certainly work for many people (as it does for the VC), I was pretty sure that if I want to track my time consistently and accurately what I really wanted was a relatively simple app I could have on me and keep updated at all times.

Enter ‘toggl’

After a quick bit of googling I came across toggle. The tagline for toggl is ‘insanely simple time tracking’ – seemingly perfect for my needs.

Very easy time entry

“Insanely simple” time entry

After signing up for the free web service and downloading the Mac and iOS apps I set to work creating a list of goals for different areas of life (reading, study, work, relaxation etc) in an Evernote document. I set these goals up in Toggl as individual ‘projects’ and then it is was a simple click of the ‘Start’ button to begin tracking each activity, and ‘Stop’ when I’m done.

At the end of each day I can quickly see what I’ve been spending my time on, and most importantly, by comparing these times to my Evernote document, how closely I’m keeping to my goals.

Is it working?

In a word – yes. A simple example of one of my goals: read a (real) book for at least 30 minutes every day. The reading has been easy to stick to – checking Toggl I can see that I actually managed 7 hours reading in the past week.

Using software to track has been quite eye opening in another way – it seems I had been quite inaccurate in my time estimates in the past, overestimating the amount of time I was doing some (usually taxing) activities while widely underestimating others, like relaxation (times flies when you’re having fun, right?).

Toggl has allowed me to be much more accurate, and increased my overall productivity by making sure that I am spending the right amount of time on the right activities.

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