Figure Out How (Un)Productive You Really Are
How a simple time tracker can make you feel more in-tune with your work & serve as motivational tool
Sim Adriana - Ioana
If lounging on the couch were a job description, I’d ace that position. In fact, I love being a couch potato so much that I decided to work from home so that I can merge my passion for comfiness and loungewear with an actual career such as blogging and content creation.
However, there’s a downside to fuzzy wool socks and sipping coffee by the fire. It doesn’t feel like work.
Working from home poses its unique challenges because we don’t measure it. Estimating how much work we put in has a lot to do with our inner monologues and how we treat ourselves.
I tend to underestimate the effort I put in every day and end up feeling discouraged and disappointed in myself. Someone else might have an entirely different attitude and grossly overestimate their work. They would then wonder why things aren’t progressing according to plan.
Both attitudes are wrong: feeling discouraged will eventually lead to giving up while being too confident when you’re slacking is an illusion from which you’ll inevitably wake up.
There’s a simple solution for this — track your working hours. Professional freelancers know this, so why not act like one, even if your small hustle is still in the budding stages? After all, if you were to go to a regular 9–5 job, someone else would measure your time and evaluate your work.
“What doesn’t get measured doesn’t get managed.”
Even if these words were allegedly spoken by Lord Kelvin circ. 1883, they couldn’t be more relevant today. But to make tracking count, we should be careful not to overdo it. Otherwise, it may lose its power and become a hassle over time.
Despite my slightly obsessive tendencies, I resisted the urge to map out my entire day. I don’t measure the time I spend on housework, eating, exercising, and downtime. After all, I still need to feel like I have the freedom to do whatever I want but I also need the push to work towards a goal.
What I do measure is every minute spent working — my current job, my commute, and my time working from home — because I feel like work is so chaotically scattered throughout my day that I can’t estimate how long everything takes.
If I were to stick to a schedule, things would be much clearer, but I’m horrible with schedules. I rebel so hard against them that I dedicated an entire article to this subject.
I decided to track my time working from home for a simple reason: my hobbies started paying off. They were no longer hobbies — they had the potential to become legit businesses, and I was now spending nearly every waking hour, either working on them or thinking about them.
I know I’m not alone in this. Even if I’m not American, I can relate to the nearly 50% of American Millenials who take on side hustles to either follow their passions or supplement their incomes.
There was only one way to know if my “hard” work was indeed hard, and if it had the potential to pay itself off in the long run.
Enter: Clockify, a simple time tracker. That’s what I use, it’s free (and not sponsored), but you can replace it with your preferred tracker.
Here is a synthesis of my process: I divide my time into categories like “Dental Office,” “Medium,” “Website,” and soon “Youtube,” and then add subcategories such as “Writing,” “Website building,” “Research,” “Learning,” “Commute,” “Office Hours,” etc. This way, I have a much clearer view of the amount of time I spend on each task.
Not all work is created equal. Research and learning, or even tinkering with the WordPress settings on my website, will always be much easier than actual writing, filming, and editing — the tasks that bring the most value. That’s why setting them apart is so important.
Compelling reasons to track your working hours, even if you’re only “following your passion”
Every successful business has thousands of hours unaccounted for in its beginning stages. Maybe it starts as a hobby, or perhaps you’re determined to make things work, but you don’t really have a plan and are easily overcome by self-doubt. You most likely won’t keep a record of your winding path towards success, and that’s a shame.
When our work brings immediate rewards, it’s easy to stay motivated. The same goes for work that puts us “on the hook,” as Seth Godin would say, where we now have an obligation towards our clients. We have no choice but to deliver.
But when you’re just a student working towards your goals or a beginner entrepreneur, your work might feel tedious, repetitive, unappreciated, and unseen. It may take years to reap the benefits.
This is why tracking your time during these stages when you’re your own boss and working from home is crucial. You’ll be earning pennies, and your friends and family won’t really understand or appreciate what you’re doing. Those hours you put in will be your only metrics. Track them. Take them seriously.
For me, hitting play on my time tracker is motivating because I function on praise and rewards. Seeing those hours add up is my gold star and it serves as an internal motivation. Having a visual of my time turns into a challenge to keep my work as focused and compact as possible, instead of spreading it across an entire day with multiple breaks and interruptions.
Here are five more reasons to keep a log of all your hard work:
- You’ll stop lying to yourself. Your work will be there in black and white. You’ll no longer have a reason to complain that you’re not seeing results or get discouraged that you’re not spending enough time working. It’s a win-win for both personality types.
- A year from now, you’ll compare your accomplishments and the time spent working and see if all that effort was worth it or not. Hindsight is a beautiful thing when you have actual data.
- If you tend to be a workaholic, and as a result, your family life suffers, you’ll be able to see it for yourself and draw a line in the sand.
- If you used to spend the majority of time on low-quality tasks, selectively measuring your time will be the boost you need to “eat that frog” and start with the most important work.
- You’ll enter a state of “flow” more quickly because you won’t want to interrupt large blocks of work. You’ll also be more aware of all the breaks you’re taking (if you’re diligent and honest with your time tracking).
I put in 24 hours, 38 minutes, and 19 seconds of work on my side hustles last week, very unevenly spread across six days. I traveled for a couple of days and visited my parents over the winter holidays.
Before measuring this, if you were to ask me how much time I spent working that week, I’d probably estimate 12 hours. The remaining 12 hours were a combination of researching the ins and outs of WordPress, Google analytics, and other apparently menial tasks that were hard work and took a lot of time.
I could have watched Netflix during those hours or caught up on much-needed sleep, but I chose to productively lounge on my parents’ couch. The hours you spend figuring things out are still “work,” and tracking them will help you value your time even more.
Hopefully, I’ve motivated you to give this method a try. Treat your hustle like a business, and it will soon become one. With perseverance and steady effort, your time will soon turn into money as you’ll start touching other people’s lives.
Sim Adriana - Ioana