Is Time Tracking Anti-Productive?

January 28, 2015

8:00 pm

I’m all about productivity. Or, at least, I’m all for the notion of it – not necessarily the everyday practice of it – but, then again, who can honestly say that they operate on maximum productivity every day?  Generally, though, I’m productive on most of my days, but this productivity has come from years of practice, and the tactics I use to maximize productivity changes frequently – I’m always attempting new ways to fully utilize my time. One strategy that I use is time tracking; it’s a concept that involves tracking the amount of time you spend doing X activity (whether that’s writing an article or watching television), and adjusting the rest of your schedule or your future schedules to accommodate for the time that’s been spent. While undeniable that time tracking can work for many people, there’s a point at which tracking our activities can actually lead to less overall productivity.

Nowadays, with our smartphones readily available in our hands – all with the capability to download a limitless number of productivity apps, it’s easy to get too caught up in time tracking our activities or planning how much time we’ll spend on those activities, that we actually decrease our overall productivity. In a recent Fast Company interview with renowned productivity speaker and author Laura Stack (who goes under the nickname “The Productivity Pro”), Stack suggests that we’re maybe wasting too much of our time tracking the things on which we waste too much of our time.

“Why are we wasting time figuring out how much time we’re wasting? People are spending far more time creating these elaborate systems than it would have taken just to do the task. You’re constantly on your app refiguring, recalculating, recategorizing,” says Stack. “A better strategy would be [returning] to the core principles of good time management. Block out time on your calendar for the non-negotiable things. [Or] have an organized, prioritized task list.”

Unless you’re actually tracking that time to your advantage – anticipating ahead of time how much you’ll spend on the same or similar activities, and acting upon past observations (such as making sure to fall within those same time constraints when doing a previously tracked activity) –  then there’s no point in time tracking; time tracking for the sake of time tracking is null and doesn’t help you in any given way. And, as someone who regularly time tracks his activities, there’s definitely that point at which you find yourself having just spent 30 minutes trying to plan out the rest of your day, estimating how much time it will take to accomplish each of the tasks on your to-do list – 30 minutes that could have been spent actually working on completing those tasks.

That’s not to say that time tracking isn’t useful or that it should be ruled out as a productivity tactic. Indeed, in the case of freelancers and of people who bill by the hour, time tracking is essential – both unable to operate without time tracking in place. Rather, before considering time tracking, think about the time of person you are and consider whether you’d actually change your behavior after tracking your activities.

Read more: “The Perils of Time Tracking”, Fast Company

(H/T Lifehacker)

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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