One of my goals at the start of 2011 was to spend 50% of my time on in-house projects. This is an area of my business that I really want to grow, and I find that I often give too much priority to contract work, whilst my own apps get pushed to the side. It quickly occurred to me that the only way I was really going to know where my time was going would be to track what I was doing, for every minute I was at work.
Keep track of everything, you say? That’s crazy! Don’t worry, I hear you, and it did take a little getting used to. However, it’s really not that hard, and I believe the benefits are many. But we’ll get to that.
The software I use is called On The Job. You start off by defining a client (eg. myself), a project (eg. an app), and a task (eg. v1.1 update). You then hit the record button and get to work! Whenever you stop working, you hit the stop button – easy. In case you forget to hit stop, the app also has a timeout feature, where if you stop using your computer for a few minutes, it will throw up a prompt and ask what you’d like to do.
So what actually counts as work worth recording? The main thing I think is that it’s important to be honest. If I’m not sure, I pretend for a minute that I have a boss who has just come up become me unannounced – would he think I was working or slacking off? If I open up Facebook, I stop the timer. Reading blogs doesn’t count either, unless it’s for a specific purpose. If I’m on the phone with a client though, it’s all recordable – even if we’re just having a chat. For me, this counts as client interaction time. If I head out of the office for a meeting, I count the meeting time, but not the travel time – unless I’m working off my laptop on the train. Food breaks, toilet breaks, afternoon naps – all timer stoppers!
But why bother? That’s a lot of timer stopping and starting throughout the day. Now that I’ve been doing it for almost a whole year, I have some solid statistics about what I spend my day doing. I can see exactly how long I spend replying to support emails, chatting to clients, doing paperwork, and creating apps. I think it also helps to keep yourself focused – if I’m working on a particular task and an interruption occurs (eg. an email arrives), I’m much more likely to ignore the interruption, as I’m recording time against the first task. Where this gets really interesting though is comparing the hours to income – I can now see what my real income per hour/client is, and compare this to in-house development as well. Every client has overheads which you can’t charge for, so it’s very handy to see which clients have more overhead than others.
I think this post is getting long enough, so I’ll save some actual figures for next time. The new year is fast approaching though, so think about giving this a shot for 2012. It’s a fairly easy habit to get into, and you’ll gain a much better understanding of you, your business, and where you should focus your time.