I’m at my best when I’m on the clock.
That’s not just a euphemism for procrastinating until a deadline. I am consistently, measurably better at getting things done when I consistently measure what I’m getting done.
That’s always been true for me at work, especially starting in 2006 when I flourished like a unruly weed when paired with a project management system that allowed me to track my billable hours. Knowing what my to-do list consists of and how long I spend doing it is a huge motivator for me. I guess it was my own version of “gamification” before that became a hip thing to do to everything in your life.
It hasn’t always been as easy to find the same productivity alchemy at home. I always have long-term goals and near-term projects I’m working on, but I don’t exactly have billable hours. Who is there to charge, aside from myself? Left to my own devices I’ll always pick the thing that is the most fun or the most methodical – which works out frequently to rehearsing, occasionally as laundry, and hardly ever as cleaning the bathroom.
I’ve found a website and an app that both nip that occasional path-of-least-resistance listlessness in the bud, but from slightly different directions.
ToDoist: a tasklist website and app
First, there’s ToDoist. I found it over the summer after demoing over a dozen task management systems online to help my wrangle dozens of things I was hoping to get done. Some of the services were no-frills checklists, while others were practically their own personal Outlook installation.
ToDoist falls closer to the former side of the scale – it’s a simply, obvious checklist that allows you to group tasks into projects and set deadlines and priorities.
When I checked out other systems, I discovered the lack of projects and priorities to be a real dealbreaker. If you can’t organize your tasks or give them some sense of order then you might as well be working with a pen and paper – which is cool and all, but I wanted something dynamic that worked from any internet connection as well as on my phone.
ToDoist does the trick, and for a mere $2 a month you can add improved filtering, tagging, searches, and reminders – totally worth it!
ToDoist meant I was actually crossing things off my list of at-home to-dos – awesome! However, it lacked one feature I really treasure about entering billable hours at work – the ability to perform an audit on what I was spending (wasting?) the most time on. I find that’s a useful exercise to undergo both at work and at home to normalize your expectations … like, your commute is always 45 minutes, so stop being so sure you can leave work late and still get home by six!
Timesheet: a time tracker app for Android
I needed a super-straightforward phone app – effectively, just a stopwatch for tasks. I found my match in a free app called TimeSheet.
It’s the perfect tool for a freelancer or home project enthusiast. You can set up multiple projects, each with a client and a billable rate. When you start working you simply start the clock on your project! When you’re done you stop the clock and wind up with a handy task summary that breaks out your billability and allows you to add expenses and notes. You can also add tasks after the fact without the clock, and export your data to Excel.
Is this overkill for a week or two of auditing how I spend my time? A little. But, you don’t have to use all of those features. Heck, you could use it just for one thing you are trying to bring more of in your life, like working on your NaBloPoMo book or mixing your band’s new album.
(Not that I need extra motivation to do either of those.)
(Okay, maybe just a little.)
In just three days I found out that I’m getting way more sleep than I used to, and that my commute takes up a lot more time in aggregate than I realized – so I should find something productive to do while I’m in transit. I also decided I could be spending a minimum of time each day doing other things (a-hem: blogging), so I added projects for those too.
There you have it – two free productivity tools that can help you get a better handle on your time. I’m totally into them both, so hopefully you can find some use for them too.
Now it’s your turn: What productivity tool are you crushing on lately? Is it super-techy, or as simple as a pen and paper?