Try This Dead-Simple Productivity Hack

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dead-simple productivity hackTo make the most of your side hustle hours, try this super-simple productivity hack: tracking your time.

There are a bunch of fancy apps that will do this for you (Toggl is one I’ve used in the past), but for my latest trial I just logged tasks and hours in an Excel sheet.

Each day as I fired up the laptop, I’d open my Time Tracker, make a note of what time it was and what I was working on.

How it Works

To set this up, all you need is a spreadsheet with a few columns:

  • Date
  • Start Time
  • End Time
  • Duration
  • Project
  • Notes

I started this mid-July and ran through early September (and resumed again this week because it’s powerful).

How it works is you just keep the sheet open all day and log tasks as you work on them.

On the surface, this adds a few seconds of “admin time” to each task, but I believe it’s time well spent.

Why it Works

I believe this works because it “gamifies” your work time. All of a sudden when I’m “on the clock” to complete a task, I’m more motivated to get it done efficiently.

I found myself jumping into email or social media with less frequency, and found myself more determined to see a task through to completion so I could cross it off and enter in a “stop time.”

This may be entirely placebo, kind of like the cold shower thing, but if something as simple as writing start and stop times in Excel can make me more focused, I’m OK with that.

And that’s not to say there aren’t any big unexplained gaps, breaks, or “staring off into space” time. That stuff still happens; it just happens less.

My buddy Tom Morkes reported a 238% increase in output after he started tracking his time.

Tiny psychology hacks for the win!

Note: I think you could even use this in your day job and see some fun results.

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Other Benefits

If you track your time consistently (and honestly), you’ll have some very interesting data after a few weeks.

Here’s how you may be able to use your Time Tracking results.

  1. Identify Tasks to Eliminate
  2. Identify Tasks to Delegate
  3. Identify Where Your Hours are REALLY Going

One thing I was curious to find out in this recent study was if certain tasks were really worth the time I put into them. If you don’t know how long they take, it’s much more difficult to make that call.

Time Tracking is HUGE for finding outsourcing opportunities. The first time I did this a few years ago, I found several hours of work a week that I soon was able to send off to a virtual assistant.

And perhaps most interesting, both for active income and passive income businesses, is finding out how much time it really takes to get things done.

Your Turn

Give the Time Tracking productivity hack a shot and let me know what you think. Do you find yourself getting more done simply by keeping track?

I’m ready for some untracked time — gotta go finish The Martian!

Want to see where my hours went? Stay tuned next week.

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14 thoughts on “Try This Dead-Simple Productivity Hack

  1. I’ve been tracking my time using Toggl for over a year. If you want to just track the time spent working on your computer, you can also use the pro version of RescueTime which gets down to the document level. But tracking is only really useful if you analyze, so build some time for a quarterly analysis into your schedule.

  2. I track my time almost constantly when I’m working because much of my work is hourly, but the part that is project-based I still track my time because I want to know how much I’m earning based on the time I put into the project, although that never has to be shared with the client.

  3. I use Freshbooks to track billable hours. The fun projects to track are the flat-rate ones. I still track my time then compare it against my hourly rate. If I beat my flat-rate, I win. If I would have made more $ at an hourly, then I know I have some adjustments to make.

  4. I agree with you on this point.

    I didn’t think of tracking time as an opportunity to find out what can be outsourced.

    I use the Harvest app since it allows me to start and stop whatever task I am working on from either my browser or my phone.

    I even use it to track non-billable hours just to see what I can improve in those areas.

    For example, I improved my own ability to multi-task while doing laundry, preparing a few meals, and taking out the trash all in one hour.

    There are a few other tools I use as well but tracking is a major tool to use.

  5. Great tip Nick!

    In my upcoming book I write about how college students should aim to set a goal for a specific time period, i.e. Get 10 math homework problems done versus work on math for an hour and a half.

    I also talk about the importance of focus and getting into a state of flow to really ramp up production.

    This technique definitely seems to go hand in hand, definitely going to start implementing it! Hopefully I’m as productive as I think I am and I’m not fooling myself.

    And hey, placebo effects still get results right?

    Cheers!

  6. That’s soooo weird Nick. I started doing this right after the honeymoon. Actually August 1st to be specific.

    The one thing I’d add is to create a percentage (at the every month) for the buckets. For instance, I know that my writing time was 34.78%, but admin was 30.23%. The benefit here is to give perspective on how you’re allocating time and then make adjustments. When looking at this admin percentage, I now know I gotta get Glori to handle more stuff for me.

    Anywho…great tip man!

  7. BTW, here are a couple of keystroke tips to make these Excel entries quicker.

    ‘ Ctrl+; ‘ enters today’s date, and ‘ Ctrl+Shift+; ‘ (or ‘ Ctrl+: ‘) enters the current time.

    Pair these with the equation to calculate the duration already populated and all you really have to spend time thinking about to type in are the project and notes.

  8. I use timedoctor.com for this. It conveniently pops up reminders when it thinks I’m on a break or on a non-work related site (like facebook or a news site). There’s a free version but I think the 5 USD a month version is a good investment for me to self-manage my productivity. It can also be used to keep track of people working for you online (like VAs).

  9. Hi Nick,

    Great Post. As always. :)

    I have been using Toggl and RescueTime for the last year. It makes a difference when you look back at how much time you spend on tasks and helps you to keep focused.

    Keep up the good work.

    Regards

    Garth

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