The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups.
All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality.
His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an “A”, 40 pounds a “B”, and so on.
Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot — albeit a perfect one — to get an “A”.
Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity.
It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work-and learning from their mistakes — the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.
Well, I ended up using Harvest. Been tracking it for a month and a half now, and I really like it. If it wasn’t for the OS X app I would have passed, but the ability to track my time without getting into the web browser is a killer feature.
Web browsers to me are distractions. It’s awesome to use a desktop app.
I tell myself that I will merely write down the steps needed to complete the task. Just a rough draft, at first, and that’s it. Maybe just 3 steps. I then add more steps, breaking the 3 steps into smaller sub-tasks. I then add some details, and thoughts, notes of things that I shouldn’t forget when doing this task. I just think the task through and write everything down. After a little while, I will be a proud author of “The Complete Guide To Finishing Task X for Dummies”.
The way I see it there’s 3 basic methodologies in which people track their time.
1. Track time with a stopwatch
This is the most accurate method available to track your time, because you don’t need to rely on your memory. Okay, so maybe it would be more effective to have an executive assistant standing next to you with a clip board and a stopwatch, but not everybody can afford that! Using a stopwatch is the next best thing because you are tracking time as you work.
2. Track time after the fact with manual time entry (from memory or notes)
I suspect a significant number of people are still tracking time manually — after the fact — when they could switch to a stopwatch with better results. Based on my experience it’s nearly impossible to remember everything you did, and how long it took.
3. Use software that “knows” what you are working on, and then filter and sort the time later
A number of tools have been released that track your computer usage and then give you reports about what you were working on Two that come to mind are RescueTime and Lapsus.
How do you track your time? If you are tracking your time using one of these methods, you’re way ahead of the next guy. A large number of people don’t see the value in tracking time — so keep being awesome!
We recently had a bit of a revelation at our office. We’ve been under such a crunch with client projects who hire us to develop their web sites that we found it difficult to focus on Minuteglass development. Well, our revelation is that if we have specific times set aside each week where we work as a team together, it works far better.
So what we did this week was set aside a couple of specific afternoons to work together on the project. While we were all working on separate aspects of the app, the collaborative nature of the project was restored and we were able to get a lot done.
If your team is having trouble making progress, I’d highly recommend it as a strategy. It sounds simple, but often with large projects team members have a tendency to work separately.
One thing I learned early in my business career is that anything of significance that is measured and watched, improves.
Back before I started Parsons Technology I became impressed with something I read about John D. Rockefeller. In fact, I still think about it and use it to this very day. I learned that Mr. Rockefeller was one of the few people in his industry (perhaps the only one) who knew exactly how much it cost to extract, refine and deliver a barrel of oil. In fact, he was entirely aware of all his costs. Knowing this information (and acting on it) gave him a huge competitive advantage. He knew how much he could price a barrel of oil for and still turn a profit. He was always keenly aware of each area of revenue, cost and market share, and he worked on improving in every area. As a result, he did cost saving things like manufacture his own oil barrels, have his own cartage company, and on and on.
The first sentence is the most important. Read it if you skipped over it.
This all brings me to my point. I think it’s very important to track the numbers that make your business a success. I’ve tried to do this over the years and have tracked a large number but never to the extent I want (for numerous reasons, not that I didn’t try).
As I said, I’ve been thinking about the next generation web firm and wondered what numbers you track in your business or where you work? The obvious things like revenue and billable hours are obvious, the less obvious are things like average employee utilization across a period of time, or average timespan to develop a site… How does this affect the bottom line? Does it give you a competitive advantage? I’ve got loads of ideas about things that can be tracked. Putting systems in place to actually track them (consistently) is the next step.
I promised to talk a little bit about the different ways people track time. Today, I am going to give you a brief explanation of what ice core dating is all about, and why scientists think it’s useful.
When scientists drill an ice core they pull a very large sample of data. Similar to the rings on a tree, ice cores have layers and it is possible to tell each annual layer apart. Water evaporates at different speeds depending on the outdoor temperature. It’s actually possible to see this in the samples. The other method is through Irradiation Dependent Markers (cosmic rays and solar irradiation impinging on the upper atmosphere).
It’s really all too complex to describe here, I suggest further reading:
I’m not perfectly organized. I’m probably a bad example of organization. But at work, I like to think I am organized.
1. Time Tracking: I track all of my time at work religiously. I know exactly what I was doing and when on any day this year (billable and non billable work). We currently use Complete Time Tracking Pro for time tracking, but are working on our own time tracking system called Minuteglass.
2. Calendar: I organize my days with Google Calendar. In our office, we have a “Tornado Deadlines” calendar so any time we promise a client something it’s added.
3. To-Do-Lists: We use Todoist for tracking our to do list. We have a separate category for every one of our customers and share it in our office. Everyone knows what items are due today and in the next two weeks.
4. Email: In Outlook, I flag emails that need to be responded to. Only after that is completed, added to our Todoist task list do I unflag it. Or when the email is responded to.
What other tools do you use for tracking your life? There are so many ways to track projects and time and money. We’re working on a few that we will be releasing as well.
The good news is that everyone in our office uses these same tools (team of 3 people). This makes collaborating that much easier!
Update: In January, 2011 we use Gmail a lot more, still use Todoist.com, and also use a number of tools across the Mac and PC platform.
Update 2: In August, 2013 my main tools are: Harvest (using the Mac app), Wunderlist for to-do list, Sparrow for email, and Google Calendar for my calendar. I also started using Evernote for keeping track of docs and client files, and use Dropbox for storing client projects.