Do you ever get done with your day and then wonder “Where did the time go?”
(By the way, if you did not answer yes to that question, I both applaud you and question your hold on reality.)
I have a somewhat unnatural obsession with time – not because I am afraid of its passing, but for two reasons. First, I need to keep track of hours I spend on client projects, and second (and more important, say my family and friends), I am a workaholic. By keeping track of exactly how much time I am spending doing specific tasks, it can help me convince myself to stop (and helps us accurately bill clients for the work I have done.) Win-win.
Now, since I like to automate everything, and time tracking (to me) is a tedious and odious task that would pull me out of whatever work-zone I am in, I have devised a system that takes only around 1 hour a month to manipulate, and the rest happens automatically in the background.
Like my social media hack, it does take some effort in setting up, but I share my method for anyone else who might find a system like this useful. I look forward to seeing comments on how to make it better!
First Problem: Scheduling Meetings
I found that I was spending up to 5 hours every week chasing people down to schedule meetings. That simply would not do. I looked at the options that were available, and after a free trial I started using YouCanBook.me. There are other calendaring options, like Appointedd, Doodle, etc, and all have different options that may appeal to different types of business person.
I now have a link in my signature to schedule meetings with me, and I simply point people there to find a time that works, and not trying to figure something out of thin air.
Second Problem: Where Was I on…?
I am terrible at filling out time sheets. Awful. I would probably rank it as the worst task I have to do for work, so I find myself putting it off for as long as possible, and then I am staring at big blanks boxes of days trying to fill things out.
This also would not do.
One tool immediately came to the rescue:
I was able to link this to my Google Calendar, manipulate a few of the advanced options (I always set the time to export in decimal, for example), and now I had a better picture of what I was doing on particular days.
This didn’t give me a full picture, however, so I wanted to do more.
I thought about this one a bit.
I work primarily in my office, but there are also some other areas around town where I do work. I wanted to have a way to track that automatically as well. I knew I could use IF to send a message to my Google Calendar if I am in an area, but it only tracks it when I enter or exit, it doesn’t keep checking throughout the day. I kept searching until I found an app called UberCheckin that continually scans your location for places you’ve selected and checks you in on Foursquare/Swarm. You can connect that to IF to then log that into your calendar.
With those two things in place, connected to a separate calendar, I have something that looks like this:
I now was able to track where I was even if I didn’t have a specific meeting on the calendar that day.
Third Problem – What Was I Doing?
If you work for only one specific company, or only on one project, you can probably stop there. But I needed to go one step further. I have a lot of clients. I work on a lot of different things for all of them. And at the end of a single day its hard to remember exactly what I did, much less a week or more later.
Here’s where the coup de grace comes in: Chrometa.
Chrometa is a program that you install in your browser, on your computer and plugs into Gmail that will track the following:
- Every process you run on your machine
- Every Browser Page you go to
- The time spent on every Email you Read, Write, Send.
Once you set up your account in Chrometa, you have to spend time setting up “Rules” to further automate the account.
Once you’ve done that, Chrometa will start going through anything it sees you doing on your computer:
And apply things automatically to time Sheets, applying any billable hours you may have set up:
If you want, you can even have it invoice from here:
If I was simply sitting at my desk working all the time, that would be enough.
Fourth Problem: I’m Not Always On My Computer
So, Chrometa is only good for telling me what I’m doing on my computer, and my calendar is great for telling me when I’m in meetings, and UberCheckin is great for telling me where I am when I’m out and about (at the office or wherever else I’ve specified.)
What I needed to do now is mash them all together.
Here’s where that 1 hour a month comes in.
I run gCal2Excel twice, once on my main calendar, and once on the special calendar for UberCheckin / IFTTT events. The Ubercheckin one I will set aside for later.
I then export my Chrometa results to .csv and open them in Excel.
The data columns don’t exactly match up, so I create a new spreadsheet where I am pulling the relevant info from Chrometa: (company name, project, annotation, hours worked, date of service, time) and similar info from my main Gcal (people in the meeting,subject, description, duration, date, time) and then sort by date.
I want to remove duplicates (if I see that I was running Evernote during a 1 hour meeting session, then I was obviously taking notes during that time, and I can remove it.)
Next, I want to make sure that I have a company attached to every column, so I’ll add a new column and go down the list. If I was missing one from Google calendar, Check the email addresses of the meeting attendees first to figure it out. Otherwise, fix your YouCanBook.me calendaring form to ask for Company Name.
Once you’ve normalized the data, run a Pivot Table For Company Name, Date, and Sum of Hours. You’ll be surprised how quickly you can fill in a timesheet when you have the timesheet already filled out in front of you.
Now, if you find that one day is very “off” (too many or too few hours), go either to the UberCheckin results calendar to see where you were that day, or go back to the main list to see if you accidentally left a duplicate time entry in.
Try this out I’m sure you’ll be on your way to gaining more control of your life back in no time!