How to Track Time While Working With Distractions

This post is the first in series, “Services that Help My Business Go”, wherein Tia shares some of her behind-the-scenes secrets.


The other day I had a meeting with a business mentor at SCORE and we were discussing time management and discipline. My mentor, a man with a lifetime of professional management and consulting experience, is a wealth of counsel (for FREE!) on how to continue to articulate my business mission and plan for each stage of growth.

At one point, we were mutually commiserating on how difficult it can be to keep track of time while working from a home office. It’s true any time one works around people, actually.  There’s lots of coming-and-going, stops-and-starts, plenty of distractions as it appears you are available to whomever needs you…when in fact, your job is to “put your butt in the chair and work”.

I’d hit the ceiling of “now, where was I” one day when I googled Time Tracking App’s and discovered  life-and-invoice-saving Toggl. They aren’t kidding when they call it ‘insanely simple”. I create my projects, hit the button, and it begins tallying my time spent. I can bump it when I need to get up or am distracted by another request. It sync’s with my phone. More than once I’ve been at the grocery store and gotten a notification that my time clock was still running…. and so right there between Produce and Seafood I can stop and adjust the cut.

When it’s time to do month-end reports and invoices, it’s all right there. Billable versus non-billable time. How much time each stage of the project really takes. (Oh, and doesn’t that make the next projection easier! No more guess work!)

One day in May I was sitting at favorite local breakfast spot, The Metro Diner, where I’d met with Annika from the Toggl team. Toggl and Teamweek are based in Estonia and she was in the states meeting with their users to gather feedback. I almost wished I had some sort of complaint to offer, so she’d have something to take back with her under, “things we can work on”. But no, all I had was near-shameless gushing. Toggl pretty much saves my butt every month and I love it. I get up from my desk, or stop to take a call, or answer someone’s urgent question a zillion times a day. I would have NO WAY of honestly accounting for time spent without  a tracker and it HAS TO BE EASY.

And so I gushed and she took notes and then told me some truly fascinating things about her country and Estonia’s progressive culture. What happened next is that I tweeted her quote…

The hashtags led to some interesting new Twitter activity

The hashtags led to some interestingly broad Twitter activity

….and I caught a quick glimpse of how sometimes the simplest ideas can become the most empowering.

The fact is, having a business idea is one thing; running a business is another. There’s a minefield of entrepreneurs who focus entirely on their product or service but then fall apart in the background because they fail to spend time “on” the business. As a creative, that is a constant temptation. Administration is not where the fun and excitement hangs out! And yet, administration is exactly what will kill a business faster than you slap a tick. My SCORE mentor certainly confirmed this- he sees people with ideas, people who want money, people who are at all levels of understanding of what it takes to start a company. Even with all his years of experience, he confirmed for me that time tracking and management is at the heart of success, no matter who you are.

Once I have my time tracked and my reports generated (with a single click!), the next step is invoicing. I’ve found a KISS method for that one too- stay tuned for Part Two.

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

What Happens When You Unplug? Using Technology-Free Time to Make Smart Decisions

I’ll start with the scary part.

Last year, about 13 months ago, I thought I was having a heart attack. At 38. I was driving out of the Target parking lot in the afternoon. I was also talking on the phone, checking for texts from two of my kids, trying to get to another child’s bus stop on time to pick them up, and trying to figure out to do with a major work problem happening California-time (rush hour in my time zone is right about the time the west coasters are back from lunch, ready to go bull-dog on their to-do lists). I had cold groceries in the car and the ice cream was melting. Another driver had just cut me off. My neck was clenched; I could barely breathe. It hurt down my shoulder and arm. I had a splitting headache.

Later, in the emergency room, we would tally up the actual count. I had been doing 8-12 things at a time during a 3 hour window of the afternoon. It wasn’t a heart attack. It was just fried circuitry. My mental machinery was maxed out. I was so plugged in that I didn’t realize my body was screaming, “STOP!”

My mantra for the next several weeks became, “Do one thing at a time. Do what’s essential.”  If you’ve ever tried this, it can be incredibly hard. No more multi-tasking. No more hyper-availability. No more non-essentials. I was gone for a little while. The world did not fall apart. But no doubt about it, there was a learning curve, folks.

I’m happy to say with heart-felt conviction that it paid off. I’m healthier this year. I have dedicated unplugged times; a few each day and the entire weekend as well. My family will be the first to say that I still face the temptation to do too much with my smartphone. It can, after all, do  a lot of things, for which I am extremely grateful. I can not imagine the amount of coordination, logistics, and organization I am responsible for would happen if I didn’t have the benefit of technology so literally at hand.

Still. Any time-out will quickly separate the essentials from the non-essentials. Not all of it is obvious. Sometimes it requires a significant step back to be able to see what you need. And then changes can be determined. One thing your smart phone can’t do is make a smart decision for you! You might be too plugged in to even hear what else is going on.

What else are you missing?

We have to relearn some things and learn to trust that everything isn’t going to fall apart if we put technology away for a little while. It actually, might be falling together. Quietness is a gift that reveals what we need to see. It also free’s us to more effectively focus on what we’ve chosen to pursue.

In a recent article triggered by the viral phone video, NY Times writer Nick Bilton shared a few recent cultural instances where unplugging puts the focus back on being present, beyond no-texting-and-driving or putting away our phones at the movies:

…the Unsound music festival in Poland banned fans from recording the event, saying it did not want “instant documentation” and distractions that might take away from the performances. In April, during a show in New York City, Karen O, the lead singer of the rock band the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, told audience members to put away their phones (using an expletive to emphasize her point).

A number of New York restaurants, including Momofuku Ko and Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, have prohibited people from photographing their food. (Note to foodies: Your quinoa does not need to be artfully posted with an old-timey look on Instagram.) And, of course, many mothers and fathers who fought to keep the television out of the kitchen may see smartphones as the next threat to dinnertime civility.


So think about it. What happens when you unplug? When you log out of certain social media outlets? This lesson definitely has a business trickle down effect. As a consultant, I favor marketing methods that are some what active even in your absence. In my opinion, that’s where the most value is. I’d venture a guess there are few people who truly prefer being virtually on-call for their business lives 24-7 (or even half that!). Work can be enjoyable… but even if it’s your dream come true, there are still hours you’d like to be sleeping, relating, playing, exploring, etc. It’s great to develop platforms that work for you even when you’re not around.

At the same time, you can’t outsource your life. There are some things that require your honest presence in order to succeed. If you are going to be logged out of them for long periods of time, they may not be the best option for you at all.

My lesson was that I need breaks. I make smarter choices that align with my values when I set the phone down and walk a way for a little while. My smarter choices yield better results, as true whether it’s about ice cream or business.

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district

The Lions of San Marco Square- shopping and dining district