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

The Power of No: Setting Personal and Work Boundaries for Greater Productivity and Integrity

Why can’t people get work done at work? It was the premise of a very good talk by Inc. columnist and 37signals co-founder Jason Fried at TEDxMidwest. He articulated the need of “creatives” – designers, programmers, writers, engineers, etc- to have long periods of uninterrupted time to get things done. And, how businesses that spend a bunch of money on a place called “the office” have staff and employees who don’t get their work done there!

I found it to be validating. Liberating. Because saying yes to everything only leads to burn out and overwhelm.

Listen to what he says about work “moments”:

Jason Fried TED Talk, “Why Work Doesn’t Happen at Work”

He’s got nothing nice to say about managers and meetings. From what I’ve seen of traditional salaried, cubical work, I’d have to say I agree. His work-sleep phase analogy was brilliant.

As a creative, as an entrepreneur, and as a working parent I’ve learned to embrace what I call, “The Power of No”. While a lot of women’s self-help focuses on learning how to say no (and not feel guilty about it), I find it to be addictive and empowering. Being able to say no enables a boundary to be upheld. Being able to say no also offers the flip side of the coin: the ability to say yes with passion, authenticity, and honesty.

When my children were little, I said no to a lot of outings and obligations so that I could say yes to their naps and reasonable bedtimes. When I’m faced with multiple personal growth “groups”, all with evening meetings, I might say no to 4 so I can truly participate in 1. I frequently say no to distractions by turning off social media and my phone volume so that I can say yes to a few hours of writing. And yesterday I said no to a freelance opportunity because my current projects require my focus and an authentic yes.

At first it was hard. Sometimes it still is. It can feel like letting people down or missing out; they don’t always enjoy being told no. But building the boundary makes me a better writer, a better wife and mother, a better business owner. The benefits outweigh the challenges by far.

Speaker and writer Mike Robbins, in an article that appeared on The HuffPost Healthy Living blog wrote, “…saying “no” is one of the most important aspects of living a life filled with balance, integrity, and authenticity. Our ability and capacity to say “no” with confidence is one of the most important aspects of creating peace and power in our lives. This is about creating healthy boundaries, honoring ourselves, and being real — it’s not about being closed, cynical, or unwilling.” He went on to point out that being able to tap into the power of saying no offers us freedom and liberation but also helps those around us to trust we mean what we say.

I appreciated Fried’s suggestion of creating no-interruption times.

  • Cancel the next meeting. Just don’t have it. Everything will be just fine.
  • Switch from active communication (meetings) to timed-choice methods: email or IM
  • One afternoon a week of silent work- “No Talk Thursdays”

“Giving someone a few hours of uninterrupted time is one of the best gifts you can give” he says. Better than software, a new computer, or anything else you could offer.

So think about that. Give yourself the gift of uninterrupted time. Unplug over the weekend. Put earbuds in and tune out distraction. Set boundaries and be unafraid to speak up about them when making appointments. Choose your communication method and teach people that’s the best way to reach you. And then say no. As Jason said, “everything will be just fine.” Keep track of your productivity and you’ll probably find you are better than fine: you are managing life instead of life managing you.

 

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, "Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods"

Photo taken at Olio Restaurant on E. Bay St. Or as one instagrammer said, “Perhaps where Ebay gets their Dry Goods”