Time-tracking: The basis for productivity in academic work

Many people live their lives without ever realizing the importance of being accountable for their time. There are those who believe that life goes on as it always does, but those who know better understand that this is not the case. We all have the same 24 hours in a day and we need to make sure we make them count.

This is also true for academics—actually, it is even truer for them. How so? The problem with academic work is that it is highly non-linear. Your input does not translate into a more or less guaranteed output that you could calculate beforehand. In other words, it is not a straight process. This not only is applicable to research papers; the same goes for a thesis. While you might have decided your thesis is a certain length, the actual writing process is not so straightforward.

Do you ever feel like time is flying by, and you don’t know where the day went? If so, this article could be helpful. It doesn’t take much to make time management easier; simply start time-tracking. Time-tracking can help identify inefficiencies in your workday, which can lead to more productive days. Plus, it’s just plain interesting to see where your time goes when you’re in charge of it. This is the first step to take to be accountable, to own your time. It might be the first step for anything, really.

The benefits of time-tracking for academic work

The benefits of tracking your time are numerous. From the ability to hold yourself accountable to recognizing how you spend your time, it can be an invaluable tool. It can help you better perceive how much work is being done on any given assignment, and decide what needs to be done next. In addition, it can help you be more productive because you have a better understanding of how to spend your time.

For instance, if you have a long-term project, you can use the information to help you plan where to spend your time. If you are trying to focus more on your work, you’ll know how you can best spend your time. It can also help you determine how much time you need to spend each week on a project, or how much time you need to spend on a particular task. If you are trying to get more work done in a given day, you can use the information to help you find ways to cut down on unproductive time. You can use it to help you organize your day so that you can accomplish more in less time.

And in an area where many knowledge workers, especially academics, are chronically overworked, it is easy to see how this information may also be used to fend off burnout and other stress-related diseases.

In short: in many instances of my own life, tracking time has been an important first step of getting on top of everything again.

The challenge: Implementation

Now, after writing so much about the benefits of tracking your time as a way to leverage your productivity and effectiveness, there is a “but” coming. And, unfortunately, it is a big “but”. Tracking time is not as easy as it sounds. At least it never was for me. And believe me, I have tried a lot of different things. Pen and Paper. An Excel Sheet. 1,389 different old-school time-management apps—including the bigger brands such as toggl or clockify. And guess what? It did not work for me – at least in the long run.

I have found peace with this by rationalizing that it is OK to do it just for a week to get some snapshot and then make improvements from there. But guess what: It isn’t. I always failed to spot the time when my discipline crumbled and I was working on the wrong things for hours and days…. again and again.

The solution: Automate it

So, is there a happy end to this story?

There was one for me. Last year I discovered rize.io, and I have been using it daily since then. It’s super simple – it starts automatically and logs everything that I do. This includes software that is running on my computer but, what is most important, also specific websites.

Quick overview of the day through automated time-tracking.
Quick overview of the day through automated time-tracking.

It took me a day or two to categorize all my activities correctly, but that was it. Now I get my daily e-mails of where I am spending my time, how much I spent in focus mode or in meetings, etc. It’s just a very concise but objective overview of what I did that day. And this is, I believe, a major plus when it comes to being accountable and owning my time.

If you are the more proactive type and want to fit your tasks into sessions, you can also make use of the timer that is integrated in rize. It comes with an opportunity to set your goal (accountability, remember?) and nice productivity music:

Session timer in rize.io
Session timer in rize.io

I invite you to try it out too – and in order to help you get started, here is a 25% discount code you can use 🙂