How time tracking helped me be a better manager

When I first started having responsibilities beyond writing code, managing my time suddenly became much harder. I felt like I spent most of my time wading through a sea of things to do and couldn’t get to the important long term work that I most wanted to do.

To figure out where all my time went, I started tracking it using Toggl, which was the slickest app I found for starting/stopping task-specific timers, tagging tasks into “projects” and producing reports. Interestingly, I discovered that Toggl didn’t just inform me about how I used my time–it also changed it, by helping me be more intentional about what I work on. I’ve been a manager for more than five years and I still use Toggl to track all my work time.

Before time tracking, I spent a lot of time deciding what to do, or investigating a task without committing to working on it, or just switching between tasks because there always seemed like there was something else important to do. When I started time tracking, I suddenly had to decide what I was going to do before I started doing it, because otherwise I couldn’t write it down and start the timer. If I later wanted to switch tasks before I was done, I had to change the timer, which also gave me enough time to think about whether that was a good idea. Sometimes it was, but in most cases that moment gave me enough time to remember why I decided to work on the thing in the first place.

Here are some other things I’ve learned doing it, and times it’s been useful to me.

In case you’re interested in using Toggl for yourself, here’s what my setup looks like:

The Toggl interface looks something like the screenshot below. You enter a description, choose a “project” (which I just use to capture broad categories of work) and then click play to start the timer and stop to stop it. You can also edit entries later (which I do a few times a week when I forget and leave the timer running).

Screenshot of Toggl

Once I’ve tracked, I can see what I did over the course of a day:

Screenshot of Toggl

Or a week:

Screenshot of Toggl

We’re in the middle of performance review season, so as you can see I spent about half my time on performance reviews (although on the day pictured above, I actually mostly worked on other things). The next biggest category is helping out with our migration from Quip (a document system) to Google Drive (another document system). When I synced with Ben about my priorities for that week, number one was performance reviews and number two was the document migration, so I’m pretty happy with how this looks!

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