In my search of productivity I am looking for solutions to help me stayed focused and keep track of how much time is dedicated to most important objectives. I describe here my requirements and me experiences.

It is a recurring question and I learned that there are no perfect solutions. Being my own boss and with so many aspects I can’t do just with timing my time at work or consider time spent on tiwtter as a pure loss. Even while walking in the countryside my mind keep working on issues and it is very common that ideas pop out my mind on the return faster than it would have staying in front my computer trying to evade the tentation to check news. What is the most productive time ?

For example I regularly remove from my desk applications like rss reader ( I use sharpreader), tweetdeck or even MS Outlook. So today I started Tweetdeck again and lurked to what other says.  Suddently i am attracted by a tweet from @crid :

Instant Boss. Ce petit soft gratuit qui ne ressemble à rien est encore en train de sauver ma journée de travail :-) http://appsapps.info/instantboss.php

My translation: Little software not great looking is saving my day.

Good I like this, let’s try. So I went, I tried, I write.

The really good thing is that it’s not taking space or too much attention. Small footprints. It starts from a postulate that you split your day in regular period of attention and distraction. Fair enough but nothing so regular. I tried for a few hours and realized it would be complex to tune it really to my rythm.

Distraction is part of human nature and I explained before it may end up in saving time. What is important is to keep it under some limits. See The Attention Span Myth.

That reminds me of a very simple tool I used for years and trained several people to use including my kids. Le minuteur (The timer) : this one is my favorite. I even bought a couple of them to bring them with me to our South India subsidiary. http://www.tati.fr/cuisine-ustensiles/la-preparation/balance-minuteur-doseur/minuteur-de-cuisine/35273.html . Costs 3 € = USD 4.

When planning tasks and specially at the level of a day it is important to have an objective idea of real time span for them. So using a timer next to you whatever you are doing (and this is a big benefit on software) you can estimate and measure. Say how long it takes to read the subject of your essay for an exam : 5 minutes, or 15 ? Wind up completely the timer and start. When you are finished see how long it takes.

Now that we gathered a typical duration for a set of tasks our estimation is really better. Instead of packing the day and being deceived by how little we can do we are more realistic.

So my typical time control software should have a learning mode based on a set of 100 typical tasks I do. One of them would “write a blog entry”, takes 2 hours. When I start the software i wish to say what I want to do today and it fetches automatically time estimates. It will then may be tell me if I am distracting or forgot to tell when i am done. Since there is a learning stage I could also tell which tools I will typically use and may be automatically hide those distracting me.

Last time I used a time control solution it was TimeRescue. This is a much more ambitious thing. I used it as an experiment after another blogger wrote about it. May be here http://blog.ernestsemerda.com/2010/04/03/3-great-tools-fine-tune-productivity/ . With Kneaver I am really interested in all experiments about using computers to achieve our goals. Still I am not for Total Recall type of things. See here http://guido.appenzeller.net/wordpress/ . So RescueTime was ending up considering that using Internet Explorer while debugging code was a distraction. You have to tune it but here you get into the issue when you have different type of activities. You would need to have a profile for each and what about multitasking. Very often we will have a window on a long job and another to check our mail. Too automated, to systematic, not enough understanding of my goals, my purpose.

I had the same problem with Xobni for example. Not being able to make a difference with private sphere and professionnal is leading to absurdities. When I click on a mail sent by me I would expect the recipient to be displayed, not me. Again the issue is that all these software don’t know me, they have no background and are just piece of code leveraging a single idea. hence the need to have somewhere a set of informations on our basic commitments, our interests.

Before writing this I checked what other tools are on the market. I found TimeDoctor.

It strickes me that time control and boss/employee relationships are so often concomittent. In the case of TimeDoctor it is definitely engaged in this niche fine but Instant Boss is for a single user. So at some stage I need to behave as if I was my own boss delegating to my computer the role of controlling me.

I didn’t try TimeDoctor but by reading the web site I felt it was not made for my case. TimeDoctor is more to monitor employees work and keep track of how much time is spent on target or not. I like the idea of definition targets first and not preventing distractions.

If you got his way be careful that in some countries legislation may prevent you to spy your employees. Say if the screen shot shows private data you violated their privacy and this is even more risky. I think this idea is leading to microcontrol and ending to loose more time reviewing how the others spend their time then what working in a team is really about : delegating and allowing you to do your own job. Controlling others time is really leading us 100 years back to Theory X style of management.

If you are interested in time management and can read french I recommend [Time Coach]. It’s a combined mail based learning program with personalized interaction followed by a newsletter. And it’s free. I wishes a time management control starts with some of the ideas found here.

So end of the day ? I couldn’t find the perfect solution. I wish I can find something that assist me in some occasions, helps me keep track of some activities as discreetly as possible, linked to my tasks management and daily planning. Ability to relate tasks to objectives and goals, ability to label them as important and urgent, repeating. It will preferably use Kneaver API to gain knowledge of what I do and what it is related to. I am afraid I got one more item on my todo list.


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