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Time Tracking for Beginners

"How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives" - Annie Dillard (The Writing Life)

Why do we hate deadlines?

As an incoming high school junior, I've often been put in situations where I feel the need to have a schedule. I could not figure out why I could not complete a certain assignment, participate in the upcoming debate competition, science fair, or basketball game despite having time. This led me to investigate the certain habits and practices of mine and other students. I want to share a solution to some of the following difficulties we encounter:

  • For many of us, it's hard to stay focused on our studies and we often lose our train of thought. We start thinking about pizza, or a cow eating a chocolate cake with a Lego on it, or other pressing issues like world hunger, global warming, or the next season of the TV show Stranger Things!
  • We tend to feel distracted or overwhelmed by just thinking about a task. Procrastination is something difficult for us to overcome. We are often scared to make the first step, considering it is often the hardest part of the journey!
  • We overuse multitasking! We often create distractions for ourselves by trying to do multiple assignments, projects, and activities all at once which can overwhelm us with work and often leads to burnout!
  • We unintentionally spend too much time on distractions. We like to have fun and spend time on TikTok, Youtube, playing games, or talking with friends. These activities tend to last way longer than expected.

How do you deal with it?

There are a number of methods and smart study techniques we often try like making lists, time tables, sticky note reminders, or spreadsheets. My suggestion is to first know yourself such as what you do and how long you do it. This will help you determine if you are productive or not. Evaluating your work patterns and figuring out what you waste your time on will help eliminate distractions and optimize your workflow!

If you want to start seeing results from your to do lists and time tables, try pairing them with time tracking and timers!

What is time tracking?

Time tracking is when you record everything you do in a day! You keep track of deadlines and schedule when you will start your work. Some people like to use bullet journals and spreadsheets! However, keeping track of everything you do in a day can be tiring and ironically creates yet another task to complete. It can also limit you from visualizing your work pattern, creating reports, and keeping you focused on your work.

Be Creative!

Don't limit your options! If timers, web blockers, and time trackers are not enough, try using the Pomodoro Technique. This is a technique made for students to avoid distractions by using brief working sessions to aim their attention at a single task and rewards themselves with breaks in between!

Here is the process:

  1. Start a timer
  2. After 25 minutes of working, take a 5 minutes break, and then continue to work for another 25 minute
  3. Once you have finished 3 rounds, reward yourself with a 30 minute break

If 25 minutes of work is not enough, extend for 60 to 90 minutes, or as long you prefer!

There are lots of digital and automated tracking software which can help you avoid distractions and generate visualizations. Here is a list of some of the most student friendly time trackers/web blockers/timers:

1. Forest

Forest uses concepts from video games to make time tracking more exciting! It helps you feel more focused and energized!

  • Pricing and Versatility: This app is available free for Android and Chrome extension and charges $2 on IOS.
  • Features: Some of its prime features are a gamified Pomodoro timer and an app blocker.

When you start the timer on Forest, a virtual tree starts growing. Switching to a different app before the timer is up results in the tree dying. Each successful focus block adds a tree to your virtual Forest and earns you gold coins that you can trade for new kinds of trees and power ups. It also has a feature to track your screen time where you can tag each focus block and get a report on where you spend your time.

If you trade enough gold coins, the company plants real trees for you!

One downside of using Forest is that it lacks visualization features and is unable to gather actionable insights. This app can be used as a simple timer and can help focus, but it lacks incentive for users to procrastinate less. It may be overly simplified for students who want to dig deeper and improve their work habits, not just track them.

Rescue Time is a great time tracking app which helps you boost productivity and improve your time management skills. It is a combination of a time tracker and a website blocker. It automatically tracks your activities and categorizes where you spend your time. You can enter and edit tasks easily.

  • Versatility and availability: It offers a free plan with basic features and a premium plan (paid) with unlimited features including app blocking. It is compatible with MacOS, Windows, Linux, Android, iOS, and Chrome.
  • Features: This app allows us to set alerts so you know when you need to spend a certain amount of time on a particular activity. The desktop version tracks all of your activities in the background, allowing you do your work without distractions. It also has a feature called “focus time” to schedule recurring sessions when you want to block certain websites. This software helps you set daily limits on apps and websites and schedules focused time directly in your calendar. It's tracking tool collects website data, browser detailed time, and records offline time.

If you don't have access to its app and web blockers, you can try using Leech Block NG!

A free browser-based web blocker which works for Chrome, Firefox, Edge, and Opera. Its only downside is that it's browser-based so if the temptation to get distracted is too strong, you can access the blocked websites through a different web browser.

Another popular web blocker is Freedom which is available on Windows, iOS, and Android, but there are no long-term free versions.

Other alternatives for time tracking:

  1. Harvest
  2. Clockify
  3. Cattr (Open source and free)

How difficult is time tracking?

Developing new habits takes time and persistence! My suggestion is to just start doing it! Once you find what works for you, time tracking has the power to change your old habits and could help you work much more efficiently!

What are the benefits?

Deadlines tend to come and go in the blink of an eye so paying attention to your workflow will help you build progress. Timers and time trackers help with the stress and anxiety that can result from a lack of planning. They can assist us in setting targets, prioritizing, and improving our ability to achieve our goals! Knowing what you should spend your time doing and setting particular time limits can also improve your ability to make decisions.

You never know until you try! These techniques just might help you find your most productive self!

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article! peer tutoring, for free.


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