10,462 Entries Over 4.5 Years – What I Have Learned Tracking My Time, and What You Can, Too

What is that above? Its not a meme/cat photo. Its data. That's blood sweat and tears the digital version. It's 10,462 entries of how I have spent my time at SEER over the last 4.5 years. Let me break down for you how I use this chart to answer 2 simple questions:

  • Am I working on what I love most?
  • Am I working on where I am most valuable to SEER?
  • You can not improve what you do not measure!

    We preach it as digital marketers, but do we do it for ourselves?? I do, I want to take you through the last 4 and a half years, day by day, task by task and see if I am living up to the goal of spending more time on what I like most about my job.

    Most agencies use time tracking all wrong, in our 10 years history and up until last year we never used time tracking to determine profitability per project, we used it to determine how we spend our time and does that connect to our goals. At SEER we track every second, but we use mostly to allow all of us to practice kaizen (the Japanese word describing continual improvement). I don't know if anyone at SEER has ever done this, but I wanted to do it this weekend to better get a grip on my hours, and make sure I was progressively spending more time on the things I love most.

    Take a breath and open your time tracking tool, start working on reporting. Start living by your calendar, stop overpromising. Its a lot easier to say no to people when you have planned your day and know that there is NO way you can squeeze in their request w/o a re-prioritization. This is why I don't believe in being overwhelmed, I believe in re-prioritizing.

    But reprioritizing is a day to day tactic, I wanna talk about the strategy of looking at what you love to do in your job and where you spend your time, by looking at your trends over a quarter or year or longer, so that I what I just did.

    The first thing you should start with is an understanding of what you LOVE about your job, what is OK, and what you HATE. Write them down. Using this tactic could be interesting for many of you who are doing some soul searching.

    So for me, what are my "things"?

    My goals with my time are to spend time on the things I love and where my value is greatest to our clients, I do that by:

  • Investing a large amount of my time working on client work, I like building strategies for clients, it makes me happy
  • Spend time with my team and working to build a strong culture
  • Being a student and a teacher, learning from my peers and sharing my knowledge with others
  • Those are my big goals.

    Having tracked my time since 2007, I can start to look at my time and see am I putting time into the things I love.

    One very important thing...keep your items tracked to 15-20 items at most, getting too granular is usually a recipe for disaster.

    Step 1 Export all your time. I use Harvest (for now, toggl seems to let me work faster), I like any time tracker that runs in the background while I work.

    One note about my data, I would say that about 40% of my email time is client related, but it just happens so quickly that I don't swap between timers, one MAJOR weakness in harvest is that everything is scroll box instead of an autocomplete, which really slows down time tracking (toggl uses autocomplete).

    Step 2 You must get friendly with pivot charts, check tutorials after you get your data, it will help. Crack open excel and massage the data a bit to get it right (if you are like me, you've changed the way you track your time over the years so you'll need to massage the items a bit.

    Step 3 Start playing with different items you spend your time on, as a chart like this isn't very helpful, so get used to filtering:

    Let me show you my step 3's and how they let me know if I am working on what I love and where my impact is best...

    Re-evaluate major initiatives you have invested in that used to take up a lot of your time. for me that was business development.

    I hired someone in Q2 2010 to help with business development, it just got too much for me to handle, and wasn't where my time was best spent and I love DOING SEO Strategy more than SELLING SEO Strategy, so I hired them, eventually I decided to get someone else on board and make that person full time. Our leads from 2010 to 2011 about doubled yet you can see my second hire was able to keep me out of things more than my first and work independently, letting me work on what I loved and what she loved. Jamie B is so full of win its insane!

    Now I layer in my other big time Both are trending down, this is a good thing (I have moved to inbox zero and I think that has been helping me a lot).

    So what were the items trending up? HR and Speaking / Promotion of SEER. So does that fit my mission? Does it fit what I care about? Well in some ways yes, HR is about connecting with your team and building culture. Attending conferences as a participant and a speaker allow me to constantly learn and be able to add value to clients while also helping us hire and build culture, so I am OK with that. Traveling to conferences also fulfills another major goal, which is to spend time with my wife, who is an avid traveler as well.

    By having this in a pivot table I can easily dig into HR notes to see if my time spent is on "process HR" or "people HR", I bet if you look at Crystal Anderson's HR hours they spiked recently, on top of running the SEM team she also loves working with us on operations improvements and alignment. And after I saw Rypple (think of it as basecamp for reviews) and what it could do to help us get better at reviews, I knew I wanted to roll it out, I knew our team would appreciate more frequent updates and more structure. Crystal volunteered to run with it, again doing something she loves/has strength in and letting me stay focused on what I love/have strength in, I love when things work out that way. Years ago my hours on HR would have spiked to do this (because once I believe something is good, I will do it) thus taking my time away from what I love/where I am best utilized. But I also know that interviewing alone is a HUGE part of that, and I expect that to trend down soon, as SEER has hired about 10 SEO's this year so far to get ahead of all the penguin craziness which is driving high lead flow once again.

    Its not all rainbows and unicorns though. As you can see, my blog time took a hit, but I think the 4 hours I put into this one should bring me up a bit. More concerning to me is that my reading has taken a hit. I have kind of supplanted some of my reading with attending events to get an information rush all at once, and you can see that. But with all the change occurring on Google my time reading which is highly R&D focused should be trending up sharply over the next 2 quarters.

    Notice none of my goals revolve around working on the finances of the business, and by hiring the RIGHT bookkeeper (big spike came after I had to play cleanup to the WRONG bookkeeper) and a COO, I think we are in good shape, financial reporting is stronger than ever and I am spending less time than ever on it!! Sweet!

    You can also see what happens when you change your labels, oops, but some easy massaging in Excel fixes all of that.

    Lastly is the BIG picture, I like to take the bigger things that take up my time / that I like to do and compare it to what my #1 goal is, which is to make sure SEER is delivering on our promises to our clients, which to me means in spite of growing like crazy and dealing with all the issues that come along with growth, that I am still spending more and more of my time on the things that matter most & make me happy, working on client projects directly and with my team. Spending all that time on email is 90% connecting with the team or my clients, so I am ok with that even though it is trending down as that answering emails is reactionary and often tactical, its the time spent on client work that I get to really dig into that is the strategic part and that part is growing healthily. I'm looking forward to breaking 40% in the next 2 years.

    So I beg you all to do this, it helps with stress but also career direction. When you sit down with your boss this is a great way to say hey, right now I am spending 70% on task X, and professionally I'd like that to be task Y (assuming you aren't fudging numbers) - how can we get X down to 50% and Y up from 10% to 30%? Then you should connect that move of responsibilities into what the company goals are, that is a huge part. I know everyone at SEER can do this exercise when they want. Its an important step to sometimes look at yourself and say, hey...this is CRAZY that I am spending 50 hours a month on this task! When you do this you are empowering your team members to take a more active role in pitching management on what they could do that would be more beneficial to the company and to our clients if we could rearrange time deployed. For those of you who track time meticulously, this is a WONDERFUL tool to understand your time.

    For those of you who have never done it, start now.

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    Wil Reynolds
    Wil Reynolds
    CEO & Vice President