While there are thousands of ways to approach productivity, they all essentially boil down to the same end goal: getting more value for our time. In our professional lives, that effectively means spending more time on the right work. We’ve already laid out the basic rules of productivity and the things that kill productivity, but this article is about how to practically measure your productivity and see if your efforts to improve it are actually working.
In order to do that we’ll be using Timely – an automatic time tracking app that is able to capture everything you do in a day and qualify your productivity. We’ll explore the specific features you can use to find your own workflow benchmarks and identify opportunities to increase your productivity.
By the end of this article you should not only know how to measure your productive performance, but be able to jump straight into your own assessment.
The Timely features we’ll be using
Before jumping in, it’s worth laying out the main features we’ll be using in Timely to help you quantify your productivity. We’ll refer to these in the following practical section, so it’s worth knowing what you’re working with:
Private timeline – this is the automatic timeline of your entire day that Timely creates in the background while you work. You can see the time you spend in every work app, email, meeting, website, document and even GPS location. No one but you can access it.
Tags – you can add these labels to any hour you log to your timesheet. They help to categorize your time by specific tasks, and can be as granular or high level as you like.
People dashboard – this section visualizes your work hours, capacity, overtime and workload week-on-week. It’s great for comparing the energy you’ve spent during any particular week, as well as getting the bigger picture of your working patterns.
Reports – this is your go-to section for quickly analyzing your work data. You can choose from a ton of different chart widgets to visualize productivity information in a way that makes most sense to you.
6 Timely metrics for measuring productivity
On to the fun part — finding out how productive you actually are. We’ve broken productivity down into five core metrics that you can easily measure with Timely. These can be used to work out performance benchmarks which you can then set targets to improve against. Some are also useful to have to hand as a reference throughout the week, to keep your time and focus accountable.
Time on core work
This one needs very little explanation — if increasing productivity means spending more time on the right work, then you want this metric to increase over time. “Core work” is the graft that actually advances you towards your individual goals; it’s the time spent on tasks you were actually hired to do. Here’s what you need to do in Timely to find this out:
Create a “Core work” tag list and add tags for every high-value task you can think of — whether that’s a specific regular task (quarterly report, board presentation, monthly newsletter) or an umbrella activity those tasks fit into.
Add your “Core work” list to every project you’re working on and tag your core tasks as you log hours to your timesheet.
Head to “Reports” > “+ New Report”, add the Tags table widget, and filter by your “Core work” tag list. You can then see the total time you spend each week on your core tasks, as well as where the brunt of your efforts go. Remove the tag filter to review these tasks in the wider context of your weekly activity.
Time on low-value work
Ever feel rushed off your feet with very little to actually show for it at the end of the day? It’s something we call the “busyness trap” — frittering your day away on reactive, low-value tasks that don’t directly advance your work. These can vary from person to person, but almost always include meetings, internal coordination, task management and email. Shallow tasks tend to be repetitive and cognitively unchallenging (AKA they’re highly boring), contributing more to internal processes than your professional achievement.
Take low-value tasks a step further by qualifying your biggest distractions. That can be the time you spend cyberloafing or procrastinating, as well as the time you spend on colleague requests that ultimately divert your attention away from your work. Separating the two is useful for addressing the biggest challenges to your productive performance. You could be extremely self-disciplined when it comes to procrastination, but have a serious problem saying “no” to irrelevant work requests.
Timely helps you see what distracts you so you can introduce effective change — whether that’s addressing your concentration or expectations around your availability. Just follow the same process as laid out for the previous two steps. If surfing the web is your weak spot, check out your private timeline too to identify exactly which sites are your downfall.
The time you spend at work each day is crucial for measuring productivity. Ultimately, you don’t need more time in a day to become more productive — and putting in extra hours itself doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get any more work done. The whole idea is to use the set hours you have available each day more effectively. True productivity requires downtime, so you need to keep an eye on how much you’re working to steer clear of burnout — particularly if you’re working remotely, where it’s dangerously easy to overwork.
Timely makes it easy to stay on top of the hours you work each day. Just head to the People dashboard for a real-time overview of your working week. You can check the progress of your personal work hours bar, which should gradually fill with a cool blue over the course of the week as you log hours. Alongside your total worked hours, you can also see how much you worked in previous weeks — these will be flagged yellow and red wherever you exceed your weekly capacity. Keep an eye on it throughout the week to stick to your hours and offset any overtime.
Average task length
Not every task lends itself to the neat efficiency of unit economics, but if you do have standard tasks you perform regularly, it’s worth knowing how much time you generally need to complete them. Working this out provides you with a time utilization metric, which you can use to gauge if you’re spending more or less time on a specific task than normal. Aside from keeping pace, this is extremely useful for improving planning — allowing you to set realistic, competitive timeframes for projects and weekly schedules.
In Timely, you can work this out either using tags or your private timeline. For tags, just create a “Project” for the specific task you’re interested in measuring, and add tags for each new version of that task you perform (e.g. January report, February report etc.). Then just head to Reports to see the time logged against each and calculate the average time you spend on them. If you’re after a quick finger-in-the-wind estimate, just scan your timeline to see how long you spend in the document or app related to that task.
It’s important to remember that productivity can’t happen without focus. We may spend five hours on core work a day, but if that work was scattered among a ton of other tasks, it’s unlikely to be quality. Our best work is produced in a state of deep concentration, without distractions or interruptions that divide our attention. That’s why it’s worth knowing how much you switch context — jumping between apps, tasks and conversations.
Timely gives you a very visual indication of the quality of your focus in your private timeline. You just need to glance at it to see if your day was a fragmented blur of app switching, or focused and clear with only a few changes.
If you’re really serious about improving your “deep work”, check out Dewo — it uses the same automatic activity tracking technology as Timely to help you understand the quality of your focus, and can even score your context switching for you!
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