This article is about getting faster at routine tasks by measuring and visualizing the time it takes to complete recurring tasks over a period of time.
Lets face it: you’ve got a bunch of routine tasks that are boring and keep you from doing more interesting things. But these tasks are important! Your professional reputation depends on you doing them well and in a timely fashion. It’s routine. It’s drudgery. It’s like that old Dunkin’ Donuts commercial that says “time to make the donuts”. Everybody’s got at least some donuts to make, right? Well, let’s make some freakin’ donuts!
We’ve all got better things to do than make the donuts, right? But the donuts have to get made, and the sooner you get it done the sooner you can move on to bigger and better things, like thinking about strategy and big ideas that are really going to move the needle for your company, your clients, or yourself. So I’m going to show you a “hack” to get better and faster at your routine tasks.
We’ll be using two FREE webapps for this technique: KanbanFlow and trackthisforme. KanbanFlow is a free to-do manager with a built in timer, and trackthisforme is a data tracker that allows you to visualize trends over time.
So without further ado, on to the step by step…
Set Up KanbanFlow
First we’re going to get set up with KanbanFlow, which is a free project/ to-do manager with a built in task timer. Follow these easy steps:
- Go to kanbanflow.com and open a free account.
- Do the quick 2 minute tutorial to get an overview of the app.
- Hide the “Do today” column by clicking the minus sign at the top left of the column.
- Add your task in the “To Do” column. For example, if your task is about managing Google’s budget you would add something like “Google Budget Management”.
- Add another task called “Transition Time” (or something), to represent time in between tasks.
OK, we’re good here. Leave this tab open, we’ll be right back. Now let’s go set up TrackThisForMe…
Set Up trackthisforme
- Go to www.trackthisfor.me and open a free account.
- Where it says “Name”, enter the name of your task. So in this example we’ll name it “Goog Budg Mgmt” (there’s a 20 character limit).
- For symbol enter “Minutes”, because that’s our unit of measurement. Choose whichever color you want. Then click create.
- Click the box with the name of the task. Doing that should open up a page that looks like this:
Sweet, now we’re ready to time our first task!
Timing Your First Task
Now it’s time to make the donuts. Just follow these simple, handy instructions!
- Go to your KanbanFlow tab and click “Pomodoro timer” in the bottom left-hand corner. The timer will be set to run for 25 minutes with 5 minute breaks (aka the Pomodoro Technique), but you can adjust this to your personal preferences with the settings button. I like to go with 50 minutes and a 10 minute break, but you can adjust this to your own rhythms. The key is that you are setting aside focused blocks of time.
- Click “Select task” and select the task that you’ve set up on the Kanban board.
- Ready to get to work on your task? No? OK, well go take your pee break, get a cup of coffee and do whatever else it is you do back there. You back? OK… click “Start work” aaaand START WORKING! GO GO GO!
- When you finish, note how much time you have accumulated for the task. I round to the nearest half-minute, so if it takes me seven minutes and 21 seconds, I round up to 7.5.
- Click “Change task” in the Pomodoro timer and click the “transition time” task. This will stop time from accumulating in your task. (On a side note, you can measure transition time as well. It’s a good thing to measure!)
- Go to TrackThisForMe and click “New element” at the top. Ener how long it took you to do the task in the “Value” field.
- Optional: Rank yourself on how good you feel about the job you did. Satisfaction is actually a more important metric than minutes! Sometimes it takes longer than other times to do a particular task, but you know if this was quality time or wasted time. You can also add comments that you can refer to later.
- Click “Create”.
Aaaaand, you’re done.
So now what? Just keep tracking the same task just like that every time you do it. Use this process for your other routine tasks. Once you’ve got some data you’ll be able to visualize how much faster and/or better you’ve gotten at the same task over a period of time. Here’s an example:
By using this dashboard you can monitor how long it takes you to complete the task over time, as well as your own satisfaction in how well you did (if you want to track that). I’ve found that tracking my time this way helps me focus and block out distractions. It also motivates me to beat my old time! The “satisfaction” rating helps kill any urge to cut corners just to improve my time.
This is a hack for getting better and faster at routine tasks. If you’ve read this far I bet you’ve got some ideas on how this process could be improved. I would love to geek out with you about it in the comments. Until next time, here’s to getting sh*t done and moving on!