I have a confession to make: I’m not as productive as I’d like to be.
There, I said it! They say the first part of solving a problem is to admit you have one. So, there it is: Check off step 1.
This might seem a strange admission to make just weeks prior to my ScienceWriters2010 session on Productive Freelancing, but that’s okay: I think the whole point of our panel is that each and every one of us, rookies and seasoned veterans alike, can find some process we can do better.
For me, the realization that I was less productive than I thought came via Harvest, a web-based app for time-tracking and invoicing. At the suggestion of copanelist and productivity wonk John Pavlus, I gave Harvest a whirl.
Harvest is a productivity dream. There’s a web interface to track your projects, tasks, invoices, and expenses. There’s a dedicated MacOS dashboard widget, even an iPhone interface. I set up my tasks and projects, and then diligently set to work trying to track my day: 44 minutes to interview so-and-so; 36 minutes to read this paper; a bit more than 3 hours to write that article, and so on.
I felt very accomplished… until I added everything up and found that, despite all my careful tracking, I had gaping holes in my day. Partly, that’s because I didn’t add things like lunch, picking up the kids after school, and the occasional break to check Twitter, Email, and the news. And partly it’s because I’d start reading something and then realize, oops! I forgot to turn on the timer. Still, it’s clear I can do better. It’s not that I thought I was some productivity machine, working 25 hours a day, 8 days a week. But I didn’t realize how much time I was frittering away, either.
On the bright side, my experience provides a concrete example of Pavlus’ theme that it’s not the tools you use, but how you use them, that matters. But it’s also clear that I’ve got a long way to go before I can claim to be as productive as I want to be.
By casting my daily activities in such sharp relief, Harvest helped me identify the problem. It’s up to me to set things right.