How to track your time and take control of your schedule with Notion and Toggl
From one week to the next, millions of workers abruptly shifted to remote work, remote teaching, or remote learning. Many of us got thrown into a new work environment where many of the same performance expectations exist, but with entirely new physical and (lack of) social environments.
For freelancers and creative consultants, the concept of time-tracking is nothing new. Primarily used as a way to track time per client or per project, time-tracking can help all of us take control over our schedules, completely rethinking what days and weeks look like while we work in total or semi-isolation. I’ve found this Notion/Toggl mini-stack to be effective in learning how I work, without becoming an overbearing, unwieldy productivity workflow. I focus on Notion, but Toggl has an amazing list of integrations, so it’ll probably work with whatever platform you use to manage tasks.
Although time-tracking is rooted in an industrial-era race to increased production, it can take on a new meaning when the primary goal shifts to increasing our health, well-being, and building positive, sustainable habits. This period of remote work is an opportunity to own more hours of more days, through avoiding rabbit holes of news or social media, growing more efficient in less intensive tasks, and maximizing time for deep creative work, family time, or new experiences.
The biggest challenge though, is in understanding our behaviors, how our creative energy ebbs and flows throughout the day, and how to pragmatically get things done without burning out. In Getting Things Done, David Allen sums it up perfectly:
“It takes more energy than most people realize to unhook out of one set of behaviors and get into another kind of rhythm and tool set.” — David Allen
This is meant to be a quick overview on how you can quickly get up and running tracking time over a one-week period, and how to act on that data.
Setting Up Your Time Tracking “Mini-Stack”
Time tracking can seem like a heavy or unnatural undertaking at first, and it can look like a failure if you haven’t accounted for every second of the week. This guide is meant to be a tool to reflect on your week, and less of a judgment tool. Tracking tasks is hard, but even a little data can go a long way in presenting a visual overview of your time spent.
There are two great tools that I think are perfect for time tracking and timeboxing (blog post on this coming soon!) — Notion as a project and task management system, and Toggl — a simple, powerful online time-tracking tool. Because Toggl is so heavily integrated to most popular productivity tools, you can easily swap out Notion for other tools like Todoist, Google Keep, Asana, or Trello.
1. Install Toggl Browser Extension
If you haven’t already, you’ll need to set up a Toggl account — the free version has quite a bit of useful features.
Next, set which integrations you want to enable, ie Notion.
Using Toggl Button Within Notion or Other Task Manager
To test the integration is active, look for the Toggl button in your task manager. This saves a lot of time and removes a lot of the heavy lifting of manually starting and stopping time trackers, and is a habit I’ve found to be easy to sustain.
Starting and Stopping Tasks
When you start a task, you can enter info regarding Project and tag(s) in the Toggl pop-up. The more aligned these categories are with your task manager, the better!
When you complete or pause the task, simply click “Stop Timer.”
Reflecting on Your Week
Depending on how granular you go with your time tracking, the Toggl Calendar is a great visualization of what you did, and when.
In Atomic Habits, James Clear gives a simple framework for annual reviews, that aligns well with weekly reviews:
1. What went well?
2. What didn’t go so well?
3. What did I learn?
What you will and won’t get from time tracking
Time tracking can be useful, but won’t instantly help you be more productive, or be in more control of your time. It is a workflow— albeit a powerful one — that provides quantitative data on what you do over the course of a week, completely detached of assumptions, which are often inaccurate.
Implementing a time tracking/reflection/planning cycle is ultimately about regaining control over your time. At one point or another, we’ve gone down social media rabbit holes, or felt a jolt of inspiration that turns into a marathon work session, only to derail the rest of the week.
“…your organization system is not something that you’ll necessarily create all at once, in a vacuum. It will evolve as you process your stuff and test out whether you have put everything in the best place for you.” — David Allen
By building a habit of pragmatic scheduling, we take the onus off of our minds having to make decisions on things that should be automatic. As we free up more and more brainpower, we can then use it for things that matter to you; hobbies, passion projects, higher performance at your job, or family time.
If you’re already working on some goals, and/or trying to build and sustain certain habits, setting specific days and times to work on specific projects can move the new habit from a conscious decision to an automatic ritual.