In a recent job interview with a potential Atom, we were talking about some of the differences between product companies and life at a software consultancy like Atomic. One topic that arose was tracking time, and it occurred to me how much tracking work time at Atomic has changed the way I approach my work and personal time.
Awareness of Value
When working with other consultants, companies, and clients, they often remark at the impressive work ethic, focus, and dedication to the projects they see here. Some of this self-awareness and drive to deliver value seems to stem from our time-tracking practice.
Overall, I’ve noticed a different mentality between software makers who track their time and those who don’t. I have found Atoms are often more acutely aware of the value they provide than their counterparts. Since we work on small, self-managed project teams, we tend to be more in tune with the cost of features.
This helps us understand how complicated tasks are to accomplish and how to communicate the pros and cons of implementing features. Our teams also feel pressure to deliver as much value as they can in the given budget.
There is also a social pressure involved in tracking time. Among other statistics, each Atom’s hours are displayed on a Key Performance Indicator dashboard in our offices. By working a “responsible pace,” Atoms average 41-42 hours of work a week. Tracking our time publicly helps motivate us to keep our hours in line.
Making Use of a Limited Resource
After I started tracking time, I realized how scarce my time is. It’s not like I didn’t know it before, but seeing how I spent my time caused me to adjust how I used it thereafter.
As I’m sure most of you find, it’s hard to accomplish everything I want to do for work and in my personal life. Because of the constant elevated awareness from tracking time, I find myself constantly questioning the value of the activities.
This sense of doubt or continuous questioning has been a challenging side effect of tracking time for me. It hasn’t helped me find any “lost” time, but it has helped me learn to prioritize my non-working hours more effectively. Keeping a prioritized list of personal goals has helped me stay focused on what’s truly important, especially when things get busy.
The issue of time is like personal finance, where it’s pretty tough to put together a plan when you don’t have any data. Just as you wouldn’t create a personal budget without knowing what you spend on food each week, you can’t use your time wisely without knowing how you’re spending it right now. By paying closer attention to your time, you can go a long way toward accomplishing your personal goals.