Thursday, February 26, 2009

Solution for My Time Sheet Problem

I have to fill out a time sheet at the end of every week. It's due by Monday at noon. Each week I find myself filling in 40 hours to the main project that I worked on, then wondering to myself, "Okay, what did I do this week that took away that time, kept me late, and made me miss lunch?"

It's a perplexing question. Even with my attention draining habits, I still feel that I am putting in over 40 hours of real work per week. Yet I rarely feel that all 40 of those hours were spent working on my current primary objective.

I've found that the times I keep detailed logs of how I use my time that I have dozens of interruptions during the day. These are interruptions for various business reasons, not my own attention wandering off to the realms of the Internet, I tend to simply discount those times from my time sheet. I feel that it is a disservice to myself not to somehow indicate that these interruptions occur.

The problem is that it is another attention draining task to stop and note each interruption. It also magnifies the impact of small interruptions, which I can sometimes regain my focus immediately after. So I resort to keeping clues around by way of emails, notes, and phone logs. Then my time sheet exercise is to find all of these notes, combine them with other events that I remember but did not note, and rebuild my week in an honest fashion.

Doing this on a weekly basis is hard. It also doesn't mix very well with the whole Inbox Zero thing. It's too much work to get this information all into a single store, and if I immediately process and file it then it is that much harder to reference it by date.

With Outlook 2007, I think I've finally found a workable solution, at least for my email. I created a category "For Time Sheet" and assigned that to the category quick click event. This allows me to quickly mark the items that are interesting for my time sheet. Next, I file these items in my personal archive. On my personal archive I have created a For Time Sheet search folder that lists all of these items. I added this folder to my favorite folders list.

Now with a single click I have access to all of the items that are interesting for my time sheet, regardless of what folder they reside in. I can remove the category as I record the time I spent working on these items, allowing me to limit the list to only the current time sheet. Since I try to use email as much as possible for correspondence this unobtrusive process does most of the work for me.

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