There are many time tracking apps around and I have some experience using one of them: aTimeLogger. It allows you to track what you spend your time on. The application is well done, easy to use and allows a lot of customization. There are some default activities that can be tracked, but there is also the option to define your own custom activities that you can track. You simply find a suitable icon for your activity (there are lots of available icons), choose a name and color, and you can start tracking it.
The app also allows you to set daily, weekly or monthly goals for some activities. You can include one or more activities in one goal, and you can set unlimited number of goals. There are 2 types of goals: Limit and Reach. As its name implies Limit allows you to limit the time you spend on certain activities, and with Reach you set the minimum time you want to spend on something. For example you can limit TV time to 2 hours a day, and set a minimum of 30 minutes of reading a day.
Finally the app gives you statistics on how you use your time in form of pie charts and column charts, which are very informative.
OK, that’s it with description. Now I’ll share some insights I gained while using it:
Don’t Track Too Many Activities
While the application allows you to track pretty much everything you do, I would not recommend tracking more than 5 activities. If you track everything (that’s what I initially did), you’ll get nice statistics and insights on how you spend your time, but you’ll probably quit tracking very quickly. Everyone will tell you that you’re weird for doing so, and you might feel weird as well. So track only those activities that are important for you (for example studying).
Choose Small Goals
It can be very tempting to set huge goals, but it’s very easy to fail at them if you’re not used to such amount of work. There is a Japanese habit forming technique (a part of their Kaizen philosophy) that asks you to spend at least ONE MINUTE on doing something you want to make a habit, every single day. One minute seems like nothing, but the very fact that you go and start certain activity requires a determination, a certain ritual, and this is the foundation of habit. For example if you choose reading books as your goal, in order to read a book for one minute, you’ll have to reach for a book, open it, sit in a certain position and start reading. The important thing is to never skip it. So if your goal is small enough, you’ll have no excuse to skip it. (And if this happens anyway, it’s OK still, everyone sometimes fails, the important thing is not to give up after a slip)
Of course, you don’t have to stick to the Kaizen principle literally: I’ve personally set certain goals to 20 – 60 minutes. They are still small enough to be doable, but also large enough to be significant. Sometimes I do much more than what was the goal. For example my studying goal is 1 hour, and I typically study for 2-3 hours. But the point is to make sure I always spend at least one hour studying, that is, to have a continuity in it.
Don’t Set Limit Goals
Setting limits can cause you to feel deprivation and frustration, and it can make you feel guilty if you cross the limit. Setting limits in itself is a negative and repressive approach. So if you spend too much time on the Internet, or on TV, instead of limiting time spent on such activities, a better approach would be to set meaningful goals in other areas that will allow you to fill your time, and that will indirectly lead to less time spent on the activities you want to limit.