Time – like elusive left socks and car keys – is difficult to keep track of.
We try to save time, make time, manage time and make up for lost time. At work (especially in a fast-growing startup) there’s a lot of pressure to get a superhuman amount of work done in a very human amount of time.
So in an effort to understand where all my time goes, I decided to keep track of everything I did at work for a day. Every time I switched programs, every hilarious Slack gif that crossed my screen, each conversation and all my coffee breaks were carefully tracked in my messy notebook.
While my last two little data viz projects have used time in a very definite way, this one is all relative. I steered clear of a traditional clock or grid format in favor of a gentle spiral, allowing the focus to be on the relative length of time spent on each activity (size of hexagon) and the type of activity (color). I later added in a few time-stamped explanations to give a little context to my day, added in a few time references and helped explain some of the bigger shifts during the day.
This format allows the patterns in behavior to emerge. For example, small bursts of Slack (an internal communication tool we use) and emails often cause me to change activities. In between projects, I tend to talk to others about their work and catch up on emails. I spend the longest sessions in design programs, especially in mid-morning and mid-afternoon.
About 53% of my time was spent actually designing things (Illustrator & Keynote), 22% for communication (Slack, email), and 16% online (Google Docs, Interwebs). Considering how often I felt interrupted and distracted, 53% seems pretty good for doing real work.
I switched activities 101 times during the day. Pretty sure I deserve some sort of dalmatian-themed congratulations for this feat.
The average amount of time I spent per activity was a shade under five minutes. Interestingly, five minutes is also the length of the average human attention span. The average time between office distractions is around 11 minutes, so I’m losing on that one.
My longest uninterrupted session was 32 minutes in Keynote. I was pretty underwhelmed with this number.
While I was initially semi-horrified by the results, I was comforted by doing a bit of research on the short, short human attention span (which might be worse than goldfish, y’all). The most glaring problem was the smattering of short email visits and Slack chats that added up to well over an hour of my day – an hour I’d like to get back.
While the design community is enamoured with the recently popular Slack, much like an open office design, Slack makes you available, visible, and distractible all the time.
Slack makes distraction flashier and better looking, but more than the product itself, there’s the issue of the culture surrounding it. At Umbel, there’s an expectation that Slacks are returned posthaste, automatically adding a level of stress to something that may or may not be important. Maybe it’s that culture of immediacy or the attempt to speed things up that’s actually slowing us down?
My biggest takeaway from this little experiment is that I need to use tools the way they work for me, not the way others expect me to use them. I already knew that I need to escape from our open office every once in a while, and now I know I need to do the same with Slack.
Thanks to this little experiment, I’m well on my way to finding more time (but no socks and keys, yet).