Sunday, February 22, 2009

Massively Useful (Life Changing) Software: Klok

EDIT: This article has a follow up post about the beta program that was written a year later.

And yes, I do mean life changing.

Ever wonder how much time you actually spend on a project? If you bid a 40 hour project are you really sure it's going to take that long? How much time does each stage of the project take? How many hours do you spend emailing the client? What about other activities during the day like visiting websites, recreation, and cooking food? Where is your time going?

I've wanted to know the answers to those questions for a very long time. I thought I had a pretty good idea, but I could never know for sure without an easy to use timeclock program. In the past I've searched for a free one that does not require a web server and is adequate for single person use, but I couldn't find one.

Luckily a week and a half ago I found a very promising candidate thanks to an article on Webdesigner Debot. It's called Klok, an Adobe AIR app and therefore multiplatform application.

A Week with Klok
I would have blogged about Klok sooner but I wanted to show what a full week of using Klok looks like. I've replaced the names of some of these projects so I could show you a screenshot of my schedule. So here it is: what I actually did throughout the week. No guess work, no calculating, just dragging and dropping a task into the "Currently working on" area every time I switched tasks.



By looking at the Week View I can see when I woke up, when I went to bed, how much work I got done that day, and so on. Every project is color coded so I can get a good idea about what I did that day at a glance.



The Reports are also very informative. I can see a percentage of how much time I put into each activity throughout the week. And if I wanted to get into more detail I can click on the piece of the pie chart to bring up the subtasks for that project.

And lastly, another important function of Klok is knowing how much time you've put into a project compared to how much your estimate was. You can give the project an overall hourly rate, as well as rates for each subtask, so things like emailing the client can have a lower hourly rate than actual design work if you want. If no hourly rate is set for a subproject it'll just assume the hourly rate you set for the top-level project. Klok can then calculate how much the project was actually worth based on the combined hourly rates to help you better bid projects in the future.

Accountability
Another thing that's great about using Klok is the accountability of having to record everything you do throughout the day. In the same way that people who keep a food journal are much more likely to loose weight than those who don't, you'll become more likely to be productive when you can see how much time you spent goofing off instead of working. If there's too much turquoise or neon green in my Week View—turquoise representing my non-essential daily tasks and green representing recreation (i.e. video games)—I'll be compelled to start working more because I'll have irrefutable proof that I've wasted too much time.

Learning and Trying New Things to be More Productive
Based on the information I got from the Week View and the Reports I was able to make some observations about my work and non-working habits.

For one, I spend a lot of time visiting websites, which includes reading news, insightful articles, and comics. To give you an idea I spent about 23 hours this past week working on freelance stuff and 11 hours visiting websites. Last year I realized that I spent a ton of time visiting websites, so I started using Google Reader which has saved me a lot of time, but even with Google Reader I've found that I still need to come up with a way to make that part of my life more efficient or reduce the number of sites I visit because it's a non-essential part of my life, even though I do find treasures of information on those sites occasionally (like Klok for example). So this coming week as an experiment I'll check the same RSS feeds, but instead of logging into Google Reader as a break-time activity I'll log in only once throughout the day to see if that reduces the time I spend reading articles. And after the week is done I can pull up the report and make a comparison. [Update: It worked. I spent a few less hours visiting websites when I did that.] Klok makes it really easy to use the scientific method in your time management.

The other thing I was also surprised about was how much of my time was spent writing emails to clients (about 10%). Depending on the length of the email it can take anywhere from 30 minutes to a full hour to write each one. The reason for this is I'll proofread each one and make sure I word everything just right and have no spelling or gramatical errors. I'm convinced that it's time well spent to sound intelligent to your clients, and I know they've appreciated it because I've gotten comments saying how informative and thorough my emails are. I'm not sure how I could speed that up except by becoming a better writer and proofreader, but it's still nice to know how much time is spent doing that when I make bids for future projects

Conclusion
If you are a freelancer use this program. The ability to keep track of your daily activities to the to the minute, and do it easily, is extremely valuable. I was able to use this program to keep track of everything I did throughout the day, which was easy for me because I'm at my computer all the time. So even if your life doesn't evolve around the computer you can still use it record what you do when you are at your computer working.

Be sure you download (and read the information for) the beta version because it has a lot of really nice features that the "stable" version doesn't. And the beta is not that buggy.

And while we are still on the topic, Randy Pausch gave a great lecture on Time Management which I'd strongly recommend you watch if you haven't already.

Oh, one last thing. Observant readers may have noticed from the screenshot that I've been spending a ton of time on a Super Top Secret Lumaglyph Project. I'll be sharing information on that—eventually.

1 comment:

Porter said...

Glad to see others that agree with the power this program has to offer to your work life. I wrote a review on Klok from a self employed game developers perspective; it definitely helped me motivated and on task. Nice to see Klok getting the attention it deserves, nice review.