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Making the most of our time – growing pains and ticking clocks

FrontlineSMS is growing fast – we have more than quadrupled the size of our team in the past few years, and we now have staff based over three continents, with offices in the UK, US and Kenya.

Funding our work in new ways and providing new services to our users means getting better at tracking how much time we spend on things. We also have the happy problem of trying to stop our staff consistently staying up late and getting up early, and working weekends to get everything done – or at least trying to make sure we don’t all do it all the time.

We’ve been experimenting with a time-tracking service called Toggl, which lets you manage a team and assign common projects and tags so that you can monitor time spent on the same tasks by different people. It’s web-based, but has mobile apps and a desktop tracker which monitors which software you’re currently using and helpfully makes a suggestion if it thinks you’ve drifted into doing something other than what you’ve indicated you’re doing.

It’s a habit that you have to get into, but so far it has proven very useful. Our staff are distributed across continents and timezones, and we often put together different teams for different projects – Toggl allows us to correctly allocate costs to the right project and monitor whether a particular task is taking as long as we thought it would. A major challenge for any modern organisation is how to account for – and minimise, to a degree – time spent on catch-all tasks like email. Things like team meetings, staff catch-ups, and email aren’t easily assigned to any one project and yet eat a horrific amount of time. Looking back at Toggl I clocked up over twelve hours on email last week alone! Being more aware of the time you’re spending on particular things encourages you to be more disciplined, and at least highlights the problem of email overload, even if we still have to figure out a solution.

The complicated business of setting up a company and supporting a team to deliver the work we want to do could be completely preoccupying, and something we’re conscious that many of our colleagues in the ICT4D sector, and beyond, are also going through. Time tracking isn’t the only issue like this on our minds – we’re also grappling with company structure, tax efficiency, human resources requirements, and getting someone to water the pot plants when we’re all travelling. If you think this stuff is useful and interesting to hear about, let us know in the comments and we’ll oblige with more whinging about the price of organisational growth.

In the meantime, as the complexity of internal resource allocation starts to become an art to rival the science of software development and programme design in terms of the brain power it consumes, tracking our time will be an important tool… Although, which project should I file this blog post under? Hmm.

For more information on Toggl visit: www.toggl.com

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One Response to “Making the most of our time – growing pains and ticking clocks”

  1. Aleksei 9 August 2011 at 6:13 pm #

    Hi Laura!

    Good to hear about using time tracking system!

    I have been using time tracking systems (not Toggle) in my work since 2003 and found it very useful tools for the all team members, especially for team leaders and managers.

    Usually I do use 2 periodical task per month for tasks which weren’t included to any projects: general communications (15 hours per month, including staffing issues, team meetings, etc) and workplace organization (5 hours per month, including OS update, computer maintenance). It’s not exhaustive list, and if you have other special activities (i.e. blog posts, fund raising, etc.) you may use another periodical tasks.

    All the other time I usually spent on my projects.

    With best regards, Aleksei

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