Projects and categories in OfficeTime

OfficeTime allows you to track time spent on various projects. There is certain logic and temptation to make OfficeTime projects correspond to projects in the GTD sense (i.e. a sequence of more than one action leading to an outcome). This is, however, impractical. I have over 50 active GTD projects in OmniFocus and I find tracking time for all or even the majority of them impossible.
Sometimes you would need to know how much time is spent on a specific “GTD” project, for example, for formal reporting processes. In this case it makes sense to set up and track such a project in OfficeTime.
In my case, a major aim of tracking time by project is to assure a balance between teaching, administration and research: my three main responsibilities. Thus, my projects are categorized in these three areas . There are only 3-5 OfficeTime projects in each area, thus I only track 12 professional OfficeTime projects (as opposed to over 50 active and some 70 on hold projects in OmniFocus). OfficeTime allows you to insert “Separators” in its menus to see such project grouping. For example, my Teaching area contains MSc and PhD teaching as separate projects; my Research area contains various research projects. One of my projects is called “Organizing” and is designated for professional activities which do not fit into any of the projects (e.g. responding to emails, planning, weekly reviews etc.).
As a side remark which I cover in another entry, I also group my calendars into the same three areas: Teaching, Administration and Research. (I also have an area for “everything else”). Grouping simply means using similar colors. All my administrative calendars are orange or red, teaching – green, and research – blue. I can see where my time went in a specific week just by casting a glance at my cal
OfficeTime also allows assigning a category to each entry. At first I was not sure what to do with categories, but then I found a very helpful way to use them. This resulted from reflecting on how I spend my time, more specifically from frustration of being constantly disrupted or sitting in various meetings and not being able to do my work. So I asked myself a question: how much time do I spend in meetings? how much time do I spend answering email? how much time do I spend actually doing something I have planned to do in advance? how much time do I spend writing?
In fact, these questions were inspired by the “First Things First” book by Stephen Covey I read around 2004. It encouraged to separate all activities into 4 groups or “quadrants”: Q1 = urgent and important; Q2 = important but not urgent; Q3 = urgent but not important; and Q4 = non-urgent and non-important. Covey argued that effective people and organizations should spend at least 25% of their time in Q2. I tried to use his system a while ago and it helped in some aspects, but I also had many questions unanswered. For example, is answering email Q1, Q2 or Q3?
So my OfficeTime categories are inspired by this system but are slightly adjusted to reflect my own realities and priorities. I use the following categories:

  • Organizing”: processing (mostly reading and responding to emails); reviewing/planning; travel
  • Calendar” (mostly meetings which take time on my calendar)
  • Unplanned” – Covey would call it Q3, sometimes Q1. These are things which need to be urgently done and were not planned ahead (i.e. not in my OmniFocus)
  • Planned” – This is mostly Q2, sometimes Q1. Work which comes from my own planning system
  • Writing” – This is of course of special importance to academics and deserves tracking. In a sense it is similar to “Planned” but requires even more concentration, special contexts and persistence.

I have general goals on how to spend time which limit certain categories and define minimum time for other categories (mostly Planned and Writing but also Organizing). Setting such goals deserves a separate entry which I am planning to write. Meanwhile, here is how an OfficeTime report grouped by categories looks like:

OfficeTime QuickReport

OfficeTime showing time spent in different categories


About Aleh Cherp

Aleh Cherp is a professor at Central European University and Lund University. He researchers energy and environment and coordinates MESPOM, a Masters course operated by six Universities.
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1 Response to Projects and categories in OfficeTime

  1. Pingback: Personal timing with OfficeTime | Academic workflows

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