Four tools for making work visible.

In general, I’m not a big fan of fancy time management hardware or software. As the saying goes, automating a broken process gets you a faster (and more expensive) broken process. Far better to use a simple system to fix the process and then automate as necessary. (Kevin Meyer is the chief apostle of this approach, with his pizza and whiteboard replacement for an ERP system.) Even buying special pre-packaged and printed day planners fits into this category, since you get locked into someone else’s proprietary and inflexible system.

Having said that, there are some interesting websites that can give you greater visibility in how you’re spending your time. They won’t actually help you, you know, do anything important, but by making your actions visible, they can help spur behavioral change.

The Wall Street Journal covered four of the services (Slife, RescueTime Pro, ManicTime, and Klok) last week. Each one has strengths and weaknesses, but will no doubt be improved over time. I won’t bother reviewing them as you can read the WSJ article for free here.

I’m good with a watch, a piece of paper, and some discipline. However, if new tools will help you get started down this road, by all means read the article and check them out. The important issue, I think, is not so much what tool you use, but rather that you’re committed to making the invisible — i.e., where and how you spend your time and attention — visible. Once you’ve done that, you can start to analyze the current state and implement countermeasures to improve it. As the WSJ authors wrote,

All in all, the services really helped us get a handle on how we spend our work time. And having a written account of where our minutes went pushed us to modify our work habits—and get more done.

These tools aren’t panaceas. But it might get you started in living the lean principles that you’re trying to drive through the organization.

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