For lawyers who shudder at the very mention of the word “billable”, timekeeping ranges the negative spectrum from the worst chore to the bane of lawyerly existence. The best way to keep track of your time is contemporaneous entries for accuracy’s sake, but that’s just not how a lot of people work. Timekeeping gets in the way, breaking any work flow mojo. It just isn’t a priority given the “actual” work to be done, and it’s an unnatural task for human beings who are more human than robot.
Many lawyers resort to guesstimation, or have to don their Sherlock caps to search for clues among their notes, papers, and e-mails to reconstruct their days. This method actually takes more time and results in “time leaks,” where time flies away never to be recaptured. The time spent on timekeeping itself is lost to the land of unbillable.
Lawyers use a variety of methods, from handwritten notes, spreadsheets, timers, and other manual data entry. Perhaps there is a magical Mary Poppins fix to this dreary chore? There’s probably, yes, an app for it, some technological doodad that results in less hassle and more accuracy. Think about it. You can lock your car door with your phone. We have probably surpassed the age of using spreadsheets and paper notes or that time- clocking dinosaur from the Flintstones.
Capture that Time!
Here are a couple applications and programs that lawyers (and freelancers and contractors!) can use to stop time leaks and concentrate on tasks in the land of the billable. Many are passive systems, which means that you don’t have to fuss about with entries or keeping track of yourself, or they make those tasks much easier.
Use idonethis (web or app) for a gentle daily nudge prompting you to log what you got done every day. You can set the time you receive your nudge, refer to old entries, and export your data to use as a CSV file or print.
Chrometaruns on your computer (available for Windows & Mac), keeping Big Brotherly track of what you’re up to. It has privacy controls plus a timer for logging any time spent away from your computer.
Time Master is an app that can keep single or multiple timers running, even when you’re not running the app.
Solo practitioners and small firms may be interested in Clio or Time59, which are web-based and accessible across devices.
Sure, it’s hard to change your timekeeping behavior, but it may be worth giving one of these a whirl for a trial period to see if you gain more time (and time = $). Often, a law firm will dictate a timekeeping system, but you can supplement whatever is already in place.
Not interested in a techie fix? Make a daily-as-possible habit, block your times more consciously, get a fancy notebook that will make timekeeping feel like a very-important-person task, or set aside a few minutes to go over your time along with your daily cup o’ caffeine.
"Very often when we talk about the skill of ‘productivity’ what we are really talking about is ‘self-control’ — the disciplined ability to choose to do one thing at the cost of not doing another (perhaps more tempting thing)."
As the nature of work changes to more flexible design, we must learn when not to exercise our freedom.
Ameliorating the Human Condition with iDoneThis Memory
A few months ago, we started to occasionally send your old daily dones to you as a reminder of just how much progress you’d made. Some of you told us that you loved it. For you, we made iDoneThis Memory.
Every morning, we’ll email you and remind you what you did on that day either 1 week, 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or 1 year ago. To turn it on, just go your Email Settings and check the box which reads, “Send me memories”.
In the words of the 20th century Italian poet Cesare Pavese — “The richness of life lies in memories we have forgotten.” Thanks to modern technology, we can shrug off some of the human condition’s more unfortunate features. iDoneThis Memory brings life’s evanescence into your inbox every morning, turning email into an affirmation of immanent existence.
Based on the emails that people send, we’d have some kind of graph/calendar like Seinfeld’s.
When we don’t hear from people we send them an angry email and show them their calendar with their string of Xs broken the next day.
I can likely put some rudimentary version of this together in a couple of days.
We called it “Attain Chain”. And then we changed it because that’s a horrible name. Here’s one of the lists we kicked around.
iDoneThis looks pretty good in comparison, huh?
Rodrigo, Peng (the site’s genius designer), and I started hacking on iDoneThis around Christmas time. We made a push the weekend of the New Year to get a minimal viable product out by Monday.
And minimal it was. We only sent email once a day, we only processed email once a day, we didn’t work with non-English characters, and we had to do unsubscribes by hand. But we got it done.
On January 3, the first Monday of the new year, we put iDoneThis up on Hacker News, and it was glorious — 152 signups!
Barely anything worked right. Rodrigo and I chatted at 1am at the end of a long day.
Rodrigo: i think we survived day 1
me: i need to go to sleep
Rodrigo: me too
made you a ton of tickets
Everything built slowly from there. We kept working on iDoneThis as a side project here and there and soon we went from 1,000 daily dones to over 30,000 daily dones.
We initially hesitated to turn iDoneThis into our full-time gig because of how simple the site is. A major deterrent was the incredulousness of friends and family that iDoneThis could become anything serious.
But we talked to our users who told us that they loved the service because it was so easy to use. Our main learning from 2011 is that simplicity is power.
For one, simple services have a variety of use-cases which overlap with “legitimate” businesses and have an inherent advantage over those services merely for being simple.
We made up our minds to go at it full-time, got into AngelPad, and got things really rolling.
Now iDoneThis has helped people get over 500,000 things done and we have big things in store for 2012.
To everyone who works with us and to everyone who loves to use iDoneThis — I think we survived year 1. Thanks for all the tickets.
The following guest blog post was written by Kable Jones, aka krunkster on iDoneThis. Kable is a firefighter with a 150-day streak of getting stuff done.
Although the overachievers of the world likely fill their calendar boxes with ease, the rest of us may occasionally stare at the IDT email with an “oh no” feeling. Nonetheless, maintaining an IDT streak need not, in fact, require constant productivity.
Unlike the Silicon Valley geniuses I don’t have a project timeline oriented job, so that’s not my easy way out of this problem. Instead, I use IDT to overcome gender roles and keep an ongoing diary.
I suppose one could turn to hip tools like Livejournal to provide this functionality, but that’s really not my style. Beyond being rather obnoxious, blogging typically requires far too much time and verbiage to continue for an extended period. IDT’s clever “bulletpoint” formatting puts me back into a comforting PowerPoint mode as I chronicle the day’s events.
It’s also a nice private log, so I don’t have to concern myself with impressing a potential audience. This lets me fill out the required data quickly without flowery language. All meat, no veggies.
A typical entry might look like this one, on November 12.
Took dog to vet.
Wrote bridge part to song.
Didn’t kill my boss.
Well, except in my mind.
Price of Metamucil went up.
Dad called and said the tattoo removal went well.
I have a terrible memory, so with the online calendar I can quickly review what’s happened over the past month. Beyond nostalgia, it often reminds me of things I still need to address.
Finally, taking a diary approach to IDT really improves the quality of daily emails from company HQ. Instead of seeing a bunch of work related nonsense, I get fun lists like:
A typical entry might look like this one, on November 12.
Thank god for Pepto Bismol.
Holy cow I bought that Moog from Craigslist.
Bought carrots since Moog took all my money.
At least what money I had left after the plumber.
Really, thank you Jesus for Pepto Bismol.
So, if IDT’s emails have you feeling like an unproductive idiot, do what I do — use iDoneThis as a tool to keep track of you digestive health!
iDoneThis: You do not yet realize your importance. You’ve only begun to discover your power! Join me, and I will complete your training! With our combined strength, we can end this destructive conflict, and bring order to the galaxy.
You: I’ll never join you!
iDoneThis: If only you knew the power of the Daily Done. Dundee never told you what happened to your father.
You: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
iDoneThis: No, I am your father.
You: No. No! That’s not true! That’s impossible!
iDoneThis: Search your dones, you know it to be true!
You: Oh, huh, I didn’t know I could do that.
iDoneThis: Yeah, we just added that feature a few weeks ago. Just login and go to your calendar — there’s a search box up top.
Passing 10,000 users felt awesome and we did it with three dead simple techniques that anyone can execute.
1. Custom narratives for influential communities. I wrote in April how we made it to 5,000 users by constructing custom narratives for Hacker News, Reddit, and Lifehacker. We described iDoneThis to a community as both (a) a solution to the problems specific to that community with (b) an emotional hook that the community could relate to while (c) giving signals that reflect that we’re members of the community.
2. A product so simple that anyone can understand and use it. When a product is simple and easily understandable by a broad range of people, many different kinds of people will see many different ways to use the product. For example, MakeUseOf wrote about how we were like a “mini-assistant that reminds you to log what you did”, rather than the strict productivity angle taken by Lifehacker.
When different kinds of people see many different ways to use the product, different story lines organically emerge — which means that the product spreads.
3. Embrace your users worldwide. When we launched, iDoneThis emails went out for every single user at 6pm Pacific Time. That means that if you were in the UK, you’d get your email at 2am the next day. Our email was nearly worthless if you were in the UK, India, Japan or anywhere outside of North and South America, and we saw that reflected in our engagement. Early on, nearly 100% of users not in North or South America did not use us longer than a week, even those who loved the product.
The most useful tweak we made to the product early on was to allow the user to pick his/her timezone. We went from having an exclusively North and South American base of active users to getting written up by blogs and press around the world, enlarging our pie of users overall and growing its proportion to about 30% of active users.