One day, about half a year ago, I was browsing around on the internet during my workhours, and reading the news of the day. One of the articles of the day was about time management software. I read the description and I thought it would be a way too confronting. In the end, I can only concentrate about 20 minutes, and I need a break every now and then, so I thought.
But I kept thinking about the idea and a few days later I downloaded my first tool Rescuetime. Initially I was enjoying the free trial period of the extended version in which the software asks you after an idle period what you have been doing (meeting - phone call - other).
After two weeks of using this software, I realized how much time I actually need for my activities in the lab. The software clearly showed me that I do not only spend the time in the lab which I need for an experiment, but I also go downstairs to check regularly, to help the technical staff here and there and the discuss our planning, material schedule and casting dates. I also need some time after every experiment to sort out my labnotes and to put certain data into the computer. All those small tasks are necessary, but they take up 10 and 20 minutes every time and add up to the total time I actually need per experiment.
A second conclusion I drew from using this software is that, in total, I was spending a way too much time per day on surfing around on the internet, reading the news and playing around on social networking sites. I saw the results of my "very distracting time" per day, per week and per month and I was alarmed about it. However, I did not take action right away. Somehow I couldn't just give up on my bad habit. But after a two-week holiday and a one-week sick leave (related to that holiday, unfortunately) in which I had not had any time at all to visit social networking sites, I realized I could do without these sites during my workday. At the beginning of the new academic year, I decided to simply block my distractions.
The result is that by now I can go home about 1,5 hours earlier per day and I feel much less guilty about spending time in my office on social networking sites. I now have time in the evening to go to the gym and play some music at home. In turn, having these activities in the evening which help me unwind, results in having more concentration during my work hours and being able to focus better. It's a giant win, and apparently a software tool was the impulse to act which I needed.
Once I started to see the advantages of Rescuetime, and my free trail period ended (it still keeps track of my very productive and very distracting activities nowadays), I decided to try out a few more other time management tools. I downloaded a few tools which were of not much use to me. However, ManicTime turned out the perfect addition to RescueTime's free verion. ManicTime is an incredibly easy to use tool. It obviously tracks the software and documents which you use, but at the same time you can also tag slots of time with the activity you have been carrying out. I can tag the time that I spend in the lab, or the patches of time I use to write a paper.
All this helps me to estimate how much time I need to finish a certain task, and I am sure this knowledge will help my planning and will help me reach my goals in time within the next years of my PhD.