‘“Why?” is the most important question, not asked nearly enough.’
- Seth Godin
He’s right, of course. Asking “What?” is much more common.
What can we create?
What can we communicate?
What can we do for motivation?
What can we do to build reputation?
What can we do to make more profit?
The simple problem with “what?,” if asked before “why?,” is the emphasis it puts on the “do” without a justification for its existence.
Last summer, we did something at Tick we’ve never done before. We stopped working.
Not completely, of course -the logistics would have been a nightmare- but every Friday afternoon, our team had creative license to do anything, as long as it didn’t have anything to do with our current projects.
True, it’s not as exciting as taking the whole summer off, but the idea sure got us excited.
Because being off the clock for any amount of time is exciting
And that excitement got our creative juices flowing.
Take a minute to think about it. If you were given one afternoon a week for three months to be out-of-the-box creative, that’s nearly 45 hours of almost unlimited potential. Now that’s exciting!
Of course, it was a little bit of a gamble. We were essentially taking off on company time to do what we wanted. And we didn’t have any guarantees that it would lead to anything. We hoped, but it wasn’t a sure thing.
Truth be told, this idea isn’t new
Years ago, Google started it’s informal policy for employees and built creative time into their workweek (see this video about Google’s 20% policy). This gave everyone on their staff the freedom to explore new areas and do some pretty cool things on their own.
A little closer to home, the team at 37signals has been doing something like this for a while as well. In fact, Jason Fried, Co-Founder and CEO of 37signals, wrote an opinion piece, “Be More Productive. Take Time Off.”, that was recently published in the NY Times.
“We grow out of a lot as we grow up,” Fried says in the article. “One of the most unfortunate things we leave behind is a regular dose of change. Nowhere is this more evident than at work.”
In the article, Fried makes the case for changing his team’s work schedule with the seasons to keep them fresh, excited, and producing top-notch software.
You don’t need someone to tell you what this type of freedom has done for these great companies. You see it for yourself. They continue to stay ahead of the technology curve with cutting edge tools, even as the technology age spins wildly out of control.
For us, the creative freedom was exactly what we needed to get energized, and as a bonus, it flowed into our other work and made us more productive (we’re actually really excited to show you something in the very near future).
Maybe it’s time to give your team some creative freedom
Sometimes, it takes some unconventional practices to get the mind to make new connections. It doesn’t have to be drastic, just different.
In Tick, task budgets allow you to allocate time to individual tasks in a project. We believe that doing this allows you to more accurately track your project status while giving you tangible milestones to consistently evaluate your budgets.
Task budgets were designed to keep things simple. In this post, we’ll discuss some best practices to using task budgets to keep you and your team on track.
Limit the Number of Tasks
One of the best ways to keep tasks simple is to limit the number you create under each project. It’s very tempting to break down a project into 20 different tasks and assign each of them their own budget. It feels right because you get to check each one off as you finish.
While using tasks this way may feel beneficial at first, we’ve found that it often leads to an over-complicated project budget that’s more frustrating to work with than it is helpful. Ultimately, this results in questions like “what do I put this time under?” and makes time tracking more of a guessing game than a measurable resource.
Create Distinct Tasks
Tasks budgets perform their best when they’re used as major milestones in a project, not as a micromanaging tool.
For example, if we’re going to create a new feature in Tick, we’ll split the whole project into four tasks and create budgets for each:
These tasks are perfect for our project, because they break it down into milestones, without making it too granular. They also make it easier to enter time because they’re so different from one another, we never have to wonder where our time should go.
But that doesn’t solve everything does it? Having clear buckets to place time entries and simple budgets that clearly track to the project level is a great start, but sometimes you need more. Large detailed projects may require tasks be broken down into bits to give the team more specific direction.
If you’re looking for this type of granular task management, we highly recommend using a project management tool along with Tick that would allow you to manage your team on specific parts of a project.
If you’re not in a place where you need a project management tool, but want to be able track your team’s progress, no problem! Tick allows your team to quickly make a note of what they’ve done next to their time entry, so you (as the account’s admin) can see what they’ve been up to.
Whether you need more granularity for project management or not, with task budgets, Tick can help your team efficiently track their time and hit your budgets.
Last week, we took a lesson from cyclists about teamwork. It wasn’t earth shattering, but it made us reconsider how shared responsibility and collaboration enables us to produce more than we could on our own.
Along this theme, here’s another question to consider. Can teamwork be overdone?
“Ultimately, productivity requires producing, creativity creating. It sounds so simple and obvious, but it has been easy to forget these days that we need solitude, quiet and time.”
Does this happen to you? When brainstorm sessions, group collaborations, and follow up meetings make you feel productive when in fact, at the end of the day your team has really just made a lot of noise but hasn’t produced anything.
In the end, it takes a silent moment to allow all the collaboration to sink in and start cranking out that design, report, budget, or proposal.
So this week, take teamwork to the next level. Make your meetings efficient. Get a good laugh in with your co workers. Be motivated by the collaboration. But take an effort to make the quiet times count. Turn off the noise and produce.
When cyclists begin a long ride, they know that success only comes from being part of a team.
They start at a semi-comfortable pace -one they can manage for the whole ride. Sometimes the pace is slower than desirable for some, but they stick together. They know that to jump ahead would only lead to exhaustion for themselves, and a loss for the others.
At certain intervals, each rider becomes responsible for pulling the group, and the others follow close behind.
Consistently changing the rider in front allows the group to reserve their strength while holding to the pace they set early on. This way, the finish is obtained in less time, with less effort, and with everyone more motivated and energized at the finish then they were at the beginning.
In business, this type of shared responsibility and collaboration is sometimes forgotten during a long ride, job, or project. But just like a group of cyclists, it contributes to a faster, stronger, and more motivated team.
It’s hip to focus on getting things done, but it’s only possible once we remove the constant static and distraction. If you have trouble deciding what to do, just focus on not doing. Different means, same end.
Before everyone was connected with cell phones and the Internet, most people walked through a door to get to work. And, once finished with the day, they walked back through the same door and left that work behind.
This is nearly impossible today.
No matter what you do for a living, you’d probably agree that you pretty much live in your work environment 24/7. Sure, you may have your own office, but does the door really ever close behind you?
It’s not that you’re just constantly connected, it’s that you always feel a need to be getting stuff done. You can reply to emails, answer the phone, schedule a meeting, and if you don’t have those things, there’s always something more you can learn, discover, explore, and share.
So, a question to consider: Is the constant need to get things done in your downtime killing your productivity during your work time?
The improvements to our Basecamp integration continue! We have heard from many of our customers that you like to enter time to your Basecamp To-Do Lists. You could always import your To-Do Lists into Tick, but now this can happen automatically! Each night any changes to your To-Do Lists will auto update in Tick (Ooh La La).
To get started have your account owner head over to the Basecamp settings for your account. They can edit the settings and enable the “Auto To-Do List Import” feature.
Any existing projects that are linked to Basecamp will pull in their To-Do Lists the next time Tick updates with Basecamp (around midnight local time). As you set up new projects that are linked to Basecamp, the To-Do Lists will show up as tasks immediately.
You can assign budgets, mark them as billable and reorder your To-Do List just like any Tick task. You can even create additional tasks that will just live in Tick…for those miscellaneous items like “Meetings” that just don’t make sense as To-Do Lists.
A lot of work went into making this feature pretty smart. If you already have tasks set up with the same names, they will link up (preventing duplicates). If you change the name of a To-Do List in Basecamp, it will update in Tick. If you complete a To-Do List in Basecamp it will close the task in Tick. Add a new To-Do List in Basecamp and you’ll get a new task in Tick. All of these updates will take place when Tick performs it’s daily update with Basecamp, but you can always jump into your Tick project and schedule an immediate update if you don’t want to wait.
If you prefer the extra control of manual To-Do imports you’ll be happy to hear we improved that process as well (no more duplicates).
So jump into your account and check it out. We really think you’re going to love it!
We love the new Basecamp! We also love time tracking (no surprise there). So when we heard the new Basecamp wasn’t going to include time tracking we set out to see what we could do…and honestly we kind of surprised ourselves. After working with some of the crew at 37signals and digging through the API as it was being developed, we stumbled upon the idea of creating a Basecamp App for time tracking. And of course we’re huge proponents of budget tracking so we had to include that as well.
So last night we pushed v1.0 of what we believe to be the first (new) Basecamp App. It gives you the ability to track your time, check on the budget status of your projects, flip between dates, review time entries of team members (Tick admins only), and more without ever leaving Basecamp.
We’re just a little excited to show it off. Hopefully the screencast below will get you excited as well!
Let’s say you have a client that pays you $1,000 each month for services. If you do 10 hours of work for them, that’s $100 per hour. But if you do 20 hours of work for them that’s $50 per hour. That’s a big difference and an important one when running a services shop that makes these type of retainer agreements.
So how can Tick help?
Now when you create a new a new project you’ll see a “recurring project” option at the bottom.
When you turn this on, Tick will automatically close the existing project at the end of the month and open a new (identical) project. So if you want to make $100 per hour on that $1,000 per month client, you just set a project budget of 10 hours and check the recurring project feature. Now each time you log a time entry to that project you’ll get real-time feedback on your $100 per hour goal.
You can still add tasks (and task budgets) as you would any other project and they will carry over into the new project at the end of the month. Recurring projects also automatically get a little custom naming convention to help keep everything well organized. A project with the name “Website Development” for example, will display as “Website Development | 2012-02” indicating that this is the February 2012 version.
We hope this helps, and as always feel free to drop us an email if you have any questions.
Tick, the webs best time and budget tracker, has teamed up with FreshBooks, the webs best invoicing application. The FreshBooks + Tick integration is a simple way to pull your time entries from Tick and convert them into professional invoices in FreshBooks. FreshBooks is a great tool for sending, tracking and collecting payments quickly.
Enabling the FreshBooks + Tick integration within Tick will provide you with a new export option on your reports screen. This link will launch the FreshBooks + Tick importer. Once you setup the account settings, professional invoices are just a few clicks away.
We pushed a little update to the My Open Projects page last week. Prior to the update this screen would show a list of projects that you owned (for admins) or were assigned to (for non-admins). That worked pretty well, but we didn’t love the inconsistency and we heard from many admins that they would prefer to see the list of projects they were assigned to instead.
So here’s what we came up with. When an admin user now visits the My Open Projects screen there is a new select menu at the top that lets you switch between projects you own, projects you’re assigned to, or all open projects. Whatever option you prefer will become your default view each time you return to the page…and of course you can still filter the list by client.
Remember that all the sub-pages of the Projects tab default to the last view you selected before you left the projects section. So if you haven’t checked out the My Open Projects page in awhile you may want to take another look.
We’ve been working pretty hard on advancing the Basecamp integration within Tick, and last week we rolled out a big update. We’re happy to announce that you can now import projects, people and Basecamp time entries directly into Tick.
This update officially knocks the top couple items off our feature request list. We worked pretty closely with a couple of customers to make sure we had this right before the bona fide launch…so once again our hats tip to those who offered their time and feedback.
Take a look at the video below, to see Tick and Basecamp in action.
Tick now includes the ability to lock and unlock time entries. We hope you find many uses for this new functionality, but a couple stand out for sure.
Let’s talk about billing first
When you run a report within Tick with the intention of creating an invoice, you’ll want to make sure you only include time entries that haven’t been billed yet. Typically you can just filter by date, but what if someone went back and entered more time after you sent that last invoice? This is where locking can help.
You can now run a report (filtering as much as necessary) and when you have the data you need (exported, printed, sent to FreshBooks, etc.) you can lock those entries. The link is on the bottom left side of the reports screen…
Locking entries does a couple of things. First of all you can filter reports based on the locked or unlocked status. Beyond that, locked entries can no longer be edited or deleted. Which is a nice segway into another great way to use this feature.
Time approvals and working with contractors
Depending on your business set up, you may need to “approve” time entires or prevent people from making changes to entries after a certain time. The locked feature can help here as well. For example: If a contractor is working on a project and you bill that time to a client (and/or pay the contractor), locking those time entries will ensure your records cannot be edited or deleted. A very good thing indeed.
So there it is. We hope you like it and if you have any feedback don’t hesitate to let us know.
Tick now includes a really nice print view, accesible from the reports section. This update was highly requested and customer driven. Thanks to all of you who helped us get this right.
* It also makes a nice little report (save as PDF) for clients that require all the details…