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Time Tracking & Transcription Productivity

by Joanna Norman

Some folks find working at home challenging because of all the distractions that present themselves: the dishes that need to be loaded, the dogs that want to play or be let out, the three phone calls that need to be made to the dentist, the dog groomer, and the kid’s school. For me focus is generally not a problem, so when one of my favorite bloggers shared that she was experimenting with time tracking, my first reaction was NOPE! NO WAY! 

Part of the reason I work at home as a general transcriptionist is so that nobody is tracking my time and so that I can structure my work day however I want. Time tracking seems antithetical to everything I want out of working for myself. I thought it would increase my stress. But dang it if the idea didn’t stick in my brain, and I got curious about it. What if it did increase my productivity without increasing my stress? That seems like a win/win. 

So over the past several weeks, I’ve experimented with two different time tracking ideas to see if it increased my productivity while transcribing. 

The 52/17 Rule

Research has shown that the most productive employees work in intense, focused sprints and then take breaks to rest, completely. The magic numbers are 52 minutes of working followed by 17 minutes of rest. I decided to try it out.

For three days, I used a timer on my phone and transcribed for 52 minutes. I did not check email. I did not get up and stretch. I did not answer phone calls. After 52 minutes, I set another timer on my phone and rested for 17 minutes. I got up and walked away from my computer and crocheted or played with my dog or daydreamed while looking out the window or did a few yoga poses and some neck and shoulder stretches. My goal each day was to repeat this cycle four to six times. Keep reading and I’ll tell you how it worked for me.

The Pomodoro Method

While looking for an app to track my time rather than using the timer on my phone, I ran across information about the “Pomodoro Method”. The idea here is also intense sprints of work followed by short breaks, specificly 25 minutes of work, followed by a 5 minute break. You repeat this cycle 4 times and then take a longer 25 minute break.

I decided to try time tracking this way for a few days too so I could compare it my productivity results using the 52/17 rule. There are several free apps you can use on your phone that have the timers all set up for this. Would you like to know how it worked for me? Read on.

Reflecting on the 52/17 Rule

 I really, really liked this method of structuring my time. I didn’t expect to like time tracking at all for the reasons I mentioned above. I was surprised to discover that the 52/17 rule for time tracking indeed increased my productivity! I found that 52 minutes was enough time to get a good chunk of an audio recording transcribed. Depending on the complexity of the audio, I could transcribe a solid first draft of 15 to 20 audio minutes. I stayed mentally focused and physically comfortable for that length of time. I think having the timer going helped me to stay focused and avoid things like checking email or text messages. The 17 minutes of rest felt luxurious, long enough to really rest. Occasionally, I would use some of my rest time to change a load of laundry or make a phone call, but more often than not, I really did rest. I stretched, played with my dog, crocheted a bit, whatever I felt like. After a nice long 17 minute rest, I was physically and mentally refreshed and ready for another 52 minute work sprint.

Reflecting on the Pomodoro Method

After my success with the 52/17 Rule, I was curious how I would like a different method of time tracking. I discovered that the Pomodoro Method did not work as well for me for several reasons:

  • I found the timing less flexible and less compatible with the structure of my day. For example, if I started working around 9:00 (after a nice long walk with my guide dog puppy in training and my career change pet, a high priority for me), I would finish my first cycle of 4 rounds of 25 minutes of working and 5 minutes of rest around 11:00. Then it was time for a longer break. This seemed too early for lunch. If I started another round, then I wouldn’t be done until 1:30 which was too late for lunch. By then I couldn’t focus because I was too hungry.
  • The five minute breaks didn’t feel long enough to really rest, so I didn’t want to get up from my computer, and I ended up not getting a real rest, mentally or physically.
  • This method of time tracking increased my stress. I usually felt that I hadn’t accomplished much in 25 minutes and having only 5 minutes to rest barely gave me enough time to stretch my neck and shoulders, get a glass of water, and rush back to my desk. Ick!

My Conclusion on Time Tracking & Transcription Productivity

I’m surprised to be telling you that I liked it! I find that I’m using 52/17 Rule on at least half of the days I’m working. I find it does increase my productivity by helping me focus intensely, and it keeps me relaxed and physically comfortable on long days at the keyboard.

Of course, what works for me might not work for you, but if you give either of these methods a try, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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  1. Interesting! I am going to try this. I’ve been transcribing 10 minutes of audio and then taking a break, but the breaks are either really short or too long. I like the structure of this.

  2. The 52/17 method is a winner. While I’ve always taken frequent breaks, it wasn’t structured and I oftentimes worked too long and to the point of it actually becoming counterproductive because I was just tired.

    Great post!

    1. I know what you meant about working too long to the point of it be counterproductive. Transcription can be very mentally tiring because of the level of intense focus and close listening. I found that the 52/17 Rule helped with that mental fatigue a lot!

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