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Friday, April 14, 2017

Reviewing Time Tracking Apps

The ASCA National Model suggests that school counselors should complete a use of time assessment at least once per year. This is so we can see if we are spending our time according to the 80/20 rule of thumb. The 80/20 rule of thumb suggests that school counselors should spend 80% of their time providing direct services and only 20% of our time providing indirect services. Direct Services include Individual Counseling, Individual Student Planning, Small-Group Counseling, School Counseling Core Curriculum, Responsive Services, and Crisis Response. This should take up most of our time. I usually consider 504s to be part of Individual Student Planning. I also consider student observations to be part of Direct Services. Indirect Services include making referrals, consultation, collaboration, etc.

I'm currently in a part-time position that I hope will become a full-time position in the future. Instead of only assessing how I spend my time two times per year, I started keeping track of how I spend my time each day. When I was studying for my Praxis last year, I researched Apps for the Use of Time Assessment. I found Timely and Toggl. I decided to try one of these to keep track of my time. If anyone ever asked me about how I was spending my time, I would have printed reports at my disposal. I also kept track of all the times I had to work from home to get things done. I wanted to be able to show that my job obviously can't be done part-time if I have to work another 20 hours from home unpaid.

The first app I chose to use was Timely. I used a free version for a few weeks. I was able to have 5 "projects" that I broke down into Direct Services, Preparation, Observations, Meetings, and Miscellaneous. Within projects I was able to describe what I worked on (i.e., individual counseling, small groups, class lessons, 504 plan preparation, staff meetings, etc.). I would put student initials and teacher in for individual counseling to remind myself what I worked on, grade and teacher for lessons, and staff member for consultations and meetings. If I worked on something from home I would write home in parentheses. I was also able to sync my work Google Calendar with Timely so that events were automatically added from my calendar in to Timely. When you started a task, you could start the timer and press stop when you finished it. It made it easy for me to keep track of how much time I was spending on tasks. If you forgot to stop the timer or got caught up in something, you can change the start and end times of tasks or you could change the hours and minutes as well. Timely was an easy and convenient app to use. Timely was also aesthetically pleasing since each "project" could be color-coded.

One thing I noticed quickly was that sometimes I couldn't access it at work. The technology supervisor contacted Timely and they quickly responded. Eventually we figured it out and got it working. Then I started having issues with my calendar syncing. We contacted Timely about that a bunch of times. I had to disconnect and reconnect my calendar a few times, maybe ever other week. Then I got an email from Timely telling me that they were removing the free account because it wasn't sustainable to have a bunch of users using it for free. I understand and respect that, but I don't want to pay $108 per year to track how I spend my time as a school counselor, especially on a part-time budget. Also, the report was actually just a print out of logged time. Paid accounts may have a better experience and better features than what I did. I liked Timely despite the issues I had, it just wasn't in my budget.

I have not personally used Toggl, so I am unable to review it. The website states that reports are available. Like Timely, you can use Toggl on your phone or computer. Other features include: unlimited projects, color-coding, shareable time reports, etc. However, it is also $108 for year. It claims that it offers unlimited projects for free, but when you go to the pricing page, the basic package is $9 per user per month. On the bottom it says that basic packages for teams of five or less are always free. I just didn't want to start using Toggl and then get an email after two months that they can't let me keep using it for free, so I continued my search.

This is the official app of school counselors. It is specifically designed for school counselors to be able to privately log how they spend their time and to categorize it using ASCA domains. It's the perfect product for school counselors, especially if you're looking to become a RAMP school. However, this comes with a large price tag, It's $125 for SCUTA Pro and $195 for SCUTA Max for the year. It allows you to make all kinds of reports (use of time, school level analysis, etc.). There's features for mission statements, lesson plans, Mindsets & Behaviors, etc. I have not used the App myself. I would love to be able to do so, but I can't afford to pay for it myself and I don't think we would have money for it in my work budget next year. It was recommended to me by my Lehigh Professor, Dr. Susan Fuller and author of the Entirely Elementary blog. Check out her post on SCUTA here.

When I was in grad school, we used Time2Track to log our clinical/ internship hours. The school paid for each of us to have a yearly membership. The cost is $36.95 per year for individuals and $30 per year per individual for organizations. The cost is super low and you only have to pay it once per year. There are pre-established activity categories and you can add your own. Time2Track is used for clinical hours, so the activity categories relate to what private practice and mental health counselors do more than what school counselors do. Sure you will find individual and group counseling and observation categories. However, if you want to have a class lesson category or a system support category, you'll have to manually add it in. Once you manually add a category, you'll be able to select it from a drop-down menu. You can also add clients. You can have your hours approved by a supervisor for training purposes. It was easy to use and I was able to print reports out for myself. The reports had graphs  that enabled me to see how I was spending my time. I also got a monthly email with my logged activities. Overall, I liked using Time2Track in grad school.

When I couldn't use Timely anymore, I searched for other time tracking apps that were free. I managed to find MyHours. With MyHours, I have a free account that allows unlimited projects. Each project has tasks that you add to it. You can add clients if you want to. Right now, I haven't added clients because I'm not sure if I want to go that route. I'll try it without clients this year and then next year I can add clients to see how that works out. So far my projects include: communication, consultation and collaboration, direct services, documentation, individual student planning, meetings, observations, preparation, system support, and work from home. I break each project down into tasks. For example, the direct services category is broken into class lessons, individual counseling, positive behavior support plan check-in, and other direct services. If I wanted to, I could have clients. Lesson clients would be the teacher name/grade. Small Groups would be the title of the group. Finally, Individual Counseling would be the student's initials. You can use it on your computer or get an App from the Apple Store or Google Play for your phone. The reports are nice and much easier to print than on Timely. I get a circle graph showing the percentages for how I spent my time for the week or month that I am viewing. So far, I have been pretty happy with it.

Leader in Me Inspiration
When school counselors keep track of their time and complete a use of time assessment, they're using Habit 1- Be Proactive, Habit 2- Begin with the End in Mind, and Habit 3- Put First-Things First. Habit 1 says that we are in charge of ourselves. I'm taking responsibility for my work when I keep track of how I spend my time. When I'm looking at a report, if I see I'm not using my time as effectively as I could be, I can also be proactive and make changes to how I use my time so that I am putting first things first. I should have a goal for what I want to do each school year, with each lesson, with each group, etc. This is my accountability tool to see if I'm using my time in a way that will help me achieve those goals. The 80/20 rule is also a goal for every school counselor.

🙋So now it's your turn: Do you track how you spend your time? Do you complete a use of time assessment each year? What time tracking app do you use? Any advice on time tracking? Let me know in the comments section!

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