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Should you track your time surfing the web?

(MoneyWatch) H. James Wilson, a senior researcher at Babson Executive Education, wrote a fascinating piece for Monday's Wall Street Journal on self-monitoring technology. If your boss monitors the time your spend surfing the web, that's creepy. If you're monitoring your employees, please stop. But wouldn't you like to know information about your own productivity, just for your own sake?

Maybe you'd discover something surprising, like one programmer did. As Wilson writes: "[The programmer] thought his online chats were eating into his work time. So he tested his theory: He looked at how long he spent chatting during certain periods, then looked at how much code he wrote during those times. But in fact, the more he talked, the more code he wrote. Gabbing online with colleagues and customers helped his work."

Many programs can help you discover bits of knowledge like this. RescueTime, for instance, measures how long you spend on an open window, and how often you switch from one window to another. TallyZoo can track personal or work-related data, like billable hours or how many sales you make per day. You may have a vague sense that Monday at 10 a.m. is turbo-productivity time for you, but it's kind of fun to see this in black and white.

Once you know this, you can then plan your work-life around this knowledge. After all, if 10 a.m. on Monday is when you crank out the sales, then you feel empowered to push requests for marginal phone calls or meetings to other times. If Thursday at 4 p.m. tends to be a sluggish time for you, that's a good time for a break.

I did something like this through a few public time logs I posted over the last few years. I wrote down what I was doing as often as I remembered (some tech-savvy types use apps; I just kept notes). I learned that I was most productive in the morning and late at night. I also learned that I have some bad Internet habits. I check email way too often, hitting refresh like a lab rat angling for the sugar water. I also have a tendency to follow different links, one after another, until a phone call interrupts me.

Knowing that, if I need to focus, I now close my email and browsers.

What do you think tracking software would discover about you? How much time do you spend "cyberloafing" every day? Does it seem about right, or is it something you'd change?

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