Track your time in Outlook using Journal

By Jim Boyce

You probably spend a big part of your day working in Microsoft Office Outlook 2003. But you also spend time working on documents, making and taking phone calls, chatting online or at the water cooler with coworkers, or even just talking with colleagues in the hall. Some of this time is certainly not work related, but much of it is. And much of it is related to specific projects.

Wouldn't it be great if you could easily keep track of how much time you spend on each project, regardless of whether the time spent is in a document, on the phone, or having coffee in the break room?

Journal is one of the least understood and most underused features in Outlook, but it's a great feature that can help you get a handle on project cost, your own productivity, and lots more.

In this article, you'll learn how Journal can help you track time spent during your workday.

Time really is money

The old adage that time is money might seem jaded, but it's also true for most businesses. In some situations, time in your day is directly related to a specific project or client. An attorney who spends 20 minutes working on a brief, for example, would bill the time to the client. A project manager who spends an hour working on a project status report might need to allocate that time to the project's administrative overhead cost.

In other situations, time spent on a particular document, phone call, or meeting isn't a directly billable item, but it's important even so. For example, a salesperson might need to keep track of time spent talking to a prospective client so that it can be determined whether the sale might prove to be worthwhile. Or you might just be curious as to where all that time goes.

Whatever the situation, Journal is a helpful tool for tracking the time you spend on specific items. And it can help you get a handle on each project in other ways, such as tracking e-mail messages from a particular person.

Separating moneymakers from time wasters

Another reason to track how you spend your time is to separate those tasks and items that contribute to the bottom line from those that are marginally profitable, if at all. Separating the moneymakers from the time wasters requires that you have a fairly comprehensive list of the items that you've worked on during each day and a reasonably accurate account of the time that you've spent on each one.

Journal can give you the time-management information you seek, but not without some help from you. Journal can track some items automatically, but you'll have to add other items yourself. Managing and analyzing your time by using Journal will require a mix of Outlook setup and spending a little more time in Outlook performing some manual tasks — but it's worth the effort.

In a bit, you'll take a look at how to use Journal to track your time and other tasks. First, take a look at specific situations and how Outlook can accommodate them.

Tips for tracking your time

Whether you bill for the time you spend on particular projects or for specific clients, or whether you just need to track time spent on a particular project, consider tracking these items in Outlook by using Journal:

  • Documents     Journal can automatically track the amount of time that you spend on documents in Microsoft Office System programs. You can also add documents manually to Journal. This latter capability is great for tracking documents that are not a part of the Microsoft Office System.
  • Phone calls     Journal includes a predefined item type named Phone Call that you can use to keep track of call duration.
  • Meetings     Outlook doesn't provide a means for automatically tracking meetings in Journal, even if those meetings appear in your Calendar folder, but you can add meetings manually and specify the time.
  • Transit time     If you charge clients for time spent on the road, manually add an item for the time in Journal.
  • Travel     You can manually add travel time and expense items to Journal.
  • Research time     You can treat research time much like a phone call. Add a Journal item and start its timer when you start your research; then stop the timer when you're finished.

Of course, tracking the information in Journal is just part of the process. You also need to be able to easily extract the information for a particular project or client. You can use one of several methods:

  • Use the Company field     Each Journal entry includes the Company field. You can create a custom view in Journal that organizes the entries by company, making it easy to locate the time spent on projects for that company.
  • Use contacts     You can associate contacts with a Journal item. Use the predefined By Contact view in Journal to quickly locate items for a specific contact. This option is great for tracking time spent on individual clients.
  • Use categories     Create categories for specific projects or clients. Then assign these categories as needed when you create a Journal item. You can use the By Category view to organize Journal by project, client, and so on. Outlook doesn't categorize documents automatically, so you'll have to manage the categories manually for some items.

Checking your productivity

Journal can be handy for helping you get a handle on your productivity and identify where you're spending time on unproductive tasks. However, this feature's usefulness depends on the amount of information you put in. The more detailed your input, the better picture you'll get of how you spend your day.

Journal items don't appear in your Calendar folder, but you can certainly create a calendar-like view, as explained later in this article. You can also use other types of views to determine how much time you spend on each type of Journal item.

Tracking document time by using Journal

Outlook can automatically keep track of the time you spend working on documents that are part of the Microsoft Office System. Here's how to configure Journal to track time spent on those documents automatically.

Setting up Journal to monitor documents

To configure Journal to automatically monitor time spent on Microsoft Office System documents, follow these steps:

  1. In Outlook, on the Tools menu, click Options.
  2. In the Options dialog box, click Journal Options on the Preferences tab under Contacts.
  3. In the Also record files from list, check each type of Microsoft Office System document you want Journal to monitor.
  4. Click OK.
  5. Exit and then restart Outlook.

Checking and reporting Microsoft Office System document time

After you set up Journal to track specific document types, Outlook adds those documents to Journal automatically, keeping track of the amount of time you spend working on each document. You can use the By Type view to see a list of documents organized by document type.

Viewing the amount of time spent on a particular document

To view the amount of time spent on a particular document, double-click the item to open it. (The Duration field in the opened Journal item will show the total time spent working in the document.)

 Tip    If you close a document as soon as you're finished, Journal more accurately reflects the time that you spent on it.

Adding other types of documents to Journal

If you need to keep track of time spent on documents that are not a part of the Microsoft Office System, just add a Journal entry manually for the document. Here's how:

  1. In Outlook, on the Go menu, click Journal.
  2. In Journal, on the File menu, point to New, and then click Journal Entry.

New Journal entry

  1. In the Entry type list, select Document or select a custom type.
  2. To specify contacts and categories for the item, click Contacts and Categories.
  3. Then click Start Timer, minimize the Journal item, and start working on the document. When you're finished with the document, restore the Journal item, click Pause Timer, and then click Save and Close.

Monitoring e-mail messages, task requests, and meeting requests

Journal can track e-mail messages, task requests and responses, meeting requests and responses, and meeting cancellations automatically. To configure tracking for these items, follow these steps:

  1. In Outlook, on the Tools menu, click Options.
  2. In the Options dialog box, click Journal Options on the Preferences tab under Contacts.
  3. In the Automatically record these items list, select the desired items you want to have automatically recorded.
  4. In the For these contacts list, select the contacts for whom you want to track the selected items.

(Note that, currently, you can't track different types of items for individual contacts. Outlook tracks all of the specified types for all of the specified contacts.)

Tracking time spent on phone calls and other events

The items discussed so far are not the only items that you can track in Journal, but they are the only ones that Journal will track automatically. That's not a problem, however, because you can add any kind of item to Journal yourself. For example, when you take a phone call from a client, pop open the Journal folder, create a new phone call item, and click Start Timer. Click Pause Timer when the call is over, add any additional information, and then click Save and Close to save the item to Journal.

Adding Journal items manually

Whenever you need to track a phone call, a conversation in the hall, or another item that Journal doesn't track automatically, just add the item yourself:

  1. To create a new Journal item, on the File menu, point to New, and click Journal Entry.
  2. In the Entry type list, select a type.
  3. Specify the company, contacts, and categories for the item, as applicable.
  4. Set the start date and time, if they are different from the current date and time.
  5. If you're timing a current activity or task, click Start Timer. When you're finished, click Pause Timer. Or you can enter a duration for the item in the Duration field.
  6. Click Save and Close.

Get started tracking your time using Journal

Journal can be a great time tracking and time-management resource. By using Journal, you can keep close tabs on the way you spend your time during the day. And tracking your time in this way can be particularly helpful in identifying projects or specific types of events that are consuming your time — perhaps too much of it. In other words, Journal can prove be to a handy Outlook feature for separating the time wasters from the moneymakers.

About the author     Jim Boyce has authored over 50 books about computers and technology; many of these books are about the Microsoft Office System. He regularly contributes to several online sites and publications. His latest book is Microsoft Office Outlook 2003 Inside Out, which is available from Microsoft Learning.

Applies to:
Outlook 2003