Sample design theory - Using time tracking to improve the intentionality of time at work

Last updated Apr 11, 2024 | Originally published Feb 17, 2023

An Information Systems Design Theory (ISDT) provides a high-level design schematic to guide the implementation and use of a novel information systems design theory (Gregor & Jones, 2007). Here I present an ISDT for the use of a time budgeting and time tracking system to support the intentional and constructive time use for undergraduate and graduate students.

# Purpose or problem

Students need to know the most effective ways to spend their time to achieve these competing priorities in effective, yet stress-free, ways. They need to be able to estimate how much time they should be spending on their different responsibilties and interests, track their use of time to know how well they are “spending” it, recognize when their time “budgets” have been overspent, re-allocate time accordingly, and revise their estimates for more accurate future forecasts and planning.

An effective design will achieve the following success conditions:

# Context

There is often a difference between the highest-impact ways a student can spend their time and their actual use of time. Interruptions, distractions, procrastination, poor planning, and other forces can cause a student to spend their time poorly and unintentionally, limiting their opportunity to achieve their goals, adding stress, and causing other debilitating consequences.

# Users

In this design theory, the primary users are undergraduate or graduate students striving to complete an academic program. Students have many competing responsibilities both within their academic life (e.g., they may be enrolled in multiple courses with assignments and exams taking place at the same time) and across their personal and professional lives (e.g., co-curricular activities, part-time or full-time jobs, dependants, health issues, social life, etc.).

# Basis

Britton and Tesser (1991) found that two time management skills were significant contributors to the success of college students: short-range planning and time attitudes. Short-range planning is the daily practice of identifying priorities, setting goals, and scheduling your day accordingly. Time attitudes reflect a student’s self of efficacy and agency about their own time use; students who have good time attitudes tend to be able to renegotiate their responsibilities (e.g., they can say no to requests) and take action to improve how their time is spent according to their goals.

Time budgeting directly reflects these two tendencies. First, a time budget is, by definition, a short-range plan. Developing a set of categories or priorities, sorting one’s activities into the categories, and estimating the amount of time one should spend in each category are all planning activities that help a student relate their short-term use of time to their overall responsibilities and objectives (Adegbuyi, 2021).

Second, over time, time budgeting necessitates better time attitudes as objective time tracking provides valuable, concrete feedback to students about their estimations of the time necessary to achieve their objectives and their use of time in pursuit of those objectives. Time-tracking tools ceate an objective log of time use (Pham, 2011). These logs may be used to ask and answer questions about the effective use of time. They may also help identify interventions that facilitate more effective use of time (e.g., “Does a focus meditation lead to more effective time-use in the following hours?”). This may act as training (Green and Skinner, 2005) that improves the student’s time management abilities. This evidence is in support of the “track time for insights, not posterity” principle. The student should use reporting, review, and revision of their time tracking and budgeting as feedback for their time attitudes. With practice, time attitudes should improve, allowing a student to spend their time more intentionally and constructively.

Another source of evidence for the validity of these principles come from the procrastination literature. Implementation intentions are an effective method of mitigating procrastination behaviours (Gollwitzer and Sheeran, 2006). Time budgeting may facilitate setting time-bounded implementation intentions (e.g., “after I take a break, I will spend two hours on Math 1001”). However, there is a possibility that poor performance in time budgeting and time tracking will magnify and/or intensify feelings of shame associated with procrastination, which could have the counterintuitive effect of increasing procrastination behaviour (Fee & Tangney, 2000). This is something to examine in implementations of this design theory, and future iterations on this design theory should take this into account.


# Principles

Principles Constructs Affordances Success conditions Tests
Use a time budget to prioritize time spending A set of time categories A delineated list of possible areas of time expenditure allows us to classify activities It is possible to develop a set of categories that are exclusive of one another and that roughly account for all uses of a student’s time A final set of time categories
A classification of activities into the time categories A classification of each activity into useful classes allows us to understand whether a given expenditure is valuable/intentional It is easy to classify all activities into the categories. After a month of tracked activities, classify all activities into categories
A time budget that identifies how much time should be spent in each category in a given week/month A time budget will allow the student to identify how much time they have to spend on each of their priorities The time budget provides the student with a realistic view of their intentional use of time. Calculate the degree of error between the time budget and actual time used, week-over-week
Use timers to track how much time is being spent on each relevant category A time tracking tool with multiple timers and a sufficient classification system Multiple timers that can be classified according to the categories and compare with our budget by tracking and visualizing the use of time in these different classes After a month of use, the student will have tracked sufficiently complete and correct time spending that they will be able to generate evidence-based insights in how they should use their time. User reviews of the time-tracking practice
Automate the triggering and shut-off of timers to increase the accuracy and completeness of tracking Saved timers The ability to quickly invoke commonly-used timers will support the collection of more accurate and complete data Doing time tracking does not itself take up time The amount of time dedicated to managing time tracking
Timing automations Automatically triggering and disabling timers according to my context and activity will ensure the collection of more accurate and complete data At any given moment in a day, I can trust that a timer is running and tracking my time as designed The frequency of backtracking to track missed time
Track time for insights, not posterity Weekly and monthly reports on time used A once-per-month review of time used allows the student to recognize discrepancies between budgeted time and used time, and adjust behaviour or budget accordingly A review of a multiple-week report will provide information useful for me in adjusting behaviour/budgeted time. 

User reflection and feedback after reviewing reports
Regular review and revision of the time budget Regularly revising the time budget will allow the student to recognize how their time is actually being spent and to adjust their priorities, renegotiate their responsibilities, and adapt their intentional use of time accordingly. Each successive review of the time budget leads to a more accurate budget for the next period.  Error rates between budgeted time and time used generally decline over time

# References

Adegbuyi, F. (2021). A realistic guide to time management. Ambition & Balance by doist.

Britton, B. K., & Tesser, A. (1991). Effects of time-management practices on college grades. Journal of Educational Psychology83(3), 405–410.

Fee, R. L., & Tangney, J. P. (2000). Procrastination: A means of avoiding shame or guilt? Procrastination: Current Issues and New Directions. 15(5), 167-184.

Green, P. & Skinner, D. (2005). Does time management training work? An evaluation. International Journal of Training and Development. 9(2), 124-139.

Gregor, S., & Jones, D. (2007). The Anatomy of a Design Theory. Journal of the Association for Information Systems, 8(5), 25.

Gollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta‐analysis of effects and processes. Advances in Experimental Social Psychology38, 69-119.

Pham, T. (2021). Time tracking: the one thing that will tell you exactly how productive you are… or aren’t! Asian Efficiency.