Spy on yourself with this innovative new program.

One of the fun things about writing this column is that I get paid to surf the Web and look for new and better ways to do things. I get to preview technology before it is widely adopted. I wrote about my less than exhilarating experience with Web cams five years ago, reviewed Palms and Pocket PCs around the turn of the century and played with Web conferencing long before the term Web-ex became part of the English language.
    And over the years, I've come across some great little tools, like Nelson Email Organizer, an Outlook add-on that sorts and searches your e-mail; Anagram, another Outlook add-on that automatically imports contacts and appointments from e-mails and other documents to save you keystrokes; and Roboform, an add-on for Internet Explorer that remembers all your passwords for different Web sites and fills them in for you. These, along with the Google toolbar for Internet Explorer, are among my favorites because they save you time and make your life easier.
But over the past couple of years there has been so much to write about in the industry-financial planning applications and portfolio management software as well as practice management and marketing-that I have not looked for any neat little tools that you could use to improve your computing experience.
    Then, two weeks ago, I received a call from Tracy Beckes, a very smart coach to advisors, and she asked me if I had any time-saving new programs that I could share with her because she was collecting such ideas for an advisor conference presentation. I was embarrassed that I almost had nothing for her. So for the first time in a while, I spent a couple of weeks looking beyond the advisor world for new tools likely to help advisors save time and money. And that was how I found a cool new tool for time management called Qlockwork.

Qlockwork Basics

I was surfing Google's financial advisor blogs when I came across a British blog, Philip Calvert's Electronic Marketing Guide For Financial Advisors. Calvert mentioned Qlockwork and quoted the company's marketing materials saying it "automatically records how you spend every five minutes of your day," but he had not actually tested the software yet. Curious, I followed the link to www.workingProgram.com, home of the start-up company that provides Qlockwork. I downloaded the program and without reading any documentation-if you need documentation to get started, it's not good software-in minutes I was using Qlockwork.

Qlockwork is a new program, and London-based workingProgram was founded in April 2006. Anne Currie, a co-founder, and her partner are the only full-time employees, and the company is self-funded. It now has 100 users, but the software is being tested by employees of two companies. One company with tens of thousands of employees is testing it with 30 employees, and the other company, with a few thousand employees, has about 20 employees testing it.

Qlockwork let's you spy on yourself to see how you are wasting your time. It has potential to improve productivity throughout your firm, provided you figure out a way not to make your employees think you're monitoring them too closely.

Qlockwork is an Outlook add-on program. When you install the program, a menu item is added to Outlook in between "Actions" and "Help," and a button is added to your Outlook toolbar that says, "Refresh Qlockwork." When you refresh Qlockwork, the program gathers data about what you've been working on.
    Qlockwork shows you in five-minute increments what applications you were active in and important details about what you were doing. It is displayed in a separate calendar in Outlook that can run next to or instead of your normal Outlook calendar. It shows you not only that you used Microsoft Word from 9:45 a.m. to 10:15 a.m., for instance, but also tells you what documents you were working on. It works the same way for PowerPoint slide shows and Excel spreadsheets. In addition to telling you what Microsoft Office files you used, it also tells you what you did on the Web. It will tell you that you used Internet Explorer from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., for instance, and what Web sites you visited. In addition, if it takes you five minutes to draft an e-mail, Qlockwork displays the subject of the e-mail in your calendar.
The program runs in your System Tray, which is the little box in the lower right hand corner of a PC that displays the icons of programs always running in the background that are always ready for you to use. You really want to be choosy about what programs you allow to run in your System Tray because they eat up resources and can slow down your computer's performance. But Qlockwork seems like a worthwhile one.
    Every five seconds, Qlockwork asks your PC what you are working on. If you are writing an e-mail but referencing a document on the Web, Qlockwork will tell you what your principal activity is. In other words, since you're spending more five-second increments writing the e-mail than you are referencing the Web site, Qlockwork gives you an accurate report of what you are really doing.

Billing Assistance

Currie, a cofounder of London-based workingProgram, says that financial advisors can use Qlockwork to be sure they are billing clients properly. For advisors who are paid by the hour, such as members of the Garrett Planning Network, this could be especially helpful. Professionals who bill by the hour usually use time-tracking software that records how long they are spending on a client matter. With such software, when you begin working on client John Smith's financial plan, you click a button to tracking your time, and when you finish working on Smith's case you click again to stop recording your time.

While that sounds good in theory, it's easy to forget to start and stop tracking your time on a client case. Moreover, with PCs becoming a hotter medium with more distractions, people are forced to multitask. When switching from one task to the next, it's easy to forget to turn on and off your billing software.
    Currie says Qlockwork can ensure you don't let lost client minutes get away from you if you make mistakes when using billing software. You simply check Qlockwork's report against your billing software report to be sure you're not forgetting to bill for any time.
    But what if you are paid based on assets under management or on commissions? In those cases, you probably would not get a direct benefit from Qlockwork. Or would you? Let's say you are like many advisors and don't charge a separate fee for making financial plans. You look at your report at the end of a week and see that you spent two days of your time in NaviPlan or MoneyTree working on a single client's financial plan. Or you could run one of Qlockwork's other reports that tells you what applications you use over a one-month period, and you may see that you are spending 25% of your time in your planning software. That could be a revelation. Sometimes in working day to day to get things done you lose track of how you are spending your time, and that's where a program like this could come in handy.

Employee Time Management

Whether Qlockwork can be a tool you implement business-wide is another matter. Employees are sure to feel threatened about monitoring their activities so closely. Spyware programs that allow you to monitor your staff's activities on their computers are available and affordable. But not disclosing to your employees that you are monitoring them is asking for trouble. Employees are likely to resent it if you secretly monitor their keystrokes. In addition, with all the Spyware on the Web, employees could download a program that detects you are running a program that monitors their PC activities. Trust between you and your staff could be crushed.
    Currie suggests employers give their employees Qlockwork and ask them to run it to see how they are spending their time. Currie says there is a difference between coming to employees with a time-management tool and monitoring them secretly. Giving employees a tool that they can voluntarily employ to use their time more efficiently is different from monitoring them because you believe they're dishonest about how they use their time.
Currie says an employer could ask employees to submit daily Activities Reports. For an advisory firm that is already asking employees to submit their tasks on a daily or weekly basis, the transition is far less difficult because employees are already in the habit of filing these reports by manually creating them. Qlockwork actually makes the task easier by automating creation of the report.

A Web Of Distractions
    "Workers these days are not using their time effectively because the PC has now been so filled up by distractions," says Currie. "The difference between your PC and TV is becoming more blurred every day. If you put a TV behind a PC monitor people will be distracted, and that is essentially what is now happening."

Look at YouTube. For my 13-year-old son, that site has replaced TV-watching time. He checks youtube.com at least once a day now. The popular site, which was bought by Google last year for $1.65 billion in stock, streams videos of everything from previews of network TV shows to rock singers getting out of their limos, and from teens putting their cars in cruise control while they climb on top of the roof to dance to actresses producing their own short films.

Meanwhile, in another change in the nature of the Web, the growth of Really Simple Syndication (RSS) feeds of streaming news, blogs and other information into your inbox is exploding.  RSS pushes information to people through e-mail and is likely to change the nature of our Internet experience dramatically in the next few years by sending you a constant stream of information geared to your personal interests. How are you supposed to get any work done? Right now, RSS is mostly text feed, but that's likely to converge with TV as well over the next decade, as we all begin to live more and more like the Jetsons.

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