16 Time-tracking Best Practices to Get More Out of Your Time
HOW TO tell which projects, tasks, and meetings are the most profitable?
Or which activities should have a higher priority as they contribute the most to reaching your team’ goals?
Alright, only one more question: How do you keep your team motivated throughout long projects?
There’s an easy way to answers all the questions mentioned above. It’s called time-tracking.
Benefits of time-tracking
Keeping a log of the team’s and personal process helps to improve motivation as everyone can see the effect of their work. Moreover, you’ll be able to analyze which tasks are the most productive, while reducing the procrastination during your days at work.
As you get started, time-tracking might be harder than you’d think. Here are our favourite time-management best practices that help you to create a habit, engage your team, and reap all the benefits.
1. Understand why it’s important to track time
You should never do something just because you think it MIGHT be useful.
To prove the point: when was the last time you evaluated all your work tasks to see which ones bring the greatest rewards?
“You should never do something just because you think it MIGHT be useful.”
Before taking up time-tracking, explain to yourself why you need it. Do you want to know where your time is spent? Which projects and tasks are the most profitable ones? Or where in the day the fatigue kicks in and your productivity levels plunge.
2. Get your team on board
The first step to getting your team on board to work on a new project is to gather a meeting. It’s the same way with getting them to track their time.
Here are four simple tactics to convince your team:
Show a case study – find a company or a friend that’s already using a time-tracking tool and ask them to share their key learnings after starting to use a time-tracker.
Share your personal time sheets – the easiest way to make the point is to prove that you’re aware of all the shortcomings yourself. Track your time for one week before sharing the results with your team.
Explain the benefits – give your teammates at least three key points how time-tracking would improve your collaboration and work results. Show how their work would improve as a result.
Ask for others’ opinion – request whether your colleagues have concerns about time-tracking and find the best solution together with your team.
In case you need additional help: How to Generate High User Acceptance for New Software
3. Create a project framework BEFORE starting to track time
As Benjamin Franklin put it: “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”
Before you start tracking everything you do, establish a structured system. Create projects and activity categories to have an organized overview of your work.
How to create a structured time-tracking framework:
1. Start with projects – create a project for each client you’re working for, for separate teams, for various goals – whatever you need to achieve and track.
2. Task categories – add task categories under each project to make logging your time easier and quicken the process.
3. Sub-tasks – establish sub-tasks under each task category so that everyone knows where they’re supposed to log their time.
4. Keep it simple
When creating a time-tracking framework, it’s easy to get carried away with all the possibilities and future reporting options. Believe me, we’ve been there!
Instead of creating tens of different activity categories and sub-tasks, try to keep it as simple as possible. To add a touch of sophistication to your time-tracking structure, create tags that people can add when logging their time.
How to use tags?
For example, create the tags #writing and #publishing to specify whether the time logged under “blog articles” sub-category was spent on writing or publishing a post.
Tags should serve as an add-on for personal time-tracking, making it easier to remind on which tasks exactly the time was spent.
5. Predict the confusion
Imagine you’ve completed a task of planning a project together with a client. Is it supposed to be logged under the category “Meeting”, “Planning”, or “Work for clients”?
To sidestep this kind of confusion, establish clear rules of which activity falls under which project.
Avoid creating overlapping projects as it will be difficult to evaluate your time usage later.
A few more tactics to help your team get used to time-tracking:
1. Create a Q&A document or a Slack thread where everyone can submit questions about logging their time. Answer the questions daily.
2. Create a shared file with examples of how to track different tasks and activities. Add explanations why each one falls under a specific category.
3. Review time sheets regularly to check whether everyone has logged their time correctly.
6. Avoid the chaos
Alright. Imagine you’ve set up your tracking system and found a time-tracking tool to get started with.
Suddenly, all team members start to insert their time entries and log their time. At first glance, it might remind more of a hurricane rather than a neat time sheet system.
When a task doesn’t seem to fit any pre-created category, people are tempted to create a new project or sub-category.
To prevent your time-tracking from becoming a complete mess, take notice of these simple tactics:
1. Establish user rights – avoid the chaos by setting user rights that prevent all users from editing your time-tracking framework.
2. Make it obligatory – logging one’s time takes about 10 minutes each day. Make sure that each team member commits to completing this simple task at the end of each workday.
3. Offer help – taking up a new habit is difficult. Regularly ask your team members whether they grasp the new system and if they need additional guidance.
Speaking of good habits… Here’s an article you might find interesting: 5 Scientific Studies That Will Change Your Productivity Habits Forever
7. Forget about spreadsheets
Yes, we know. Spreadsheets are EVERYTHING. They’re so frequently used for planning and analysis that almost 90% of spreadsheets contain errors.
There so many better options to track your time. Like a cloud-based time-tracking tool that also compiles your reports in addition to systematically tracking your team’s time.
We’ve got you covered. Here’s the complete list: 20 Online Time Tracking Tools and Software to Get Paid for Every Minute Worked
Benefits of using time-tracking software instead of Excel:
1. Less hassle – you don’t need to send tens of emails to collect everyone’s time sheets. All the data’s ready in your time-tracking tool.
2. Fewer errors – you’ll instantly notice if something doesn’t add up – the expected duration of a project is suspiciously low, or some employees are outperforming others by a way-too-big margin.
3. No more double data entry – instead of logging your team’s time on spreadsheets and then compiling it into a work report, you can get automatically created reports inside your work management tool.
4. Anytime, anywhere – while Excel spreadsheets inhabit our PCs, a cloud-based tool makes your time sheets accessible anywhere and anytime.
8. Automate small yet important details
What follows the monthly time sheet overview, is drawing conclusions, paying your team for their work, and billing clients.
All these tasks can be easily automated. (And yes, you can save as much as 10 hours every week.)
Consider automating invoice creation by using invoicing software that automatically compiles neat invoices based on your logged time. With Scoro, you can even automate the sending of your recurring monthly invoices.
What else can you automate?
1. Overtime – let your team members log overtime and have this data show up in work reports.
2. Digital records – regularly have the time-tracking tool to back up your data. No more lost spreadsheets or outdated data.
3. Project-based reporting – Don’t just track the overall time worked. Break up your work reports by clients, projects, task categories, etc.
9. Choose who’s responsible for the review
You always set one person to be responsible for a project, right?
The one person that regularly reviews the project progress, keeps their eye on the key performance indicators and reports to the management.
You also need one person to take the accountability for your team’s time-tracking.
What the responsible team member should do:
1. Review frequently – especially in the starting phase, your time-tracking progress needs to be reviewed at least once a week, even better if once per day (for the first two weeks). Check whether everyone’s logging their time and if they’re doing it correctly.
2. Provide guidance – getting used to a new time logging framework might be difficult at first. So make sure that there’s a person that others could turn to for help.
3. Constantly improve the system – according to other team embers’ suggestions, personal notes, and other feedback, constantly bee on the lookout for a way to enhance your time-tracking. Be it by adding new projects or task categories, or creating new types of reports.
10. Personal time-tracking tips
In Scoro, the entire team logs their time.
Because of that, we’re able to evaluate our projects’ progress, see how and where everyone’s time is spent, and avoid inefficient work.
Here are the tips that have proved useful when logging our time:
Log time once per day
Not once per week and not after completing each new task. The most productive way to track time is to do it at the end of each workday. You might forget something when you do it less frequently.
Keep a list of daily completed tasks
Don’t waste time logging your time after completing every single task. Instead, keep a list of finished activities. Not only do you feel more productive and motivated when crossing out the completed tasks, you’ll also remember what to log at the end of the day.
Log time entries under recurring tasks
This might not work in all time management tools. But in Scoro, you can create a task and the log time entries under it. So when working on the same task each day, you could simply add a time entry instead of creating a new task each time.
Make it a habit
When starting to track your time, you might be surprised how fast you forget where and when it was spent. Learn to work consciously on one task at a time, and complete it before you jump to the next one. (You know, multitasking’s bad for productivity)
Improve your productivity further: 12 Morning Starters to Have a Productive Day at Work
You can’t always be 100% precise
This one depends on the nature of your work. If you’re billing clients based on the time worked, you should track it with a minute accuracy. But if you’re simply logging time to track how the majority of each team member’s time is spent, you can allow yourself to track time with 5- or even 20-minute intervals.
It’s okay to not log 8 hours/day
Nobody’s actually working all the time they’re in the office from 9 A.M. to 17 P.M. Allow yourself to have a lunch and regular breaks and don’t be worried to keep this time unlogged. Having 6-7 productive hours each day is only natural.
If you’re in the manager’s role, ask yourself whether you prefer well-rested and productive employees or slightly higher results, resulting in a higher burnout rate.
As you take up time-tracking in your company, the first few months might bring about more hassle than benefits. But trust us. You’ll be able to prioritize and delegate much more efficiently in the future.
Let’s revise all the time-tracking best practices we learned:
- Grasp why it’s important to track your time
- Get your team on board by showing them the benefits
- Create a time tracking framework BEFORE starting to log your time
- Keep it simple with a minimalist approach
- Predict the confusion and support your team
- Avoid the chaos by creating rules and setting up editing rights
- Forget about spreadsheets; they’re full of errors
- Automate small yet important details like custom reporting
- Choose who’s responsible for reviewing your time-tracking
- We’re all human. Keep it in mind when logging your time
Now, go and apply all these newly learned tactics to your daily time-tracking and be in control of your work!