Here is some helpful advice to make time tracking easier (cough, less painful, cough).

Don’t Wait Too Long Before you Log in your Time

It’s better to spend 3 minutes every day to log your time than 1 painful hour at the end of the week (because let’s be honest, Monday is far away when we have reached Friday). Or worse, skipping a week will lead not only to a longer time needed to log your time, but shitty data since there is no way you’ll be able to remember accurately what you spent your time on weeks ago. We tend to forget very quickly where we spent our time. Try to remember what you did one hour ago. Not so bad? Now what did you do yesterday? And 3 days ago? Not only difficult, but imprecise as well (which is not what we aim for when tracking time).

Tie Activities to Projects as Much as Possible

Tying activities to the related projects allows you to improve accountability. This way, you will have a clear picture of the efforts spent on each project. Meetings and emails related to a project should be logged in this very project, not in administrative tasks (even if those kinds of activities sound like administrative work).

Avoid Multitasking

I think it is now common knowledge that multitasking affects productivity. As stated by Nancy K. Napier, “the brain doesn’t really do tasks simultaneously, as we thought (hoped) it might”. Instead, moving from one task to another costs time, leads to mistakes, and saps energy. Don’t fool yourself by pretending you are part of the 2% supertaskers:

“You’re not. The ninety-eight per cent of us, we deceive ourselves. And we tend to overrate our ability to multitask.” – David Strayer

So, not only stopping multitasking could improve your productivity by 40% (and this is why Lisa Quast strongly advises you to stop doing it and provides some tips about it), but it will also make it a lot easier to know where you spend your time. And this not only means better reporting (which may not be the most convincing reason for you to carefully track your time, yet will be much appreciated by your manager), but also enables you to manage your time better (and by doing so, improve your productivity).

Use The Data

The information on where you spent your time is not useful only for your managers. Don’t you want to know which activities or projects take most of your time? What about getting better at estimating how long specific tasks or activities will take? It will make you more reliable and will make your life easier by reducing crunch time at the end of a project. We can spend a whole life doing similar activities and never know precisely how long they take if we don’t pay attention.

We noticed that employees using our software were taking advantage of the reports and data for performance reviews. It helps them arrive prepared with a clear idea of what they have been doing in the last months.

Getting value out of the time tracking system is probably the best way to make it less of a nuisance. Nobody likes to do something that feels like a waste of time. If you don’t want time tracking to fall in that category, employees must be able to access this data. Too often, people log time in and never get to see the big picture. What a waste! Don’t we want to empower people and allow them to be better at managing their time?

Set Goals And Review Them Periodically

Have you heard of goal setting?

Just kidding, we all have heard over and over the benefits of goal setting to improve performance. Well, tracking your time is the first step to improve your productivity, and the #1 advice of time management experts is to start by being conscious of where your time goes.

As nicely worded by Jeff Boss: “You can’t manage what you don’t measure and you can’t improve what you don’t manage.”

Well, measuring where you spend your time in order to manage it, and then improving how you manage it, is worth it.

Next, you should set goals and review them to make sure you improve the way you spend your time. If you are feeling overwhelmed, managing your time better may be a more pleasant (and sustainable) solution than working 90 hours a week.

You can track your time by categories and make sure you spend time on important, but not urgent tasks. Don’t get into firefighter mode, where you are in a state of permanent urgency and only act on things when it becomes a crisis. Gain control over your time, prioritize what you should be doing, and make sure it is where you spend your time.

Of course, submitting your timesheet will never be the highlight of your week (and if it is, come work for Beeye). But by following these few tips and gaining value out of it, tracking your time will definitely be less painful.