Want to make time tracking useful and less painful for everybody? Here are 10 best practices that have proven themselves useful.

 

1. Think about the time categories you want to track

Before implementing a time tracking process, you should think about the structure and categories you want to track. This is an important step you should not neglect, and it is not as straightforward as you may think.

Some categories are obvious, for example on well scoped projects. Time spent on activities related to these projects must be allocated that project, whether they are emails or meetings. That being said, you have to think about the level of detail you want. Do you only need time spent by project, or do you want to track time spent on deliverables, on phases or by type of activity? This brings us to our next point.

2. Keep time tracking as simple as you can

Tracking time in 15-minute increments is a real nightmare for people and a serious waste of time. Not exactly what you aim for when you manage your time, is it?

I remember working at an agency that had to do very precise time tracking for their clients. Friday afternoons were a sad episode, filled with anger and desperation.

This was in part due to the buggy software that was in place (unfortunately, they were not using Beeye), and due to the level of detail required for the employees. If logging your time takes you hours, then it is not worth it. There is a right balance between accuracy and flexibility, and you don’t want to ask for details you don’t need.

3. Make the structure and categories clear for everybody

Think about how you spend your day, and you’ll soon realise how hard it is to categorise everything you do. Emails, calls, interruptions, meetings: a lot of activities are not clearly related to one specific project.

You may want to define a category for “administrative” tasks to log tasks that are not related to specific projects, but beware of the bottomless pit of the administrative bucket category. This threat is a real one and tends to grow over time.

You need to be very clear on what is supposed to go into this category, and try to come up with more precise activities when a lot of time is logged into it.

For example, you may realise that a lot of time spent on training is logged as “administrative”, so if you haven’t yet created a separate category for training, it may be a good idea to do so. Furthermore, you may be required to invest at least 1% of your payroll into training initiatives if your total payroll exceed 2 million, and creating a category to log this time will enable you to keep track of it.

Whatever the structure you agree on, make sure to communicate what should go in every category. It’s not unusual to realise that everybody has their own conception of what the category means after months of logging in time. What goes in administrative tasks for one goes in projects for others (for example, "meetings"). This brings us to our next piece of advice.

4. Bind activities to projects as much as possible

Binding activities to the related projects allows you to improve accountability. This way, you will have a clear picture of efforts spent on your projects and how profitable they are. Meetings and emails related to a project should be logged within this project, not in generic administrative tasks (even if such activities sound like administrative work).

Better integration of project management best practices will help you enhance the scope of your projects, which will allow you to improve your time allocation process. 

5. Explain the value of tracking time

There are huge benefits to tracking time. Make sure you explain it to your employees, so they don’t see it as a useless and painful task.

Let’s be clear: nobody likes to complete a timesheet. But like a lot of mandatory activities, it is far less painful when you understand why you do it. Why are you asking your employees to track time? Is it to monitor the profitability of your projects? To help you get tax credits? To get visibility on what’s going on in your organisation? To bill your customers?

Whatever the value you get from time tracking, you want your employees to be aware of it so that they become more prone to collaborate.

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6. Exploit your data

The worst thing for an employee that was asked to complete timesheets is to have the impression that it has no purpose. If you ask people to take valuable time to complete timesheets, please use your data (or screw the timesheet).

A good idea could be to show the dashboard and graphs you get from the data in your meetings. This way, your team will see the value in logging in time and will get useful information on how the company is spending its time.

7. Make it useful for employees

Knowing how time is being spent on different activities is as valuable for employees as it is for managers.

At Beeye, we encourage every user to access dashboards and reports. Employees love it because it provides them with valuable information on how they spent their time over the last week, month, quarter or year. They use it in meetings with their managers for performance reviews. And, it simplifies the whole process by giving managers an idea of what has been achieved in a blink fo an eye.

Employees should not be required just to complete a timesheet without giving them the output, such as graphs and reports that aggregate the information at a high level.

8. Set goals and review them periodically

You may set some goals on how you want your organisation to spend its time. Time is the most valuable resource, and you don’t want to waste it on non-value-added activities.

For example, targets could include a maximum on administrative tasks, or a minimum on some types of activities (projects or billable time). A good idea is to start by setting realistic goals, and then to work on improving them over time.

Be careful not to set unrealistic goals that could have detrimental effects. To spend 100% of the time on billable activities, for example, is an unrealistic goal. To be able to spend 40 hours on billable activities, your employees should work 60 hours a week (which is counterproductive and cannot realistically be sustainable over time).

That being said, this is exactly what’s happening in some consulting and law firms. The point is to understand that for every billable hour, some time will be spent on non-billable activities, and to set a goal which is realistic and fits with the kind of culture you want in your company.

9. Make it mandatory and part of your employees’ objectives

If you want to make sure your employees complete their timesheet on time and rigorously, make it part of their annual objectives. After all, it is part of their job.

We found that making time tracking part of an employee’s objectives improves timesheet completion considerably within the allocated timeframe.

Be relentless on the process and make sure it’s part of people's habits to complete their timesheets every week. If you’re implementing time tracking for the first time, be especially strict at the beginning, since the behaviours will quickly stabilise and they will be hard to change afterwards.

10. Put someone in charge of the whole process

One key success factor for effective time tracking is to put someone in charge of the process. It doesn’t have to be a manager; in fact, it is better to give that responsibility to a super-user or an effective administrative assistant. They will do a better job than you to make sure everybody follows the process.

We found among our users that assistants do an incredible job at supporting the use of our time tracking system. By sending information to new users and reminders to all, they really make a difference in the success of the whole process.

We’d love to hear about you. What are your best practices on tracking time? Let us know in the comments!

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