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.⁂