Why your time tracking probably sucks – and how to fix it

 

 Laura Hennies, 29 October 2021

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Nobody likes time tracking.

Managers have to chase employees, times are not realistic and it’s simply time-consuming. Most of the captured times are not even assigned to the right projects. That doesn’t sound fun at all, so why do we even bother?

Because we want to know how much time we spend on which task. The more accurate your time tracking, the easier it is for you to bill your clients and to keep track of which projects are profitable.

It is absolutely important to track project times. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work - that’s an open secret. Here’s why and how you can fix it.

Why even daily estimated times are just plain wrong

Keeping track of your time while working. We all know it. We all dread it. Estimating times at the end of the day or even at the end of the week should be enough right?

Unfortunately, according to the study "Time is money", it’s already difficult to estimate times at the end of the day. The average accuracy of estimated times is 67 percent – and that is if tracked on the same day. Times that are being tracked once per week have an accuracy of only 48 to 55 percent.

Employees make no effort to estimate

That shouldn’t come as a surprise. Managers can only see if employees tracked their times, not if their times are actually correct.

If managers don’t know if something is being done good or bad, employees don’t see any incentives for accurate time tracking. After all, nobody got a raise or reward for exact time tracking, moreover, it keeps them from doing their actual work.

Estimated times cost the economy billions of dollars

According to the Harvard Business Review, the US economy is losing 7,4 billion dollars every day because of estimated times. Inaccurate times result in the false impression of the profitability of projects.

As a result, proposals are often not calculated profitably and budgets are exceeded.

Is there an alternative to estimating times?

Of course, it would be possible to measure times more exactly. But to do that, you might have to make sacrifices when it comes to your workflow.

Setting timers, pressing stopwatches and writing down times on a piece of paper every time you switch tasks is not just exhausting but let’s be honest – plain annoying.

Here's how you fix it

Interested in a better solution? Let's go over your options

Solution A: Give up time tracking and project controlling altogether

 
Suitable for: Smaller companies (with liquidity problems)

In all honesty, you can't really recommend this to any company.

Turning your back on time tracking equals letting money slip through your fingers.

Still, the question is legitimate: Why stick to a time-consuming process that only delivers questionable results anyways?

Especially when it's a struggle for bare survival - and that can happen to anyone who loses an important customer - the question of project efforts is understandably the last concern.

Even if you don't like to deal with numbers - and don't have the corresponding expertise in the company, you can still manage to plan with your gut feeling, at least for a while, when working in smaller teams.

Solution B: Increase appreciation for time tracking

 
Suitable for: All company sizes

This may sound esoteric at first. But let's remember: Time is recorded badly because employees can't get anything for it. Most of the time, not even a thank you.

When time tracking is seen and appreciated, it will increase the time tracking morality immediately.

  1. Communicate to all employees the importance of time tracking for the company's success (and thus their next raise) as outlined above. How? Don't get it over with a 5-minute speech. Rather offer a workshop about "How our business works".
     
  2. Put fixed blockers in their calendars twice a day. During those mini-appointments, the entire company will track their times. The most suitable times to do this would be before lunch or before the end of work. Project times of the morning and afternoon should (mostly) be present during those times.
     
  3. To increase the employees' acceptance of this, you could appreciate their spent time by symbolically giving it back to them. For example by adding 5 minutes to the lunch break or putting the end of work 5 minutes earlier.

Solution C: Automatic time tracking linked to your project software

 
Suitable for: All company sizes

Automatic time tracking.

This doesn't mean stopwatches but rather intelligent time recorders: all computer activities in files, e-mails, and programs, as well as all offline times and calendar appointments, are measured automatically and displayed corresponding to their order.

That way employees can see their day as a timeline and use this memory aid to precisely assign their times to projects even after several days.

With just one click they can then export those entries to the project software.

It's crucial, that only the employee himself can see this timeline. The complete time measurements are only stored on his device and not the server. Therefore, monitoring is out of question from the beginning.

Why it works well: The concept doesn't deny that time tracking isn't a priority for employees and is usually done in retrospect.

Automatic tracking helps employees to forget about tracking for good, helps them to focus on their work and to decide by themselves when to make time entries. No matter when they do it, for sure they'll be more exact than daily estimations.

When assigning project times becomes easier with the memory aid and eliminates agonizing oneself over making up times, that's when the accuracy of times really increases.

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