How Automatic Time Tracking Can Help with Project Management

Alexandra Cote

Written by

Alexandra Cote

Read Time

11 minutes

Last updated: July 2018

We all know that putting in the effort to be more organized pays up in the end. But it’s a serious hassle. Especially when it comes to time tracking.

As a project manager or business owner, you want your team to work without interruptions and distractions. This case is mostly valid when they multitask heavily. The truth is that many people don’t like tracking their time.

They find clocking in and out rather annoying. Sometimes they want to stay focused on what they need to do and worry less about all the time tracking technicalities at the end of the day. And they should be able to do that.

But time tracking through automated tools is not always fun. Some employees dislike using such tools as they don’t want to have every second of their day at work monitored. Managers, on the other hand, might see this method as the perfect one for ensuring that employees are delivering the work they pay for.

Automatic time tracking is a new type of approach to time tracking. You might want to consider it since it’s one of the most accurate ways to monitor work times.

Let’s first take a look at the detailed benefits of automatic time tracking (or you can skip to our PaymoPlus use case):

Better chance of meeting deadlines

When it comes to deadlines, it’s always better to have things done a few hours earlier than a minute too late, as Shakespeare put it. If your team is working on a project and you notice that things are moving slower than expected, you can use the detailed time entries in your automatic time tracking app to see where the roadblock is.

An employee might be spending too much time on a minor task or some members of the team are overwhelmed and they need help. Noticing this in time will make it easier for you to fix unpleasant situations and still meet your project deadlines.

Your team’s work will never go unpaid

Automatic time tracking will give you an accurate report of how your employees spend their time. Not a single minute will remain unbilled. If they were to use a regular timer, there could be activities they might not even take into consideration or forget about, like sending an email to a client or talking to a colleague about a project. All these add up and it’s only fair they get paid for them.

With everything being so precise, you won’t have to worry about overcharging the client either. There will be no more guesstimates, which will give both you and your client a sense of satisfaction.

Improved project estimations

If you can accurately assess how much time each member spends on a task, you can allot the right budget hours to a project with similar tasks.

Say you have a $5,000 budget for a project that would typically take 250 hours to complete. You remember from a previous project that your web designer spent 50 hours in Photoshop when you only thought it would take him 30 hours. You can adjust your budget to set up estimates that are closer to reality, which in return can serve as proof for the client if necessary.

Avoiding work overload

By accurately estimating how much time your employees need on specific tasks and projects, you can avoid overworking them. You will no longer take on projects and realize the deadline can’t be met and then be forced to make your employees work overtime. This will create unnecessary frustration that can totally be avoided.

You can free time for useful work and discover workflow inefficiencies as well. Through this, the whole purpose behind automatic tracking is revealing the most productive activities, helping the team members that need more support, and finding out under what conditions they perform their best.

Prioritizing important tasks

There are important tasks, urgent tasks, and also non-essential ones. You want your team to focus on what’s important and take care of the urgent problems, but few of them are truly urgent.

If you knew exactly how everyone in your team spends their time, you can spot early on if one of your employees is spending too much time on a non-important task. Let them know what your expectations are so they can realign their priorities.

More productivity by avoiding time drains

Some of your employees will spend a lot of time on Facebook or compulsively checking their email. That makes you wonder how much time they spend productively and how much they literally lose due to behavioral patterns. Many of them would be surprised to find out the truth about their work performance. And it’s not like they waste time on purpose – well, maybe sometimes – but that’s not the point.

Most of them get into habits they aren’t even aware of. Then, they wonder where the time has gone by at the end of the day. This is where an automatic time tracking app like PaymoPlus is useful. It can help them become aware of their bad habits and replace them with better ones. This will help your employees become more productive and feel better about themselves and their work. After all, if they can’t acknowledge they have a problem, they can’t fix it, right?

Less frustration for employees

Many people find the need to start and stop a timer quite irritating. Some of them are heavy multitaskers, being quite inconvenient for them to remember to maintain the timer in between tasks. Others forget about it or simply get distracted by other activities like reading articles or checking social media.

With an automated time tracker, your team members can install, open and forget about it. It’ll automatically start recording their activities every time they boot up their computer. Their work will be instantly pulled in. This way, they can forget about the timer and match everything up at the end of the day. Likewise, they will no longer feel the need to put in fabricated estimates in their timesheets when they realize they forgot about the timer.

Help coordinate your business

Managing a team is not a walk in the park, but with automatic time tracking managers get a helping hand when it comes to finding out everything employees work on. This type of method can help leaders capture worked hours, allocate the right resources, improve productivity rates, set accurate estimates, adapt to budget changes, and identify bottlenecks.

They can even get full control of all these activities as they are the ones who can approve a timesheet (provided the used tool has a timesheet approval system). But here’s the gist: you don’t need such a feature to monitor your team. You can have a look at their timesheets at any time and see if their work hits the mark. In fact, automatic time tracking tools create these kind of smart timesheets, making them available immediately at the end of the day.

We believe automation is the future of time tracking. That is why we came up with our own automatic time tracker to meet the needs of even the most difficult of employees.

PaymoPlus Use Case

As an alternative to Paymo’s time tracker, PaymoPlus is an automated time tracking app that records everything that’s happening on your employees’ desktop in detail – files, apps, and browser tabs – letting you know exactly how much time they’ve spent on each activity

If you often work with multiple projects at the same time, then this is the tool for you. Just start this app and let it run in the background while you’re doing your job. At the end of the day, match the activities to the right project & task and you’re ready to go home.

Before you start tracking time with PaymoPlus, remember you can create Rules to cut down on admin time. Set them to automatically match an activity containing a specific word to a project. In this way, you won’t have to do this manually when you finish work.

PaymoPlus Rules

While writing this article, I used the tool for two entire days to show you exactly how it records desktop activities. I also wanted to show you how you can use the data to enhance your work. I will also explain each step you need to take and how to interpret the recordings.

Who can use this tool?

Freelancers, individuals, and team members who want to improve their productivity and become motivated. Managers might want to implement automated time tracking tools among their employees. This would help them monitor their activity and see if they’re slacking off.

Prerequisites

You need a Paymo account to log in. Don’t worry though. You can now create a free account if you’re a freelancer or individual and use PaymoPlus for free as well.

settings

You can always configure the time tracking options from the Settings area in your Menu under the File tab.

The flow of the tool

When you start the app, add your account credentials – username and password – to use the tool. Then, select the project, task list, and specific task you’re working on.

The tool works offline too, so you don’t have to worry about not having good Internet connection or being out of the office.

To start tracking your time, click on the Recording button in the upper-right corner. You can choose to hide the entries under 10 or 30 seconds and 1,5, or 10 minutes. This ensures that you’ll only see the most important tasks. However, the entries will not be deleted. To see the full list of activities again, just choose the “none” option from the Hide entries under section.

Keep in mind that PaymoPlus records all activities, not just the browser-related ones. It tracks the apps you’re using, documents you’re writing, and pictures you’re seeing be they in-browser or on desktop.

This can help you see which tools you’re using most often, which resources are useless, the people who bring the most value to the team, and even the main causes of your lack of productivity.

Let’s take the following case:

You’ve spent an entire day tracking your time with PaymoPlus. After you finish work, you match each activity to a project or task. If you’ve wasted more than half of your day on social media, memes, and videos of funny cats, that is obviously where the issues of your productivity lie.

funnycats content

What can you do?

Just stop going to these websites or entirely block them from a specific browser. So next time you find yourself searching for cats on Facebook, use this social media network to research a topic you’re working on. If these methods fail, try to limit the time you spend slacking off or delay the fun for after you’ve finished your tasks.

Scared of your privacy being invaded?

There is no need to worry about that. You have full control of the tasks you keep in the report and the app doesn’t take screenshots of your desktop. We know how much some employees hate those – we’re among them. That’s why we came up with a solution that can please both workers and employers alike.

Let it run in the background and do the time tracking for you. Meanwhile, you can freely do your job even if you’re a serious multitasker. All you need to remember is to pause, log out, or exit at the end of the day.

Now that’s easy!

If you leave the automatic tracker to record your activity, you might come back to work the next day and find out that those hours have been counted as Away Time. No need to panic. You can delete these time entries by right clicking on it.

away time

In fact, with a simple right click on an activity and delete action you can remove any task from the recordings or view more details.

You can divide your final activity into relevant work tasks and unrelated tasks, like social media. Keep in mind that there is nothing wrong with sometimes taking a few minutes as a break from work. Your social media activity could indicate that you’re researching a topic or maybe you work as a social media manager. YouTube activity can be used to find out more about a subject or even to take some seconds to unwind yourself so you’ll clear your mind and start work again.

Relevant activities should be decided together with your manager because all jobs have different kinds of tasks and websites that should be allowed for use. Also, involve your team about what is acceptable and what is not.

But there’s more to automatic time tracking than just an overview of the time spent on different apps. You can find out if you’re wasting too much time with writing an article, daily team meetings, chats, or research in general. You can even gather this data and compare it to your past performance.

The best part of using a tool like PaymoPlus? You won’t have to remember what you did the previous day. The tool does that for you by creating timesheets with your entire activity when you pause the timer, log out, or exit.

No worries though. You can always delete an entry if you’ve spent a bit too much time on nonproductive activities that day.

The tool works intuitively so you can use the classic SHIFT + DELETE key combinations if you want to delete two or more tasks at the same time.

multiple selection

Did you match an activity to the wrong task? You can right click on the activity and choose Unlink. This basically works like the Undo function, except you can use it whenever you notice a mistake be it today or one month after you’ve matched them up.

If you’re getting lost in all of the activities, filter the data to find the ones that interest you the most. This can help you find all the work-related tasks:

related task filter

And the not so work related ones:

cats filter

The results

You have successfully used the tool once you have all your work hours logged. Assuming you take a few minutes to analyze your past activity, you’ll also start seeing the results in increased productivity and better task management.

This is a part of what my first day looked like after work:

first day

I spent most of the day writing this article. Second, came the editing of our list of 10 time tracking tools. I spent the rest of my workday talking to my team members on Slack and on Skype.

I gave a lot more attention to PaymoPlus then you will – mostly to take the screenshots for this blog post. In your case, you just need to open it once when you start work and close it when you leave. Using the Paymo project management app by itself took me only 6 minutes and 40 seconds on a busy day. I used it to manage my tasks, create other activities for my colleagues, and communicate with them so there wouldn’t be any misunderstandings.

Surprisingly, I found out that I was spending less time actually writing the article then I had initially thought. I expected most of my first day’s hours to be allocated to the process of writing. The truth is I spent only one hour and 31 minutes writing that day. The rest of my time? Well, I used it for research and to talk with my colleagues.

I was even more amazed to see that I actually gave less time to writing this article than editing the previous one.

2 tasks

Based on the first day’s results, I fixed my problems the second day. I spent around 3 hours and 12 minutes on writing in between searches for the Winter Olympics 2018, research, content curation, and the usual daily team meetings.

better 2nd day

Sounds great! So, how can I get it?

Glad you’ve asked! Get PaymoPlus for free from our download page and see how it can help you too.

If you’re uncertain whether automatic time tracking is right for you and your team, give it a good try for a week or two to see its effects on productivity and employee accountability.

To maintain a happy work environment, ask for the feedback of your team. Find out how they feel about a virtual tool monitoring their work. Help them understand the purpose of automatic time tracking.

If you believe that your friends or co-workers could benefit from automatically tracking their time, please share this article with them.

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Shall

Does this work on OS X?

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Rando

Are you planning to let it clock in start and end times, so it shows up correctly on the timesheets?
Right now entries always show up at the top of the day, making it look rather cluttered.

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tolis

Hi guys, i really hope this could also be ported in Linux… it would be an amazing feature

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[…] for it and how to build your schedule around it. That’s what time tracking is for. Manual or automatic time tracking will help you be more productive. It will help you allocate your time efficiently and spot […]

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