How much time do you really spend on Twitter a day? How often does it get to 11 am and you realize that you haven’t managed to complete any of your project tasks for the day? It’s very easy to get side-tracked into a line of research or a conversation and then suddenly you are behind your work. Employee time tracking is serious business.
Victoria Scanlan Stefanakos, writing in Forbes, says that 15 minutes a day is all it takes to stop wasting time. The greater the visibility of where your time is going, the more productive you can be.
Timesheets are a secret weapon for small and medium businesses. Armed with information about how you spend your day you can make better decisions about what to do that day and what your priorities should be. In turn that leads to you wasting less time because you are more conscious of where that time goes. The few minutes it takes to complete an online timesheet really does pay off.
It worked for Minda Zetlin. When she decided to track her time for a month for Inc.com, she realized that she was working on tasks that could be easily delegated to her assistant. You could find the same – there could be a stack of tasks taking up hours in the week that you could hand off to someone else, freeing you up to do work that supports your clients’ projects.
Encouraging a culture of time tracking
The shift to using timesheets, or making better use of the time-tracking software that you do have, seems like a large cultural shift. It feels like it’s moving away from trusting employees to do the right thing and towards micromanagement.
You could see it like that – and many detractors of time tracking will speak up and make that point – but the fact is that for modern businesses, people are the most important resource. When your business revolves around knowledge work, you need to account for where the time is going. This will ensure that the team’s priorities are aligned with overall business priorities.
Making time tracking an integral part of ‘how we do business around here’ is the key to getting it embedded in the organization. That’s easier to do than you might think, although it is a change of working practice for many people. The trick to encouraging a culture where timesheets are the norm is to make them easy to use. You want to move to the point where timesheets are just ‘part of the furniture’ as quickly as possible.
First, get the right software. Online timesheets offer the greatest flexibility.
Second, invest enough time in talking to people about why you want them to record their time. If it hasn’t been successful in the past, explain why and lay out why this time will be different. Because this time, you want to make it work, right? People need to know that you aren’t going to use timesheet data to beat them up to explain what you’ll be using it for.
That brings us to…
How to use employee time tracking data
One of the best ways to use employee time tracking data is to improve your estimates. Timesheets give you a great resource for the comparative data required to build estimates based on the real duration of tasks and not just someone’s guess. This is often called analogous estimating. It can save you time in the future and increase the accuracy of your project plans.
You can use the data from your timesheets for lots of other things as well. The common ones are:
- Capturing billable hours and making sure these are actually invoiced
- Monitoring time off for sickness, vacation, and other absences
- Seeing who is booking too many hours a day and is at risk of burnout
- Seeing who isn’t working on the priority tasks and helping them realign their time.
But you can take it further than that.
In a project environment, timesheet data provides valuable insight into how well the project is doing. You can track the status of project tasks and assess whether the project will complete on time. You can spot trends early by seeing which tasks are taking longer and where the lags are. A portable time tracker can help you track project production. A late project is often one that is going to cost more money. Hour-tracking software can save you cash in the long term by highlighting projects in trouble with enough time for you to do something.
How to get your team started
Want to start? Whether your team is one or a list of a hundred people, timekeeping software is easy to use and set up. The time tracker syncs on the cloud, so you can use it remotely on multiple devices—or on the go, thanks to the mobile app version.
Start tracking your work time now! Create timesheets and time reports to watch your team's progress.
You’ve got two options for going live with timesheets:
- Pilot first
- Switch it on for everyone.
The first option gives you greater control and will also give you data that you can share with the others in the company. Data is a powerful way of convincing people to start changing their behavior, so if you can run a pilot with one project team and analyze the output, you’ll have a great story to share with your colleagues.
For example, when we did this, I identified that my team was spending a lot of time traveling (and not working during the journey). Non-productive travel time was by far the greatest ‘use’ of my project team’s time during a week. Not so good. We made simple changes to the project schedule to avoid traveling or to combine trips and increased what we did remotely. Some work still needed to be carried out on site, but we did improve our productivity, and that’s a great result for feedback to senior managers.
Whether you test out time recording or go big bang, make sure everyone knows what is expected of them. Train them. Communicate more than you think you have to.
Monitor compliance with the new process and make it hard for them to work in the old way: burning bridges is a recognized change management technique to help make the change stick.
Provide feedback on how it is working and let people see what is happening to the data they submit. And where relevant, let them use it to improve their project and personal performance.
Timesheet data can transform your company and raise you above the level of the competition. Accurate time tracking gives you a strategic advantage and frees up more of your time for the work that really matters.
Experience shows that there will be less resistance to adopt a new technique or method—for example, a Kanban app—since they’ve already succeeded with time tracking.
Ready to start? Let’s go.
First published on December 2, 2015.