What is time tracking?
Time tracking is recording the number of hours and minutes spent working on a specific task or project. It can be done in several different ways and for a variety of reasons. Pen&paper, spreadsheets, and time tracking apps are just some of them. Their purpose can vary between employee monitoring, adequate payment, and equal distribution of working hours between team members.
Why is time tracking important?
We're not fans of employee monitoring, and we're strongly against any form of screen spying, so we'll focus only on resource management, planning, and charging by the hour.
Venturing into a new project also means estimating the effort necessary for completing each part of it. An accurate estimate will ensure correct due dates and no deadline anxiety. Of course, unpredictable events may come your way at any moment, but you can only do so much about including them in your plans. When your team keeps track of the amount of time they spend on each task or project, you'll be able to compare these records to the given estimates. This will provide you with great insight for future planning.
Here's an example. You ask the content writer how long will it take them to wrap up a 1000 word article for a client, and you ask the designer the same question, only regarding the illustrations needed for the said article. The writer estimates 16 hours, the illustrator 20, so you set the due date to be three days from the moment they start working on it. In the end, it turns out the writer tracked 22 hours (6 hours more than planned), and the illustrator 18 (2 hours less). It's not easy to make accurate predictions, especially when it comes to creative work, but these estimate vs. reality comparisons can help you plan better in time.
All this applies to solo freelancers, small teams, and large companies with many different departments.
We're all too familiar with setting a deadline for ourselves that we can hardly accomplish and then end up pulling all-nighters. The same goes for waiting around on a colleague to finish their part so we can take over.
We're here to say: it doesn't have to be that frustrating!
The 5-step guide to time tracking
1. Define why is time tracking needed for yourself or your team(s)
Before making any investments in terms of effort, time and money, think about why you want to do this in the first place. Discuss it with your team, see how they feel about changing the way they work. If this activity is already established in your company, take a chance to reexamine it. Perhaps your team doesn't need to clock in or out at all!
2. Choose your weapon
Once you determine why you need time tracking in your company, you'll know what to look for. A simple note may be enough, perhaps a spreadsheet. However, if your needs are more advanced, or if you're managing a large team or various teams, you may need to look for an app to help you out.
There are so many options out there that we can safely say you're spoilt for choice! The process is analog to when you're shopping for clothes or gadgets: knowing precisely what you need speeds things up.
There are apps focused only on a stopwatch, meaning you can only set it off, pause and stop, and get a total for that day. Other apps are stopwatches enriched with employee monitoring instruments such as taking screenshots at random times during the day, tracking browsing and activity data.
If you want your team to start using the chosen solution properly, you'll need to explain thoroughly why and how they need to change their habits. Clarify the reasons behind the decision, motivate them and give simple instructions with examples. Make sure everyone is familiar with the changes they need to make to their day-to-day.
4. Give time to adjust and check-in occasionally
Unless it's extremely urgent to start tracking time, give the team some time to adjust to the new way to work, perhaps a week or two. Also, ask them how they're adapting from time to time, make sure to resolve any doubts and issues they're encountering. If you'd like to motivate the team, show them the benefits of time tracking and the improvements you've made after a while. Maybe you managed to charge more billable hours, or you've rearranged some tasks, and now the team is more efficient.
5. Quit if it's not working out
Be brave enough to admit if an app or time tracking, in general, is not suited for your team. Most apps have a free trial period or a monthly subscription, so it shouldn't be too costly to back out.