Our flagship product, Intervals, is coming up quickly on it’s sixth anniversary. Before the first line of code was ever written, we had already been tracking time for six years as a Web design and development agency. So we knew a little bit about the dos and don’ts, and how to make it easier for others to track their time. The additional six years of developing online time tracking software and interacting with the customers using it has helped us validate and refine our views and methodologies. This collective past of twelve years of experience can be distilled into a few basic lessons beneficial to any small business.
If you make it difficult to track time, people won’t do it
This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said. Time tracking should not be difficult. When you throw paper timesheets or Excel documents at people and ask them to fill them out, you are making it difficult. There are online time tracking applications that make it so easy that it’s hard to come up with a reason not to use one. The $20 or so you will spend each month using an online application is nothing compared to the loss in productivity that archaic forms of time tracking are costing you.
People need to be reminded to track their time
Online time tracking software will only assist in your efforts. It won’t track the time for you. Even the most diligent people need to be reminded to use timers and record their time. The more you do it, the more disciplined you become. Even then, accept the fact that some time will go untracked. Knowing that 97% of your efforts are being recorded is a much better place to be than before when you were losing 30% of your time due to poor time tracking habits.
People need to buy in to time tracking
For time tracking to be a successful practice at any small business, the people working there need to buy in to the concept. They need to make an effort to track their time, and improve at it over time. This goes back to the first lesson. The easier you make it, the more buy in you will get. Without a commitment from your team your efforts will be a waste of time. It’s a good idea to involve them when evaluating online time tracking software, and to be sure it’s something the entire team wants to do before unleashing a new workflow directive on them.
When tracking time, track the specifics
Tracking how much time was spent working on each client project is a step in the right direction, but it’s not enough. It’s important to track the specifics. For example, we have discovered that tracking time against individual tasks gives us granular data on how long each action item took to complete, making it very easy to estimate future work. Tracking time by person, by task, by date, and other relevant criteria gives you two things. First, it gives you more accountability when reporting your efforts back to your client, and when billing them. Second, it gives you valuable data to help you understand exactly where your time is going, and where to better appropriate it to upcoming projects.
Track the unbillable time, too
Just because a project is not billable does not mean it shouldn’t be tracked. It might be an internal project or a pro-bono project, but it’s still important to know how much time is going to it. Tracking time against internal projects reveals how much of our efforts are going to growing and improving our business and tells us how much billable work we need to take on to stay profitable. It’s also just as important to track the client work you don’t plan on billing. It’s always received well when you include unbilled items on an invoice, as it shows you are willing to go beyond the letter of the contract for your clients. Tracking unbillable time also trains us to track our time more efficiently. And in the end, that really is the most important lesson in time tracking—do it often, and do it well.
Photo credit: Crunchy Footsteps