For many small businesses, time tracking is an indispensable tool for recording a team’s efforts. Understanding where time is going is a huge boon to productivity (whether you bill hourly or not). Adopting good time tracking practices also increases profitability.
That said, establishing good time tracking practices requires diligence. It’s best to track time daily because, if you wait too long, your ability to recollect what you’ve worked on will diminish greatly. Waiting a few days, or until the end of the week, to fill out a weekly timesheet will result in lost time.
There are several different approaches to tracking your time daily. The tool you decide to use will largely depend on what you expect to get out of it. Here are a few methods to consider.
The paper timesheet is an old standby that has served many small businesses well for decades. It’s the fastest and easiest tool for getting started with time tracking. Simply download a template (or draft your own), print it, and start jotting down hours as you work.
In addition to having a low barrier to entry, paper timesheets are surprisingly effective at capturing your time. They are ideal for freelancers and subcontractors who need to track time for just one person — that person being themselves. The glaring downside to paper timesheets is their analog format, which makes it extremely difficult to extract much meaningful data.
Spreadsheets, such as Excel or Google Sheets, are a next step in the evolution of time tracking tools. They provide more flexibility in how time is tracked because they are completely customizable. You can build a weekly timesheet that fits your exact needs. Plus, you can add formulas that automatically tally your daily and weekly time totals.
Because spreadsheets are digital you can duplicate and share them with your team, encouraging everyone to track their time using the same methods. The downside to tracking time with spreadsheets is that the template can take some time to set up initially, especially if you are linking them to custom reports. Making structural changes may result in inconsistent data and broken reporting.
Time Tracking Software
Like any productivity tool today, online time tracking software is widely available in many different incarnations. But once you find software that fits your workflow, it provides the fastest and easiest path to tracking your time. Most of the thinking behind “how” to track your time has already been worked out by the software provider. Typically, it only takes a few minutes to set up your account, then a week or two of testing to find out if it’s the right tool for you.
The search for the best time tracking software, however, can be daunting. There are so many tools — all slightly different — to choose from. Finding one that fits your workflow requires a small time investment. It’s important that the time tracking software be effective and efficient at tracking your time. However, it’s even more important that the software be able to report your data back to you in meaningful ways using visual dashboards and reports.
Tracking Your Time Daily
The most important thing to remember is that the time tracking tool you choose is secondary to establishing a daily routine. Because no tool — whether it’s a paper timesheet, spreadsheet, or software — is going to be effective unless you actually use it on a daily basis. But, once you do get the hang of it and start tracking your time regularly, the benefits will far outweigh the work it took to get there.