Time tracking is a great way to diagnose productivity issues, but too much time management can stop a project cold. If you’re searching for the right balance of efficiency and efficacy, it’s important to understand how this particular practice can make a difference for your business.
There are both practical and psychological ramifications to time tracking. It influences both how your team works and how they perceive their work. On one end of the spectrum, loose time tracking undermines productivity; how can you improve if you don’t know where your time goes?
On the other end, too detailed of a system adds tedium and frustration to otherwise simple tasks. Pushing for minute-by-minute monitoring can decrease productivity in the long run by undermining the trust between employers and employees.
To help you find the right balance between quantifying your hours and staying flexible in the workplace, we’ve developed this list of questions that you can use to diagnose your time management system. We’ll go over the positives, the negatives, and how the proper implementation can help your business succeed.
Chances are, you already have some time-tracking tool in place: Payroll. You know who’s working on what when they’re doing it, and how much you should be paying them for it.
But do you know how those billed hours break down?
Most people manage to wring three hours of productive time out of an eight hour day. The rest of it is taken up by meetings, communication, breaks, and common workplace obstacles. If you’re looking to setup a time tracking system to pull a bit more out of the workday, find one that will help you answer these questions.
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If you know when your employees are knocking out their most important tasks each week, you can improve your scheduling to make every day more like your best days.
Some teams do most of their work early in the week, while others need to get their meetings out of the way on Monday and Tuesday before they can put in productive time. Time tracking can help you identify those productive windows and maximize them.
To get the most out of this kind of time tracking, use a system that lets you track how much time is spent on specific task categories. That way, you’ll be able to see how your weekly workload breaks down and compare how much time is spent on similar tasks throughout the week.
Knowing when and why you experience productivity drops can help you optimize scheduling in the other direction, too. Why make a team of night owls grind through a heavy morning when you don’t have to?
By tracking when and why work slows down, you can fix productivity issues well before deadlines come due. It’s estimated that it takes up to 25 minutes to recover from an interruption, which means that a bad meeting schedule or the wrong work culture can cut productivity in half.
But if you know when things slow down, you can stop that. By comparing your meeting schedules with your time logs, you should be able to spot instances where you’re hitting consistent slowdowns. With a bit of creative scheduling, you can improve productivity without needing to rush.
Chances are, your team doesn’t do the same things every day without end. You have projects and deadlines, and you need to know where to assign your top workers. Time tracking can help you do that and build better time estimates in the future.
By paying attention to how quickly and efficiently your team works, you’ll be able to identify your key employees. Even when two or more people have the same superficial skill set, one of them might be really good at specific subsection of their duties. But if you don’t have the tools in place to see how they perform, you won’t be able to use them effectively.
Be careful, though. Use time tracking to find strengths, not to create a competitive environment for your team. Pushing for speed without paying attention to the quality of your work is a simple way to create a toxic environment.
If you know how productive your team is, and what tasks take the longest to complete, you should be able to anticipate and avoid bottlenecks.
You can’t use Gantt charts or float diagrams if you don’t know how long it will take your team to do their usual work. You can’t plan your way around bottlenecks if you don’t have data on when and why those bottlenecks occur.
Time tracking can help you master three key aspects of development: efficiency, affordability, and accurate deadlines. They can help you work better and deliver more accurate quotes, but only if you put the data, you collect to work. Don’t just think of time tracking as a payroll tool; it’s your secret for learning how to work better.
For all of the benefits of time tracking, however, it’s important to mind your implementation of it. It’s hard to stay at full productivity for an entire day, and using the wrong tools in the wrong ways can make work harder than it needs to be. If you already have a time-tracking system in place and you want to make sure you’re doing it the right way, here are some questions you should ask yourself.
Making sure your team stays on task is hard, especially when one or more remote team members, but there’s a limit to how closely you should track your employees.
If you’re relying on screen capture software and to-the-minute time tracking just to verify accurate billing, productivity isn’t your issue. Your work culture is. Almost everyone procrastinates, and if you’re tracking and docking employees for things as simple as viewing a web page, you may need to rethink your workflow.
No amount of software can make up for an incomplete onboarding process, and time tracking will only add another layer of stress for your employees if they aren’t operating as a team. If you’re having issues with accurate billing statements and hitting your deadlines, don’t assume time tracking will fix it.
Time-tracking is a great passive tool, but if it intrudes on your workflow, you’re probably doing it wrong.
You should be using tools that are easy to start and stop, and the logging process shouldn’t get in the way of getting work done.
If your employees are spending more than twenty minutes a day fiddling with the tracking software you’re using, it costs you hours in lost productivity. Remember how each interruption requires 25 minutes? That’s what your time tracking software is costing you.
If you can’t use the information you’re collecting, you shouldn’t be collecting it.
Time-tracking is great when you’re using it to reward productive employees and improve how your entire team works together. But to do that, you also need some way to analyze your working time beyond storing it in a spreadsheet somewhere.
Using data to improve your workflow is trendy, but it doesn’t work for everyone. Depending on the size of your business, the nature of your work, or even your billing cycle, time tracking might not give you the kind of data that you need. So why use it?
Time tracking can increase productivity, but it also increases stress levels. Employees perform better under observation, but they perform worse when they think their employer doesn’t trust them.
Time tracking, if it’s implemented incorrectly, can become a large source of mistrust and stress. If it’s used inconsistently, unfairly, or only for punishment (no positive responses to productivity), it can increase the power distance between employers and employees, creating a net decrease in productivity. Over time, this can lead to increased turnover rates, lower performance, and more mistakes.
There are tons of tools out there that can help you manage your team, and a fair number of them make time tracking easier as well. Finding the right combination of tools for your business, however, takes time.
Ask yourself the questions we’ve gone through to figure out how you’re using time tracking software and what benefits they provide. If you’re doing similar tasks on a relatively consistent basis, you’ll find that time tracking is a great way to optimize your work. Why? Because it’s easier to optimize repeated patterns.
If you’re managing a flexible team, on the other hand, per-task optimization will be hard. If you’re doing new things more consistently than you’re doing familiar things, logging and analyzing your work will only slow things down. Take a step back from moment-to-moment time management and focus on how efficiently you switch and assign tasks instead.
There are some great project management systems out there that can help you build a top-down management system, but the way you track and respond to your team is equally important. Time tracking isn’t inherently good or inherently bad, but it can be used in the wrong place in the wrong way.
Track consistent tasks, figure out who’s good at what, and use data to avoid bottlenecks and missed deadlines, but don’t get carried away. Over-tracking, inefficient tracking and misuse of data will lead to stress, conflict, and an unproductive team. So stay smart, and use time management software the right way.
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