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Guest blog: Time tracking as a healthy habit

Andrei-Marcel Țiț, Product Marketing, Paymo

Time tracking has been deemed by many as a necessary evil, and for good reason. Nobody wants to fill in their timesheets at the end of the week, and even less would want to convince their colleagues to do so.

Despite all its drawbacks, this simple practice can shine a light over every aspect of your business. It can tell you how long your projects take on average, whether your team is performing as expected, as well as how much you should be paid - provided you charge clients by the hour.

You can enjoy these benefits too, if you turn time tracking into a daily habit. Here’s how:

Tip 1: Set clear expectations

According to this 2018 PMI Survey, 25% of projects fail due to inaccurate time estimates. Sure, these are mid-to-long term projects, which may be more complex than yours. But the observation drives a point home: “guesstimates” are bad for business.

Certain clients might not understand why certain tasks take longer than quoted, hence they won’t pay for them. Compromise enough and you can find yourself short of an entire paycheck.

Don’t fall into this trap. First, track time to see how long your projects take on average. Then, use this new data to estimate realistic project or task budgets, that account for delays too.

Beware of Parkinson’s law though, which implies that work expands to fill the time available for its completion. Or in other words, give someone a week to complete a 4-hour task, and it will take them a week. A phenomenon due in part to our tendencies to overestimate and seek perfection. You want to include unexpected events into your quotes, not rip-off your client.

Tip 2: Track only billable time

A nicely filled timesheet can bring a sense of achievement, but not every hour will contribute towards getting paid by your client.

For example, you’re not supposed to clock in the time spent chatting with them over email about project details - unless this is a lengthy process that you need to deliberately plan for. Otherwise, you risk turning time tracking into a chore prone to errors and inconsistencies.

Instead, encourage yourself and your team to track only billable time, as a way to tie efforts with actual business results and see which tasks move the needle. The only exception is when you want to improve your productivity. In moments like this, almost every activity matters, so you know which non-essential ones to eliminate.

Tip 3: Clock in now, not later

How many times have you postponed time tracking for the end of the week? Did it go well? Chances are, you struggled remembering what tasks you worked on and for how long, which made you abandon it altogether.

The best moment to track time is during work or right after you’ve finished it, not later. This ensures accurate time records, that help you run detailed time reports on performance and profitability.

Tip 4: Timers vs automatic time trackers

Timers and automatic time trackers are two sides of the same coin.

Although they introduce a lot of touch-in, touch-out mentality, timers are great for tracking actual work hours. In general, they let you categorize work under specific projects, add notes, and see your past records.

Automatic time trackers, on the other hand, are more suited for improving productivity. Just run them in your background and they’ll monitor every activity, including distractions such as social media.

Choose a versatile time tracking tool that has both of them, so you let everyone work the way they’re used to. As a tip, be sure it also comes with idle time detection, to keep or discard it whenever someone’s inactive - a small, but great feature.

Tip 5: Run time reports, but don’t overdo it

When running time reports, you might end up with way too-detailed records (1:12:01 spent on copywriting). The reality is that your clients are more interested in days and hours, rather than minutes and seconds.

In cases like this, round up time entries to 15 minutes increments. Don’t be afraid to do so for two reasons:

  • You’re not the first one, lawyers and accountants have been doing this for a long time.
  • Great work demands research, brainstorming, and project management - activities which are usually not accounted for.

This healthy practice will educate your clients that deep, meaningful work requires time and money. In return, you’ll be able to raise your hourly rate to match your services’ real value.

Conclusion

Time tracking is not that bad as most people think. What’s missing is discipline to realise this is not just another activity only for the sake of doing it.

You’re not only improving your productivity, but also building a solid foundation to better run projects, schedule teams, and establish healthy relationships with your clients based on trust, not promises.

About Paymo
Paymo is a work management tool that allows you to manage tasks, create team schedules, track work time, and bill clients - from one place. Paymo’s mission is to empower small businesses to consistently get their job done right and on time, by delivering a software that's easy to adopt and integrate in daily workflows, one that people actually want to use.

Visit paymoapp.com to learn more.

About the guest blogger
Andrei-Marcel Țiț is a Product Marketer at Paymo, on a mission to make people more productive. He’s also an amateur photographer, manga reader, and YouTube home cook.

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