Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Time Tracking is Terrible: Do It Anyway

The best advice you get in life hurts like hell at the time. - Merlin Mann
I've been tracking my work time for the past 20 years. Here is the deal: time tracking is terrible, there is no good time tracking product or system that can make it not terrible, and you just need to bite the bullet and track your time because it's valuable to do it.
Are you resistant to time tracking? Yeah, me too. I worked at a big consulting company when the company implemented time tracking and we had the standard employee complaint that it was terrible. We used a custom-built in-house solution and it was awful. You know what? I tracked my time. I read the reports at the end of the week and month and I enjoyed what I got out of it. I have tracked my time ever since then, even when my company hasn't asked me to. I have run large scale professional services groups at two companies and At both I implemented time tracking on the team and people tracked their time. Did my employees hate tracking their time? Yes, but not as much as they might have. Did they do it? Yes.
I learned to love time tracking so much, I wrote my own time tracking program that scratched my exact itch. I've tracked time in MS Project Central, Journyx, Salesforce, and Harvest and I haven't enjoyed tracking time in any of them. Yet, I knew as an employee my manager needed the data and as a manager it was extremely useful to review the data.
Here are my basic time tracking principals:
  • All time tracking software is terrible. Don't seek a better piece of software, because you won't like any of them. Swallow the pill and figure out the best workflow for what you have. Create tips and tricks on tour wiki and encourage employees to share.
  • People can't remember what they did. Ideally, every 15m, track what you worked on. If you can automate, make your time tracking program pop open every 15m and annoy you into tracking your time. If you must, track at the end of the day by looking at your calendar, emails, and code checkins but don't wait more than that. You have no hope of remembering at the end of the week what you did.
  • People can't track more than 5 things, maybe 10? Managers LOVE granular data and have a desire to ask employees to track dozens of tasks with a grid of client & activity (please say how much time you spent on these 50 tasks for each of your 20 clients). It's not possible and only provides flawed data and wastes employee time. Is you manager asking you to do this? Share this article and let them know they are going to get flawed data and employees are going waste time tracking time. Make the time tracking data as chunky as possible. What client? Is it pre-sale, launch, maintenance. DONE. Don’t track All Hands meeting, versus staff meeting, versus department meeting—they are all just internal meetings.
  • Track what you want to change. Maybe this quarter you have a Key Performance Indicator (KPI) to reduce time spent on a task like "Client Upgrades." That's great! Time track that specific activity for a quarter or two to baseline and show improvement, but the moment you're done, eliminate it as a separate item. Why? Because people can't track more than 5 things, maybe 10.
So get going. Track what you're doing. Make graphs. Make things more efficient. Time tracking is terrible, but if you do it right, you should get value out of it without it needing to destroy you.