Time tracking is a productivity tool which can get a bad rap. For employees, being forced to account for what they do with their time all day can feel like they are being micromanaged or thought of as untrustworthy. For project managers or execs already burdened with administrative tasks, time tracking can represent just another tedious thing they have to do.
I suggest that the reason time tracking is frowned upon by some, and therefore widely underutilized, is because it is used improperly – such as when it is used as a punitive measure rather than with a positive approach intended to coach a team towards better strategy execution.
At Six Disciplines, we strongly believe in the power of time tracking and related concepts, such as time blocking, to increase productivity. In this post, we will share a few tips to help you use time tracking personally and with your staff to improve project execution.
You can fix something if you measure it.
Time tracking allows you to discover areas of waste by recording what you and your team members do at any given time of the working day. By understanding where your time actually goes, you can shift things around to better accomplish your project targets.
Tracking does not have to be a complicated endeavor. You can create an Excel spreadsheet or use one of many time-tracking applications available for both desktop and mobile devices. Six Disciplines allows for time tracking linked to your strategic plan to monitor allocation of resource to strategy. However, there are many other tools focused on time tracking if you don’t want the linkage to strategy.
Here are a few notable ones:
Choose whichever method or software feels right. Each has a different set of features, and some track all your software use automatically. But even pen and paper can do the trick – a manual time tracking log might look as simple as this:
8:00 – 8:15. Arrived, made my cup of coffee
8:15 – 9:00. Checked and replied to emails.
9:00 – 9:35. Meeting with Bob
9:40 – 10:30. Developed plans for Keystone build.
10:30 – 11:15. Checked and replied to new emails.
11:15 – 11:25. Chitchat with Harry.
11:25 – 11:30. Grabbed a soda and snack.
Once you are done tracking your time for one week, add up the times spent on each activity. If you or your team members work outside of official office hours, make sure to track that time as well. You can consolidate things into broad categories as appropriate, such as “Working on Project,” “Meetings,” “Emails,” and “Breaks/Social.”
Coach – don’t punish
When you review the time tracking data, you will likely find a few surprises. An example we often find when coaching our clients is that dealing with email sucks up an extraordinary amount of time per day. Another hidden time waster is scope creep, where instead of working on relevant tasks, a team member’s time is spent on functions way beyond the original scope of his or her role in the project.
For some, the tendency is to admonish their staff for “wasting too much time,” but this is unproductive. A good coach never punishes, but rather suggests things for improvement in a positive, encouraging manner.
And don’t beat yourself over the head because you took a couple of two-hour lunches last week – simply resolve to do a better job with time management. The next section will help.
Manage your time
Now that you know what you and your team have actually been spending your working hours on, it is time to prioritize and compartment time into productive blocks.
Here are some tips to share with each person who will block out their time:
- Set aside 15-30 minutes around the same time each week to work on this.
- Prioritize your activities for the week from most to least important.
- Schedule time to tackle the biggest priorities when you have the most energy and focus. If you are a morning person, this means filling the earlier part of the day with project tasks and holding off meetings until the afternoon. For evening folk, spend the morning on taking care of email or organizing things, and block out several hours in the afternoon or night time to get the most important work done.
- Fill in empty space around the mission critical tasks with the less essential items. Allow a few minutes breathing room before and after the project tasks in case something takes longer to complete than anticipated.
- Use any software or manual method you prefer for blocking out your time. Google Calendar works well as a free solution, as it allows you to color code each time block and share schedules among team members. You can use green for the important tasks, yellow for second-tier items, and red for the most unimportant things. If your calendar shows mostly green, you are on the right track.
- When one of your time blocks starts, discipline yourself to stay focused and work on what you are supposed to be working on without interruption, rather than multitask. An excellent tool to stay on-task is the Pomodoro Technique, for which there are countless software and apps to help you implement, such as the basic Pomodoro timer FocusBooster (free).
- Stay away from email and social media, except at designated times. This requires great willpower for many people.
- If you cannot stay on schedule, track your time again to find out where your bottlenecks or interruptions are happening and devise a plan to handle.
As a manager, you can review everyone’s schedule periodically to ensure the project milestones will be accomplished on time, or suggest adjustments.
Strategy execution depends on getting plans actually done, rather than just paid lip service to. Time tracking and time blocking are great tools for achieving this as they hold people accountable for their activities. They also encourage uninterrupted, concentrated attention to the task at hand, which increases productivity and lessens errors.
As such, any C-suite executive or senior-level manager struggling with project management should take a close look at how he or she, and the rest of the team, are spending their time.