While there are hundreds of articles and publications on time management, a lot of them are concerned with the individual. And while we can improve how we track time for ourselves, that doesn’t necessarily mean we will do just as well when we’re required to track time as a team. It requires a slightly different mindset and approach.
To help you figure out how to track and manage time within a team, or if you simply want to improve, here are some tips to get you started.
Table of contents:
- Why is time management important in a team?
- How to improve time management in the workplace
- Track time to see where you’re at
- Make a workload overview
- Talk to your team
- Don’t focus only on work time management
- Refrain from tedious tasks
- Raise awareness of deadlines
- Offer help
- Set down some common rules
- Reduce impromptu meetings
- Use proven methods and techniques
- Introduce team time management tools
Why is time management important in a team?
First, we should briefly overview how proper team management helps the overall workflow and inter-team relations.
Experts have often warned that poor time management actually leads to stress. And it’s not just about missed deadlines or staying overtime.
When people are bad at managing the time they have and are unable to prioritize their tasks, it inevitably leads to feeling overwhelmed. Overwhelm causes nervousness, fear of missing important information or tasks, overhearing or misreading situations, etc. Together, they can make a person’s brain turn into “panic mode”, and either make mistakes or collapse under pressure.
And within a team, different people will react in different ways to stress caused by poor time management. This can create inter-team conflict as person A can accuse person B of being too relaxed, or person B can accuse person A of being too neurotic.
So, good time management on a team level can then significantly improve team dynamics and alleviate some of the work stress they face daily.
Keeps everyone updated
Transparency is a huge issue even today. Even with all the apps and services designed to help us keep track of what everyone does at any moment, we’re still mostly in the dark when it comes to our coworkers’ part of the job. And communication concerning task progresses is vital for the health of a team and the project itself, of course.
One benefit of forming a team time management habit is that transparency increases. When everyone is tracking what they’re working on, and what is on their coworker’s plate, prioritizing becomes easier. There’s less prodding and poking on the group chat to report on progress and certainly fewer meetings.
Lets everyone know how the project is going
Once the team starts to track their time collectively, you can start to see the bigger picture more clearly as time goes by. It becomes easier to follow the project progress, and in addition, eliminates the need to ask how everything is going. It is much easier to create reports and hold meetings.
Team members will begin getting an idea of how their time management reflects on the overall project. Their coworkers will also be able to see that and address any problems in due time.
People are more inclined to help each other when they’re on the same proverbial boat. When a team tracks their time and learns how to manage it together, they are more likely to share their tips and boost each other up when mistakes happen.
So long as you form a healthy learning environment, your team will become that much better through learning time management.
How to improve time management in the workplace
1. Track time to see where you’re at
You can start improving your team’s time management by getting them to track time individually. Everyone should start being accountable for their own time spending before they can truly contribute to the whole team’s time management.
For example, in Clockify – a time management app for teams, a team manager can set up projects and important milestones for its progress. From then on, when each team member tracks the time spent on tasks that contribute to each milestone, the timer will reflect that.
To see how Clockify can make a well-documented project progress, you can go here. It goes into a step-by-step setup of your team’s workspace, project, and progress report when it comes to time management.
It is also advisable to track time for about two weeks or even a month, to learn about your team’s time tracking habits and how they spend their time. This is also the only way to get more detailed information on how each member prefers to manage their time, and how it reflects the whole team. From that collected data, you can start making changes and improvements.
💡 Wondering if the team is experiencing wasted time?
2. Make a workload overview
As a second step, it’s good to get familiar with what each team member needs to do as a part of their job description. How many menial tasks they have, which ones are their biggest time investments, and which ones take them the least time to do. Additional tasks that include workload but are often overlooked:
- giving feedback,
- training new employees,
- making presentations,
- organizing meetings,
- client communication,
- emailing, etc.
Start by trimming the fat in those areas first. If both you and the employee notice that certain tasks that are unimportant are taking up more time than necessary, just cut them out.
Take meetings, for example.
Often you will attend meetings whose topic is of no concern to at least a third of people present. Their time and energy are being wasted on listening to data and conversations that don’t affect them. The same goes for email chains or chat room discussions.
Lastly, while collaboration is a benefit of high-performing teams, keep an eye out for team members who start doing more of others’ work. If they spend all day putting out small fires, and then do their work in overtime, there’s a large imbalance in the workload, and needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
3. Talk to your team
As a continuation from the previous point, the more you talk to the team, the easier it will be to identify what aspects of time management you need to look into. Here are some things to focus on:
- Check what their usual tasks are, and what parts of their job can be tedious and taxing;
- Ask them when they feel most/least productive;
- Talk about distractions and identify the most common ones for the team;
- Come up together with strategies that suit their workflow and approach;
- Meet with them every once in a while to ask how their time management has changed, or do monthly surveys;
- Let the team members approach their time management analytically, without micromanagement – so long as they’re in control of their learning progress, the results will be much better.
Since teams are different from department to department, so will their concerns and office pet peeves differ. The important thing is to find a common ground and let them know they will have an active role in learning how to manage time better. Not just receive an informative handout from HR that they will inevitably stick in a desk drawer and forget about it.
4. Don’t focus only on work time management
Another useful way to train better team time management is to include personal time management. Let the team know that improving their habits at work is good practice that can be of use in their personal life.
Productivity coach Matt East has presented the easiest way to convince people of the benefits of time management and set them on the path of improvement. He believes that answering just ten questions can get people to think about how they prioritize their time and tasks. If you have the opportunity, make a handout with these questions, and have the team mull over them for a day or two. Then discuss their answers to get a better understanding of each other’s priorities and how you can meet one another halfway when it comes to managing time as a team.
- If I could achieve one thing today, what would it be?
- What would be the second most important thing?
- What would be the third most important thing?
- What remains to be done after those three things?
- Which tasks can I delegate to others?
- What are some other tasks that others are working on and need my attention?
- What action today will get me closer to my goals?
- What is the one thing that I could complete, that would make me feel productive and happy at the end of the day?
- How will I reduce my stress levels today?
- Which relationships in my life need the most of my energy today? (work relationship, family, friends, romantic partner, etc)
While some questions are fairly straightforward, others aren’t. Rather, they give a good insight into how people spend their energy, which in turn, affects their relationship with time and prioritizing. When someone spends an entire morning arguing with their significant other, odds are they will be too drained to focus on a collaborative relationship with the coworkers.
Knowing how to expend their emotional energy aids in time management as well.
5. Refrain from tedious tasks
If at all possible, try to eliminate tedious tasks.
At a former company where I worked, there was a habit of assigning two junior team members to take notes during a meeting. Then we were supposed to compare those notes and write a single report to be distributed to everyone who was at the meeting. As it was explained to us, this was to ensure that all of the information was covered.
However, all it managed to do was double the work – we would compare notes, then my coworker would email his bullet points to me, I’d add what was missing (or vice versa), and then I would format it and send it to everyone.
Only after an hour were we able to continue with our regular work.
Both of us would be occupied with a task one person could do, with added unnecessary steps.
So, when it comes to tasks like writing reports, taking notes, filing, researching, surveying, and other – if you can’t eliminate it, then simplify. As much as you can, as often as you can. Because the longer the employees are occupied with menial, unimportant tasks, the longer they’re away from what they really should be doing.
In an article from Harvard Business Review, on the topic of managing collective time, author Leslie Perlow offered an insightful idea on innovating with time management techniques. She reported on tried-and-true practices of numerous companies that offered time off to see how it would reflect on the project’s progress and overall workflow.
In companies that were plagued by the “always-on” hustle culture, employees valued a night off to recharge and dedicate some time to their personal lives. It helped people de-stress.
Companies with teams that tended to deliver tasks on time with little problem saw this time off as a reward for hard work. In their case, they saw it as recognition of their efforts.
And for companies whose teams were overwhelmed by meetings, inter-team (and outside) distractions, employees were able to get alone time outside of the bustling office. They found it easier to finish tasks or catch up.
The novelty of introducing a time-off afternoon or morning during a weekday can be beneficial for both employees and managers. Teams can learn how to cooperate better as well as manage their time around these breaks. You can do the same by, for example, offering an early workday end on Friday, to help boost productivity that normally drops before the weekend. Or, on Wednesday, which is just in the middle of the week and tends to feel like the longest day.
7. Raise awareness of deadlines
No one likes deadlines. It’s a fact.
However, when we think about it, we are all fine with deadlines the moment we set them. There’s a sense that we still have things under control and we can make it. The moment we start hating the deadlines is when they inevitably approach and we haven’t done most of what was planned.
So it’s safe to say that our relationship towards deadlines depends on how aware of them we are.
What you can do to help your team manage their priorities better is to keep a constant visible reminder of the project’s progress and deadlines. Of course, none of it should be imposing and frightening. Rather, an informative graph on a wall-mounted screen, or a simple milestone tracker written on a whiteboard.
Make people more aware of their time framework and limitations in this way. Digital kanban boards and trackers are easy to ignore if people have to access them on their own computers. But if they’re constantly present on a wall nearby, deadlines are less likely to “sneak up on” anyone.
8. Offer help
Experts at McKinsey have posed an interesting viewpoint: nowadays, time management is less of an individual issue and more of an institutional one. They also point out that people who saw themselves as great time managers said they had great support in how they scheduled and allocated time.
They listed an example of an administrative assistant who helped the CEO’s scheduling by asking the right questions: whether they’ve met with certain clients, if they should follow up with another company on a more regular basis, if certain priorities are set properly according to the company’s current objectives and so on.
On a smaller scale, a manager can do the same for their team. They can meet up with the team and see where their efforts and time can be refocused. As time goes by, priorities will change. Maybe the development of a new tool’s website can be moved further behind because new prospective stakeholders would like to see a more complete version of the tool. Or the beta testing showed that the actual user base isn’t mid-sized companies but freelancers, so there will be a need to reevaluate the marketing strategy.
Change your mindset from individual time tracking to one that reflects the project, product, and the team’s efforts. Managers have the luxury to see the bigger picture, and it is precisely why they need to guide the team through changes and help them manage their time better.
9. Set down some common rules
As with every team, people will cooperate but also clash. They will irritate each other, and find faults and grievances in other’s work practices. And frustrations like these can lead to situations that can harm how they manage time and prioritize. Things like in-person distractions, poorly communicated tasks and feedback, lack of transparency… They can all cause a team to start breaking at the seams, one frustration at a time.
And while you can let them iron out their habits over time, for coworkers to truly start managing their time as a team, they need a set of agreed-upon rules that will ensure their peace of mind.
A solid communication etiquette
Introduce a codified way of discussing project issues, tasks, and progress. For example:
- If something needs to be addressed within the next 24 hours, send an email.
- If something requires your attention within the next hour or two, send a chat message.
- If the issue is urgent and can’t wait, send a text message or call.
Far too much time is wasted when unimportant things are discussed over email, or when urgent tasks are overlooked because a person’s chat is constantly pinging from different sides. This way, each notification has an established timeframe that lets the recipient know if they should address it now, or if it can wait.
This eliminates interruptions and distractions.
Codes for uninterrupted work time
A lot of the time, employees need focus, uninterrupted time. If not for hours on end, then in certain situations.
For example, a customer service agent can hop on over to the head of marketing to ask about a feature that a user is inquiring about. However, if the head of marketing is currently writing an important email, they risk sounding rude when they turn away the customer service rep. Or one developer needs feedback on a bug in the code, while the other is trying to fix their own issues they’ve found.
In cases like these, it’s useful to have a universal “do not disturb” code. These can be anything – from red post-it notes on their computer screen, to actual do-not-disturb signs on their desks. The team simply needs to agree on a code, and respect the boundaries it brings.
10. Reduce impromptu meetings
Not every decision or issue needs a meeting room and hours of discussion. Too many meetings weekly can throw teams’ time management off balance. Especially when a manager calls for a meeting over an unexpected thing that had just come up.
So, when and how should you actually hold a meeting?
After hitting a specific milestone/deadline
This is to ensure you are still on the right course, or if any changes need to be made. However, if you want to give feedback on the progress the team’s made thus far, keep it either very brief or save it for emails or 1:1 meetings with members.
Make a schedule and stick to it
Every meeting should have an agenda with the main points to address and any follow-up questions or discussions.
Take some time before every meeting to create a bulleted list of topics and email them to the whole team. This way, everyone is informed on the subject of the meeting and can prepare accordingly.
Streamline the conversation
Don’t let people derail the topics with arguments, disagreements, or lighthearted chatter. Brainstorming is okay, so long as the meeting is intended to be one. Keep the focus on the topic of the meeting, and it’ll
Announce the meetings in a timely manner
Unplanned meetings can cause a break in focus with any employee. One moment they’re at their desk, working, and the very next they’re required to shift their attention to a completely new thing. And the time it takes for them to go back to their original task can cause what is known in Agile development as a “switching cost”. This greatly affects productivity, and as a result, time management efforts fail.
11. Use proven methods and techniques
Nowadays we all hunt for the best strategies to help us learn better time management. And while the majority deals with the individual, the two of the most famous techniques can also be applied to larger groups. Here’s how the Eisenhower Matrix and Time blocking can be applied to team development.
The Eisenhower matrix
The Eisenhower matrix is a hailed method of time management which helps productivity and efficiency through teaching proper prioritization. Not all tasks are equally important and urgent. And this method proves that properly prioritized tasks can save a lot of time and energy.
While the matrix is often mentioned as a means of individual time management, it’s perfectly adaptable to teams.
It recognizes four categorizations:
- Tasks that are important and urgent – tomorrow’s deadline
- Tasks that are important but not urgent – writing up a progress report for next week
- Tasks that are unimportant and urgent – setting up a meeting for next week that the manager asks for in the next five minutes, and
- Tasks that are unimportant and not urgent – cleaning out the team’s dropbox of old files
For a clearer overview, the matrix is often presented in four quadrants, like this:
So, for example, a customer support team could create an Eisenhower matrix that looks like this:
By following the schematics below, you can formulate your own team’s matrix with relative ease. And if possible, the best approach would be to have a brainstorming meeting, where all team members can participate in the matrix’s creation. Remember, when employees are given more agency in their collective time management, they are more likely to follow through and learn quicker.
💡 For more detailed instructions on how to employ the Eisenhower matrix, you can take a look at the following guide: How the Eisenhower matrix can improve your time management.
Time blocking is the second highly effective time management technique.
It helps keep the work throughout the day flowing by having you schedule your day (or week) in advance. When you set the tasks for the day on paper, you then write down how much time each task would take. Then, you pencil in those tasks into a schedule and in that way create time blocks.
Once you start working in time blocks, the point is to stick to the allotted time, and avoid tasks seeping into other time slots. This way, you ensure that the focus is on one thing at a time, and avoid completely forgetting certain tasks. It is actually an effective tool to prevent overtime.
And setting up a time blocked day couldn’t be easier, especially for teams. For example, you can connect the Clockify extension with your Google calendar and as soon as a time slot pops up, you simply start the timer and begin. You don’t have to leave your browser tab or open a whole new app.
Try adapting this technique to collective time management by setting time blocks for important tasks that need to be delivered that day. The team members can check off those tasks as they are finished, and by the end of the day, you’ll have a clear overview.
This is also a good way to identify issues with time management individually before it starts to affect the team on a larger scale.
💡 For more resources and other time management techniques, you can find information here:
12. Introduce team time management tools
Now, we can’t forget that time management also requires some help from the outside. Apps, platforms, services and software are all there to aid struggling individuals and teams. They’re also used for analysis, improvement, and even as shortcuts that eliminate menial tasks.
Here are some of our favorites:
We may be biased here, but Clockify really is a multi-faceted tool. While it is mainly a time tracker, it can also help you create work estimates, create project progress reports, keep track of who’s doing what and identify wasted time.
It quickly becomes the right-hand-man of any manager and team looking to improve their time management.
Notion is a platform with a robust list of features that works like several tools in one. It is a document archive, a project management board, a task-overview platform, features integrated chat, a Wiki, and much more. It is a very versatile workspace that can replace many tools that serve a single function.
When all of your information and progress are stored in one place, there’s no need to waste time circling through various different apps.
As a meeting scheduler, Doodle can make everyone’s lives easier. There is no need for long email threads or waiting on people to respond to chat messages. The app allows you to set a meeting and possible times for it, and as you forward the link, everyone in the team can choose which time suits them the best.
We’ve discussed how meetings can end up needing reports on things that were discussed, which often leads to someone on the team spending the time to type them up instead of doing their tasks. Well, tools like Wise Mapping eliminate the need for that. It is a free open-source tool that lets you brainstorm ideas and lead meetings from your web browser, and anyone with an invite link can join in. The mind map can then be forwarded to everyone from the meeting.
Eliminating additional tedious work is a big plus for time management, plus, tools like these ensure that everyone in the meeting is included in the discussions.
As meetings were also a big part of our time management discussions, tools like audio recorders can additionally save time. Otter.ai lets you record any audio (be it an entire meeting, feedback or instructions), and transcribe it into a document in a matter of minutes. So not only can you share the audio itself, but also dictate what you need to get across, and receive an automatically written form on the other end. The tool is also integrated with Zoom, so you can even record video calls.
Team time management focuses mainly on finding ways to prioritize larger goals, communicate clearly and avoid gaps in the workflow caused by overly complex systems. The way to get teams to collaboratively engage with improving their time management is to help them learn these vital skills. Involving them in the process every step of the way will also help them become more receptive to new techniques and tools you plan to introduce.