“Ordinary people think merely of spending time. Great people think of using it.” — Unknown
Time is passing, whether we like it or not.
Another truth is: time is passing whether we do something or not. Ten years from now, you can achieve all of your goals or you can live the exact same life as you do now, just being 10 years older.
That’s why we should spend our time wisely and be careful not to waste it; after all, that’s the only resource that we can’t get back once it’s gone.
How to be sure that you’re not wasting your time and that you’re spending it doing the right things?
Well, one of the solutions is to track it.
Table of contents:
What is time tracking?
Time tracking can be defined as documenting your daily tasks and the time you need to complete them.
It can be done within a company, in which case employees track their work obligations and working hours, or you can do it independently, either for billing purposes (if you’re working as a freelancer, for example) or just to improve your productivity.
In earlier times, it was fairly common to track the time employees spent at work using swipe cards, geolocation, and clock-in & clock-out methods; now we mostly use time tracking apps, such as Clockify, due to the fact that most of us work from home.
You manually add your tasks and the time you spent doing said tasks, typically at the end of the day. Some people do it at the end of the month or every few days, but I wouldn’t recommend it as it’s easy to forget something that way.
The timesheet method is more popular because, in the majority of cases, you don’t need a high level of precision; also, keeping in mind that you have to start/stop the timer may be stressful to some people.
You start the timer when you start working on a task and stop when you finish. It’s more precise as it records the exact moments you start and stop, whereas timesheet users enter approximate times. It’s great in cases when you want to measure and/or improve your productivity.
Why is time tracking important?
Now, when we covered what it is, we should also talk about why it is important. Why should you track your time?
Tracking time makes billing easier and processing payroll more efficient
Reason number one: money.
When you’re time tracking, you essentially have a record of all billable and non-billable hours.
What does that mean?
If you’re a business, it makes processing data for payroll way easier.
Especially if you have a small or medium-sized business and don’t have any money to waste, keeping track of everything will help you stay within a budget.
You can also get data you can rely on if you decide to adjust the price of your products or services.
Accurate billing is incredibly important for both freelancers and clients.
You won’t underestimate the hours you put in; it can also facilitate calculating your hourly rate or a fixed project rate.
If you are on the hiring end, you can see where exactly their money goes.
Time trackers provide useful data
When you enter data every day, you end up with a lot of data – in this case, with useful information you can utilize in various ways. Firstly, you will see how much your team is working and what they are working on, as well as the amount of time it usually takes to complete a task.
When you see all of that, in black and white, you can ask yourself: Is there any area that needs improvement? Can we do something more efficiently? Do we need to work smarter instead of harder?
Answering those questions and implementing needed changes will consequently make your team more productive and your business more profitable.
It will help you plan better, as well. You will be able to forecast the number of hours needed for future projects and to estimate the cost of said projects.
P.S. Even though I was writing about teams, everything still applies even if you’re working by yourself. Analyzing your own work requires openness and honesty, as well as responsibility, which is admirable – go you!
Time tracking can improve productivity
Tracking time may be the solution.
You’re less likely to endlessly scroll through social media and more likely to do what you’re supposed to do when you know you’ll have to face seeing the list of your daily activities written on your screen. It holds you accountable and it makes it easier to tune out distractions.
You can see if some tasks of yours take way more time than they should or if you waste your time and energy doing something completely unnecessary; having an insight like that is a key for improving your productivity.
“It has become such an important tool in my business. I have several clients who I must track specific tasks for, and not only can I track those time entries easily, I can look back and see if I’m becoming more time-efficient at those tasks.” – Elizabeth Kroll, attorney
Tracking time can help you with studying
It doesn’t have to be exclusively tied with business; it has its purpose even in an academic environment, among teachers and students.
If you’re a student and the exam season is approaching soon, get into time management. Feelings of panic and/or impending doom don’t have to be your only motivating force!
Tracking task time prevents multitasking
What is more, time tracking apps typically don’t allow you to track two tasks at once.
You may ask me – how is that good?
Contrary to popular belief, multitasking is okay if you are listening to a podcast and doing house chores or listening to an audiobook while you’re taking a train to work, but it’s not okay if you’re working. No one else shouldn’t expect you to multitask, either.
If you’re doing something that requires your full attention, it’s a no go – you’ll end up with two or more half-arsed tasks instead of one fully completed and you’ll probably end up frustrated. Doing one by one task is actually way more efficient.
(By popular belief I mostly mean my belief. I tried to convince myself that it’s fine and that I can simultaneously write and do other things… my long empirical research convinced me that I, in fact, cannot.)
What people who use time tracking software say about its benefits
As Laura Vanderkam, author of books 168 Hours and I Know How She Does It, said: “If you want to lose weight, you need to write down what you eat. Same thing with time. If you want to spend time better, you need to figure out where it’s going.
Maybe something you thought was a problem really isn’t. Maybe something you never even considered is taking a lot more time than you thought.”
My experience with tracking time when I was freelancing
I’m no stranger to working freelance – I’m also not an organized person by nature and I enjoy decorating my planner more than actually planning.
However, since I needed to be productive and I wanted to do my job the best I can – and we also live in a day and age when technology can help us with almost everything – I used time tracking software.
It definitely improved the quality of my life, not in a miraculous way TV commercials would portray (I still had to actually work), but it allowed me to do my job instead of:
- Wondering if the client would pay me the right amount for the number of hours I spent working. If you’re a freelancer that gets paid hourly, time is quite literally money.
- Feeling guilty that I’m not working enough – when you’re working for yourself, it can be hard to find a healthy work-life balance.
- Wasting time and procrastinating. (I didn’t want to put in the timesheet that I looked at cute dog videos or did quizzes to find out which type of bread fits my personality.)
When I started tracking time, I found out how much idle work I tend to do, which wasn’t an easy nor a pleasant realization, but it helped me – it pushed me to make some improvements in my day-to-day work (and life).
The most important thing I did was to set clear boundaries between work and free time. I made sure I work as efficiently as I can during the time frame I set and, on the other hand, I forbid myself from thinking about work outside of my self imposed working hours – which was great for my mental health.
Exact work time and reports also benefit the clients
It was also great for my clients, as they could see how the project was progressing and what I was working on at that moment. It made our communication easier, and overall, it helped our projects go smoother.
Other freelancers’ experience
Others had a similar experience:
“I’m a writer and I use Clockify for my own personal use, to keep myself accountable and keep track of the time I am spending writing and developing different projects per week. It’s been super helpful to keep myself focused and devote the time I should each week to each project. Before I would just write until I finished a certain page count or idea, but by forcing myself to hit certain time requirements, I have been able to get a lot more done. I would definitely recommend it for fellow writers.”
“As a graphic designer, it is important for me to provide my clients with the accurate amount of work that I did, broken down into tasks and projects so that they are able to see what they are paying for. With Clockify this has become less of a burden for me and allows me to invest more of my time into what I do best rather than paperwork or counting hours.” – Elijah D, Graphic designer
When it comes to things like this, someone’s first-hand experience is what I trust the most.
Here’s what owners and employees of various companies had to say about time tracking and its benefits:
Time tracker helps with managing a team
“Managing a team filled with Software Developers is a serious responsibility. Clockify made it easy to track the progress of each individual while generating a comprehensive report on what they have worked on and how much time they have spent with the proof of activities done. This made it easy for the head to calculate KPI based overheads and performance with utmost efficiency. The implementation also was very intuitive and quick. Dashboards and information representation were also very comprehensive.” – Dilanka H, Head of Innovation
Clockify is effective and easy to use
“1. It’s very easy to use & very quickly anybody can pick it up – useful when onboarding a new employee. 2. Enables effective management of housekeeping tasks for team leads & managers – like attendance, timesheets, etc. 3. Easy tool to bill the hours worked & review time taken on projects and tasks through reports. 4. There is a mobile app as well which enables to track time spent on calls as well – especially when you are a consultant or advisory services provider and spend a lot of time on the phone. 5. You can set up time tracking for specific clients, projects, tasks and assign it to specific employees – this is very granular and comprehensive.” – Subash B, Co-founder of a marketing and advertising company
Time trackers are convenient
“Our business went from tracking hours on a notepad to this incredible program. What a tremendous difference it has made! Convenient, efficient, and looks very trendy! It allows us to clock in and clock out for specific hours/days instead of the traditional timer.” – Gabrielle W, Assistant Bookkeeper
Tracking time helps with pricing your products
“Great experience – it makes pricing my products a breeze.
When pricing my goods for sale, the majority of the cost is in labor, so this is a huge help. You can set your hourly rate, have different timesheets for each project, and timing is as simple as a start/stop button.” – Lisa E, Jewelry maker
Can time tracking be a bad idea?
As useful as time tracking is, it won’t work for everyone – it doesn’t make sense for all jobs and tasks. For example, if you’re a freelancer who gets paid per project instead of hourly and, in addition, you’re great at managing your time.
Of course, there is a distinction between not that useful in my particular case and a bad idea: we’ll go over situations when the latter may potentially be the case, and then provide a solution.
If the feeling monitored and/or the violation of privacy is the issue
Introducing time tracking may make your employees feel uncomfortable; they can feel like they’re being watched and that they don’t have any privacy. As a consequence, it can negatively affect not only their performance but also the working atmosphere and the relationship between employees and the employer.
It’s really important to establish trust between everyone in the company and create a pleasant environment where everyone feels valued.
When introducing the new software, make an effort to explain to them why, as well as what are the benefits. Let them know you use it too; there’s nothing as effective as leading by example.
If it’s stressful
Tracking time may be a little boring, but it’s not supposed to make you anxious or add a significant amount of extra workload.
As an employer, you have to make sure you provide clear instructions on how to use the software. Also, it’s a good idea to audit entries every week or every 2-3 weeks to make sure everything is labeled and categorized properly – it’s best to address all issues sooner rather than later and avoid additional stress down the road.
There are many time tracking apps on the market – when deciding which one to introduce to your company, choose the one that has an intuitive interface and is fast and simple to use, so they won’t take much of your time. The same goes for freelancers.
Doing your job well is hard and stressful enough: the goal of using these apps is to simplify your life, not complicate it further.
“In terms of feel and use, Clockify has many integrations and has a simple, sleek, and intuitive interface regardless of what supported device or browser you decide to use it on. This is especially true for its user-friendly, easy-to-navigate web app which can be accessed from anywhere for viewing of your and your current team’s progress.” – DeskTime.
Also, a good question to ask (yourself) is: is there any positive reinforcement for someone being efficient and doing their job well, or only negative consequences for the lack of productivity?
If you simply cannot commit to tracking time every day and you do it retroactively
If your time tracking routine involves trying to remember what you did 3 days ago, then it’s probably not effective. Human memory is not the most reliable narrator you can possibly have.
Set an alarm that will go off every weekday at a certain time to remind you to either start recording time or to track all your tasks in the timesheet. (And don’t snooze it.)
There’s also an option in Clockify’s browser extension to set a reminder to start the timer.
Time tracking is a great tool to improve your productivity and facilitate things that can be frustrating, like billing or estimating the cost of your next big project. It also provides invaluable data that can help both you and your business become the best you can be.
In order to use your time effectively and efficiently, you must first know where it’s going – and then point it in the right direction. Good thing is, with all the apps and resources we have, it has never been easier to do that.