If you work in the consulting/agency world, you know just how valuable time is. In our [agency] world, we get paid (basically) for two things: our expertise and our time. While many of us probably wish we could say “Oh yeah, I spent about 4 hours on this task for Client A” that doesn’t usually turn out to be true. Accurately tracking time is important to both the client and the agency because it let’s the client know exactly what they got for the time they paid for.
At Graydient, our projects fall into two main billing categories: “time and materials” and “fixed bid.” So you may think, “time tracking is important for time & materials projects, but why does it matter for fixed bid projects?” Well, we have to have something to estimate a fixed bid estimate from. Usually, that’s a combination of estimating the effort a given task (or project) will take, how many people will be involved, etc. However, we also use history to help guide us. If we have a similar project that we did in the past that was estimated at 100 hours (for simple math) but really took 150 hours, we need to know that, to make sure we estimate this project at more than 100 hours.
On a side note, having been in a non-billable development environment before, I’ve found it beneficial to [loosely] track my time also. Often, I left the office for the day wondering “what in the world did I even do today?” Though I didn’t have to officially track and log my time, I did find it useful to track my time in a Notepad file just for personal reference.
Choosing a Time Management Software
In today’s world, there are literally hundreds of applications a company could use for their time tracking. They range from full blown project management systems, to financial applications (think QuickBooks), to simple apps that just track time. The tool that’s best for your company’s needs may vary greatly from another company.
At Graydient, we use an application called Collab for our “agile” project management system. Collab manages everything from our fixed bid projects, to maintenance requests that come in from our customers. Each team member has a personal dashboard that has their tasks for the week. Next to each task is an hour estimate and the number of hours they have entered for the task. When a user clicks on the “actual time” for the task, they enter the date they performed the work, the amount of time it took, what the time entry type is (maintenance, requirement, testing, etc), and a brief comment describing what they did. Each day, the time entries get synced with our separate billing application.
Best Tools for Keeping Track of Time
When it comes to keeping track of your time, there are multiple tools out there that help you get the most accurate estimates and we recommend finding the method and program that works best for you. To give you an idea of where to start, we recommend the two following systems as they are popular with our team!
Every time you begin a new task, you create an item on the app where you enter the task name and then hit start on the timer. When complete, you stop the timer. It will then place the completed task’s time data into a list. Repeat this process throughout the day and before you leave work you will have a list of everything you worked on and how long each task or meeting took.
For those who are thinking “How can I possibly remember to press stop or start after every task I work on?” Toggl has a built in “Reminder” tool, which will send you a notification reminding you to track your time every so often. In addition, there is an “Idle Detection” setting which means if you step away from your computer for x amount of time, it will stop the timer. This will prevent you from overestimating time on a task versus what was actually spent on it.
Another great feature to Toggl is that there’s a built in Pomodoro setting. If you turn it on, the timer will stop every 25 minutes so you can take a 5-minute break — which has proven to lead to better productivity.
2. Good Ol’ Paper & Pen
Now, Toggl is a great tech-savvy option, with many cool features, but for those of you who like to kick it old school, paper & pen is another great method for keeping track. All you need to do is to pick out your favorite writing utensil and a pad of paper and keep it in close proximity of your workspace. The trick to this is at the start of each day, write down the time you begin work at the top and the time you plan to finish (i.e. 8:30–5:00) that way you know how many hours you’ll be working. Then write down the name of the task you are starting below it. When complete, write the time spent on it (was it 45 minutes? 1 hour?) next to the task name. Repeat for each task and/or meeting.
At the end of the day when you go to enter your time into your company’s project management software, like Collab, you can review your list. After you enter the time for each task, mark a check or a star next to it on your notes. This makes it easier to do a cross-check too, in case your time doesn’t add up to the total amount of hours worked for the day.
In conclusion, time tracking is extremely important for workflow, productivity, and billing for any company. The key to being successful with it is to do it every day and in the repetition of doing so, it eventually becomes a normal part of your routine. With the right software and tools in your pocket, your team can become more efficient, accurate, and successful with their time tracking efforts.