Survival

Time tracking software is essential to your business survival for one simple reason.

And that reason is…

We are all bad at using time… and yet we measure everything we do by it.

 

Let’s face it, we don’t live in a culture where we siesta every day at noon. We don’t have 30-hour work-weeks. Things don’t just ‘get done when they get done.’ We bend time to our will. We make things happen when we say they should happen.

And if we don’t, we go out of business. Tweet this!

Our culture is one of performance. We may not like that, but it is what it is. You either produce or go play somewhere else. Nobody is saying, ‘let’s move to Panama and sit under a palm tree.’ We like it here, even if that means suffering the daily grind.

Part of that culture of performance is based on time.

Why time? Time is one way we measure how much we produce. How much personal effort we have expended. How long we have focused on a given task. How many widgets we made. E.g. I produced 500 widgets today and 700 yesterday. That’s time. We measure output over a given period of time. Which… translates into the amount of time it took to produce each of those widgets.

That’s time tracking.

We all do it whether we know it or not. Whether we like it or not.

Of course this is all obvious in competitive cultures. So why don’t we all use a formal time tracker like Standard Time®?

Because we think tracking time is hard work

Okay, given… unless you have some awesome automated tool, keeping track of your hours can be hard. It can be work. And human beings naturally deflect anything that looks like work. Especially if they can get away with it without noticeable consequences.

Nobody articulates it. Nobody says, “I’m not going to spend more of my precious time just to track time. Screw it! I’m just going to fake it.”

But that’s mostly what we do. And if we can get away with it without somebody demanding the extra discipline, we skip it. It’s just too hard, we say.

Because most time tracking tools still suck

Most of the time tracking tools out there just suck. They don’t ‘think’ like you think. They make onerous demands on your administrative time. And they don’t seem to give anything in return.

If a time tracking app takes so much time that it begins to annoy you, you won’t use it. That’s only common sense.

The Billy goat we can’t ignore

There’s a funny YouTube video of a Billy goat butting people from behind. The victims in this video try to ignore the goat or run away, but this obnoxious animal comes up behind them and slams them again… and again. Hey look at me me! I’m here! Go away, nasty goat. Nope, here I come!

Okay, it’s not funny, but it sure seems so in the video.

Billy Goat

Same with time… in any form. Time is something we usually just try to ignore. That’s why we’re chronically late for meetings and events. It’s the reason we don’t know how long things really take. And the reason we hit Snooze. Ignore it, and maybe it will go away. But then it comes flying in for a butt-slam like it owns you.

So get used to it already!

You really can’t ignore this thing called time. But do we really need to track it, like it’s some kind of terrorist? Problem is, our so-called productive cultures are turning into mad-houses with dozens of things to do every day. Ever feel wrung out by Friday afternoon, and unable to do anything effectively?

Historically, other cultures have not been this way. But ours is.

But still, tracking and documenting completed work has enormous value, regardless of how harried the workplace has become.

Does an overworked office mean you can safely skip the time tracking thing? Not use a formal timesheet app? Record nothing? Just wing it? Some people feel that way. Here’s what they do.

How people are tracking time without a real tool

Even the naysayers and intelligentsia know they need to track time. But they’re too enlightened to track it with an actual software tool. They can get by without the hassles and administrative overhead, they say. So here are their so-called solutions.

Verbal estimates

The boss sits down next to the engineer and asks how long the next release will take. Oh… I don’t know… maybe a few months. Months! We need it next week! Okay, then it will take a week.

Nobody really believes this, but it sounds good.

And it relieves the pressure.

Are there any real consequences to little white lies like this? Probably not. Nobody’s going to fire the engineer because it took a little longer. Nobody’s going to axe the manager if the project comes in a little later than planned, are they? Probably not… but the buck stops somewhere. Somebody suffers when things don’t go according to schedule. And that’s usually the shareholders and owners.

Spreadsheets

Sometimes, the ‘enlightened’ realize that the informal verbal interview is total crap. Everybody lies. Nobody cares when things complete. All the consequences end up on the owner’s shoulders.

So they try tracking hours in a spreadsheet.

Hey a spreadsheet is a time tracking tool, right? But wait… it can’t sync with smartphones… can’t access it from the web… doesn’t check for human error… and doesn’t offer any real-time business intelligence.

So is a spreadsheet really a good tool for the job?

Big whiteboard

Maybe we could all write our tasks and completions on a whiteboard. Yeah, great idea… until somebody mistakes it for common war-room strategy. Can we erase this? I think so… looks like it was written weeks ago. There goes your time accountability. There goes any actionable business intelligence, if there ever was any. Or was it just a way to satisfy a need you knew existed but didn’t want to formally deal with. Sorry, a whiteboard is not a timesheet.

Why you’ll be out of business without a time tracking app

Fact is, you will be out of business without a true time tracking software solution and the post-mortem information it yields. You will not have captured any of the metrics necessary to make informed decisions. So you’ll make uninformed decisions instead. And those decisions will not include the most important element you deal with every day. There are other reasons you’ll go out of business.

You’ll ignore your biggest risk, just because it’s hard

Your biggest risk is, as stated, can we produce this widget and still make money? Ignore that question and you will not be in business long.

And seriously… are you really ignoring the question just because ‘tracking time is hard’?

If it’s really that hard, find a way to make it easier… less onerous… almost automatic. A tool like Standard Time® can do that. And then you’ll know the answer to this question.

You won’t know how long things take

Without a tool, you won’t know how long things take. You’ll always be willingly ignorant… and SWAG answers when asked about time… and claim it doesn’t matter. But then, you’ll be out of business before long so it won’t matter.

Some organizations just triple the estimates their engineers give them. They know the engineer doesn’t know, or doesn’t care. Engineers are focused on analytical tasks not time, so it’s hard to get a good estimate from them. So you just triple it and hope that works. In the end, that’s just a big fat guess, and doesn’t really help you.

You won’t know how much things cost

Cost is frequently connected to time because salary is one of the biggest costs in any business. The statement ‘it will take a year’ costs a lot more than the statement ‘it will take a week’. But if you haven’t tracked any similar projects, you won’t know how long it takes, and therefore won’t know how much it costs. Ignore the time, and you won’t know the cost. So you’ll be out of business and it won’t matter anymore.

Have You Tried This?

Have you noticed? We have time tracking software. Have you downloaded and tried it?

You may find that your fears of excessive administrative overhead, and onerous demands, and annoying your engineers, and suffering with goofy software, and whatever else are no longer true.

You may find that the app gives you exactly what your organization needs: a reasonable guess at how long things really take.

Okay, get on with it… we’re not all shiftless layabouts

So you’ve decided to go ahead with a time tracking program. Great! Now what should you track? Well, that question can only be answered by you. But here are some suggestions based on other organizations doing the same. The answer is probably going to come down to something like this:

If I knew how long ‘X’ took, I could do ‘Y’ with it.

If I knew how long ‘X’ took, I would improve it with ‘Y’.

If I knew how long ‘X’ took, I’d do more of it, or less of it.

If I knew how long ‘X’ took, I’d know where all my friggin’ cash was going.

Here are some things to track. Tweet this!

Track projects

A lot of organizations have ongoing, or short-lifespan, or even long projects. Those projects represent products or services. Employees spend days, weeks, months, or even years on a project. If that’s you, start there. Track your projects. Run a simple test and find out how much time you spend on each project, or even a project portfolio. Assign projects to employees. Ask them to enter hours into the timesheet. Check your results after a month.

Want to get adventurous? Try tracking project tasks. (Actually, you should save this for a later exercise when you’ve perfected your time tracking routine and gotten into a nice rhythm that employees can stomach.)

Tracking project tasks, or tasks in subprojects is an advanced area. It means employees will need to be assigned to tasks and find those tasks in their timesheets. Are you ready for that? Do they want the hassle? Maybe not at first. But doing so, means getting even more metrics applicable to your line of work. It means knowing how much ‘A’ takes verses ‘B’ inside a given project. Do you know that now? Maybe not. Or maybe you can only guess. This will tell you exactly. But it requires that extra level of employee attention to detail.

Track admin verses project time

Again, if you have projects, you might be interested in knowing how much employee time is administrative (email, meetings, travel, water cooler time) and how much is project related. Don’t beat people up for high admin hours, because you may be surprised at how high it really is. Just collect it, and say thank you. Encourage honesty in reporting. Some employees will be afraid to enter high numbers for admin and goof-off time if they fear negative consequences. But if you explain that you already expect high numbers, they won’t be afraid to be honest.

Track client billable hours

If you’re running a consulting firm, this is a no-brainer. Clients demand it. But some consulting firms bill on monthly retainers, and don’t really know how many hours are actually going to the client, and how many are spent in-house, and what their effective billing rate is, or utilization rate. You can certainly see the value in knowing employee utilization and effective billing rates in a business like that.

Track manufacturing time

Now, how long does it really take to produce that widget? Barcode each one and find out! Scan each one on their way down the assembly line, and then run a report. You’ll know exactly how long. And then you’ll start asking more advanced questions based on your new intelligence, like… is it worth it? Can I improve that? Can I afford that? Can I build a million more? That’s what you get from time tracking… more info… more questions… deeper analysis. You become inspired to ask a lot of new questions you never thought of, or were uninterested in. Now you’re interested!

Track time and attendance

Maybe it’s just enough to know when your employees arrive and go home. And how many hours they are in the office verses working from home. Or if they qualify for compensatory time. Or how much overtime they put in. Or having that information for auditing purposes. So much information can be gleaned from a simple punch-in-out. It’s worth trying.

So whatever you decide to track time, here are some parting words of advice.

Start small, finish big

Don’t boil the ocean right off. Track at the project level, not tasks. Track projects verses admin time. Track PTO and weekly accruals. But don’t build a thousand-task project and expect exacting results. You may get to that level eventually, but don’t harness the colt before it’s off the teat. Let the thing live… grow… build strength. Getting some data is better than none. Ease employees into this and don’t be onerous.

Keep bureaucracy to a minimum

Do you really need checks and balances, and signatures, and countersignatures, and processes, and audits, and a mountain of time tracking red tape to get started? Or ever? Guaranteed… bureaucracy is one of the fastest ways to kill a new initiative. You see a good thing, and you then pile a thousand rules on it. That kills it. Nobody wants a hassle just filling out their timesheet. And if they get it, they will silently rebel. You won’t get the information you expected. You won’t get the cooperation. People will find a way to avoid the hassle. And you’ll end up not getting what you hoped for.

Don’t make this a chore

Onerous chores succeed where bureaucracy fails. Make it hard, and participation drops off. Too many projects on my timesheet? Too many tasks to grind through? Can’t find the one I’m working on? Confusing naming and terminology? Is the task I’m working on buried eight layers deep? I guess I’ll just type 8’s all the way across. Maybe nobody will notice.

Good Luck on Your new Mission!

So you’ve chosen to download and make this a priority. Good for you! This may be exactly what your organization needs. You’re probably going to learn a lot on the journey. And seeing your organization from a different angle will enlighten you in ways you never dreamed of.

Good luck! Tweet this!

 

 

 


Next
How to structure projects
And getting the information you need from them

 

Index
Project and Time Tracking Strategies

 

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