Time is a precious commodity. Many of us struggle to make the most of it—especially when work demands are fast-moving and ever-changing. But when you have a clear understanding of where and how your time is being spent, you have a better chance of working to your full potential and making a meaningful impact on individual and team goals.
This is where time-tracking comes in. Tracking time and logging progress not only shows you how and where you’re spending time, but it also provides rich data that can help steer and progress your career to great heights.
For some of us, it means taking another look at how we think of “time tracking.” Time tracking is a much richer story than the one we like to tell ourselves about the company counting up billing hours, or your manager being able to check up on you. In truth, time tracking is a powerful tool for everyone. It helps manage work, make decisions, stick to commitments and drive your career forward.
Here’s a further look into ways that time tracking is good for your career.
1. Setting goals and meeting commitments
To a large extent, your performance will typically be assessed in terms of how you live up to expectations, prior commitments and agreements. If you consistently miss deadlines or delivery dates, this reflects poorly and may hold you back career-wise. Unfortunately, a lot of so-called “failures” happen because you’re working on goals that were unrealistic and unachievable in the first place. One of the great gifts of time tracking is the historical data is yields. And this project history is something you can use to negotiate targets and deadlines going forwards—ones that are more realistic and don’t leave you falling short of commitments and expectations.
For example: Let’s say you’re asked to agree to a development schedule for a series of software modifications. How do you decide what’s achievable? Do you just sign up blindly and hope for the best, thus setting yourself up for failure? Hopefully not. Instead, you can pull up the data on the time spent on similar projects or tasks in the past and use that as your benchmark for estimating future work.
While no two jobs are exactly the same and “stuff happens,” you’ll stand a much better chance of establishing a workable plan if you base it on data rather than optimism. And if there’s a disparity between your manager’s expectation and your forecast, you have that data to support your argument.
Another upshot: You hone your estimation skills as you continue to grow your reference data; furthermore, your stock continues to rise as you cultivate your reputation as someone who demonstrates educated decision-making and consistently delivers to targets.
2. Taking on new work
Let’s say you’ve created the most realistic plan for your project or your workload, how do you then the request to “Just squeeze in a couple of extra mods.”
Whatever your role is in an organization, if you simply fend off all such requests with a flat “no” or “can’t,” people will stop asking and you become widely known for your inflexibility. This might make for a quieter work life but it can also put the brakes on your career progress.
So how do you resolve this without becoming a flailing “Yes Person” who eventually disappoints by failing to deliver across the board? You use timesheet data to support your answer to work requests.
Timesheet data shows the hours that you or the team have been working, where those hours have been spent and what work is still outstanding. Furthermore, this data shows where everyone’s allocated, and when people are next available for extra project work—without having to work around the clock. This sort of data is tough to argue against, so the next stage in that impossible work request is a constructive discussion that identifies which projects or tasks might be re-prioritized in order to create a slot for the new important work. And if the answer really is “No,” the people asking the question will go away educated, with a sense of understanding and respectful of how you came to your conclusion.
3. Asking for more resources
Whether you’re a team member who’s working on an at-risk task and need the help of another pair of hands to complete it on schedule, or you’re a manager looking to grow your department to cope with upcoming demands, you’ll need to bring the right data to the meeting table. Timesheet data will give you the resource profile that you need to confirm your feeling of overwhelm and show what’s needed to complete the project and get decision makers on board. Without this data, it’s a crap shoot that could end badly. If resources get reassigned or hired on a hunch and the results fall short of expectations, you’ll have to answer some difficult questions.
So instead, analyze the timesheet data and make an informed decision—or generate an informed discussion. By looking at time tracking data you might find that teams are overloaded because they’re spending too much time on non-productive tasks—or they’re being used by other departments. These issues could then be resolved with some re-allocating, and without the need to ramp up expenses—something the stakeholders and execs will love you for.
4. Asking for a raise or promotion
If you feel it’s time for a raise or promotion, your timesheet data can be your best ally. For example:
If you’re a team member seeking a promotion you can show the time you’ve spent in a supervisory capacity across the team, or how often you’ve deputized for the team or project manager. Or perhaps you’ve logged a lot of hours training new staff because you’re the resident expert. All of these examples show someone who is moving toward a leadership position.
More examples: Perhaps you’re a manager whose department consistently gets entrusted with the business’s critical or high-value projects. Or maybe you’re the go-to person for advice in a specific area and you’ve put time into other teams’ projects. In both cases, your timesheet data will provide a practically uncontestable profile of your work history.
Either way, let the numbers do their share of the talking. Their story will provide much stronger validation than if you make an appeal along the lines of “I’m worth it,” or “I need to make more money to cover my mortgage.”
5. Focusing on the work that matters
At a personal or team level, time tracking helps keep you on course and focused, especially when your time is shared across a number of tasks and activities. When you plan your work, you’ll allocate a notional percentage of your time across all your responsibilities. But if you start to go off track and fall behind, how can you tell which of your tasks is eating up more than its allocated share of your days without tracking your time?
Timesheet data will tell you where your hours are going so you can change your priorities accordingly and get the right work done first. This information will also identify other unplanned drains on your time. Maybe another department asks for your input every other day or so, and your manager has asked you to oblige. Your time tracking data will show you what the overall impact is on your productivity so you can allow for it and make the necessary adjustments. And the more efficiently you work, the better you’ll perform.
Time tracking gives you the information you need to support and progress many aspects of your career. Without it, you have to trust your memory, which is a faulty data system all around. You want to use real data with your persuasive argument as a negotiation or influencing tool. Starting a task timer and updating a timesheet to log progress might seem, at first, an unglamorous part of your day. But if you want to get ahead in our data-driven business world, the numbers in your timesheet could be the best way to harness the power that you bring to the job. Use it to its full advantage—your career is worth it!
What’s a secret ingredient to accurate timesheets? Estimations! To learn more, download our eBook 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates.