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Time Tracking Woes? Blame Your Tool, Not Your Team

Does your team struggle with time tracking? Your tool might be to blame.

As a project manager, you clearly see the downside of time tracking woes. Effective time management allows you to monitor the cost of projects, accurately bill customers, and forecast future project timelines.

But getting your team to feel the same appreciation for timesheets? Well, that can be a challenge.

If you’ve sung the praises of time tracking but your team isn’t listening, it may be time to dig deeper to get to the bottom of the issue.

Read on to understand how your tools and processes could be holding your team back and what you can do to fix the problem.

1. Your outdated tools weren’t built for today’s workforce.

In a world with self-driving cars and supercomputers that can win Jeopardy, why are so many still completing timesheets by hand?

Outdated technology is one of the most common issues that teams face, says Geoff Hash, an employment law attorney. In his practice,Hash sees a number of cases related to wage and hour issues, specifically issues related to tracking time.

“The technology that is made available to employees is not keeping up with their workstyles,” he says. “For example, I have a lot of [clients] that have remote employees now, but they don’t have online timekeeping systems.”

Some of his clients still use punch clocks and written timesheets. In this age of multitasking, that can be problematic, says Hash. “People don’t track time while they are actually working a project, and time gets lost. That’s lost revenue for the employer and potential lost income for the employee.”

2. You have a tool, but your team doesn’t know how to use it.

Hash has seen companies invest money in a tool, but never train their employees how to actually use it. That’s problematic for obvious reasons. “Training is a big component,” he adds. “Often times, employees, especially hourly employees, don’t have an understanding of what the expectations are.”

3. Your team fear retribution from management.

Another barrier to accurate time tracking is fear of judgement, says Hash. “Employees are afraid they will be criticized if they spend too much time on a certain project or if they’re working overtime.”

That leads to not reporting time accurately, even if that means they won’t be paid for the work. Employees too often have a mindset of, “If I go over what my boss thinks is reasonable, I’m going to get dinged.”

4. Your team thinks timesheets are a waste of time.

Having to recall how every minute of the day was spent can be incredibly time-consuming. Ironic, considering time tracking is supposed to boost productivity.

time tracking for work productivity

How to Remove Bottlenecks and Make Timesheets Less Painful

1. First, seek your team’s perspectives.

When blogger and community manager Chad Renando asked employees at his studio about timesheets, he discovered that: his team was frustrated with the tracking interface; multitasking made accurate tracking a challenge; employees did not know which task to assign the time to; and oftentimes, they didn’t have enough time to record their work.

With this feedback in hand, he was able to pinpoint and systematically resolve the issues. And, surprise surprise, timesheets became less of a pain.

As you’re having these conversations, listen for clues. Is the software difficult to use? Is the process time-consuming? Note which issues continually come up in conversations and make a plan to remove these barriers.

2. Audit your timekeeping processes and software.

Have you documented the beginning-to-end process for your team’s timesheets? It may be more time-consuming than you think.

When I was working the agency trenches, my process went like this: Throughout the day, I’d track my time in 15-minute increments on a printed spreadsheet. Sometimes I’d get caught up in the whirlwind that is agency life and miss a few hours. Then I’d have to go through my emails and meeting calendar and take a guess at how long I spent on each task. (Bad, I know. But it happens.)

On Friday, I would open our time entry software, add up the totals from my spreadsheet, and manually enter the time. Every task had a unique client and project number. If I didn’t know the numbers, I’d have to search my email or track down the account manager. Sometimes I’d have more than 20 different jobs I’d need to track time to.

I usually blocked off 90 minutes every Friday for this manual entry. That’s in addition to the time I spent during the week. At the rate I billed, those two plus hours each week added up to more than $300 each week, $15,000 every year.

These types of inefficiencies could be lurking in your own team’s process. Conduct an audit to identify bottlenecks and the issues that are preventing your teams from reaching optimal timesheet efficiency.

3. Automate, automate, automate your process.

What would have made my agency process faster? Automation. Timers that run in the background make it easier to track time as employees switch tasks.

At LiquidPlanner, I’m tracking time again, but it’s much easier than my agency days. No pen and paper required. When I begin a task now, I start a timer in LiquidPlanner. That timer is connected to the task I’m working on (no more searching for job numbers!). When I’m done with that task, I turn off the timer. The time is automatically added to my timesheet and tracked within the task. I track as I work, and it’s directly tied to the projects I’m working on.

There are hundreds of time tracking tools out there. The key is finding one that meets the needs of your team, is easy to use, and won’t add unnecessary work to your team’s plates. If you’re looking for ideas, check out Zapier’s comprehensive rundown of the top tools on the market.

4. Review the data with an open mind.

As Hash said, fear of judgment is often a top barrier to accurate, completed timesheets. Instead of jumping to conclusions, managers need to take a step back and observe the larger picture. For example, if someone is working overtime week after week, it may be an issue with staffing and not that particular employee, says Hash. It’s on the employer to evaluate the overall project needs and match the project with the right skill levels.

5. Tie timesheets to a greater mission.

Let’s all just agree right now that timesheets aren’t fun, okay? No one wants to do them. To motivate your team to complete them, you need to tie it back to a greater mission. Explain how timesheets help the company make money or cut out inefficiencies. And explain why these things are important to your employees, e.g. they get a paycheck.

At my agency, every employee had a coaster on their desk that read, “Do great work. Bill great work.” Every time I sipped my coffee, I was reminded of how every 15-minute increment I recorded contributed to the agency’s profitability.

Project managers — what strategies have helped you motivate your team to track time?

Looking for more project management tips and advice? Check out this eBook by PM expert Elizabeth Harrin. Over 30 pages, you’ll get Elizabeth’s take on a range of project management and workplace topics, including:

  • Ways to get more resources for your project.
  • Strategies for juggling multiple project tasks
  • How to manage a micromanager


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