Image: Louise Viallesoubranne
While there are many variable metrics that feed into project management, there are always three primary pillars: quality, cost and time. In order to pull off a successful project, you need to complete high-quality work within an agreed budget and a set timeframe. Everything flows from there. Project time tracking is critical to how you manage the third pillar, and affects pillars one and two as well.
When you start a project, you have to assess how much time you need to produce good work. And you need to consider how many of these hours are billable hours, and how much profit you’re likely to make. Keeping track of these hours as the project progresses is important, too. How much time have you used to date? Are you on track? And when you finally invoice, was your original estimation accurate?
An automatic project time tracking tool (like Timing) is the best way to predict, manage, and evaluate the time you spend on a particular project. Let’s look at project time tracking in more detail, including why it’s so important and how to implement it.
Table of Contents
What is Project Time Tracking?
Project time tracking is the practice of recording the time it takes to complete a particular project. If you’re managing a team, it involves tracking the time that everyone is spending. This could include designers, web developers, copywriters, and even you as the project manager. If you’re a freelancer, it’s usually just your own time you need to monitor (unless you’re subcontracting some of the work).
Project time tracking is the same as any form of time tracking, except that it specifically relates to a particular project. This means that, once the project has wrapped, and you’ve submitted your time tracking reports and invoices, you’ll no longer need to monitor time for that project. It’s time to move onto the next project instead!
Why is It Important?
For a moment, let’s imagine that you’re not monitoring your own time, or that of your team. How do you know how long a project is taking?
You could guess. But are you sure that you’ve been as productive as you think you’ve been? Did you get distracted at all? Get lost in time sinks like social media, gaming, online shopping, or even checking your email?
And are you sure your team is being honest with their estimates? Especially when research suggests that the average worker is unproductive for almost two days of every workweek. This isn’t meant to imply that they’re being negligent or malicious in their guesswork. Simply that distracting tasks, including meetings and navigating internal workflows, can eat up valuable time. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where the hours have gone.
This can have a negative ripple effect. If you don’t really know how much time you’ve spent on a project, you’ll likely quote for it incorrectly in future. You could estimate, for example, that a project takes less time than it actually does. This means that when you invoice, you’ll be running at a loss, which could affect your business’s financial viability down the line.
The only way to truly know how much time you’ve spent on a project is by tracking your time.
The benefits of project time tracking
It’s worth taking a moment to explore the benefits of time tracking in a bit more detail. If your project time tracking habits are thorough and accurate, you can expect:
- Improved project cost estimates and accurate billing: We’ve touched on this already. By refining your quoting and invoicing processes, you can make sure every job is as profitable as it can be.
- Increased productivity and efficiency: These are among the most important benefits. In helping you to be conscious of how you spend your time, project time tracking can boost your productivity and your time efficiency.
- Improved focus: This one’s related to the point above. Tracking your time, and knowing when you work best (in the mornings perhaps, or late at night), can help you set time aside for dedicated, deep work. This is often when we’re most creative and innovative.
- Less scope creep: If a client’s starting to push the boundaries of what was agreed upon for a particular project, a sudden increase in hours will tell you. Use your project time tracking software to keep projects (and clients) in check.
- Enhanced employee engagement: If employees feel like they’re benefitting from a solution — such as becoming more productive and efficient — they’re more likely to engage with it. This in turn improves work-life balance and job satisfaction.
The benefits for managers
If you’re a manager, being on top of how your team members are spending their time can help you to:
- Assess capacity: Is one member working 12-hour days, while someone else is working less than five? Is it possible to balance the load so that they’re both working a moderate amount?
- Reducing bottlenecks: People who are overwhelmed and working long hours are also likely not getting through everything on their to-do list. By keeping an eye on their hours, you can attend to these issues and help to reduce bottlenecks.
- Manage your resources: As a project moves through different phases, the relevant team members need to be properly prepared. Use your project time tracking reports to see when one phase is coming to a close and the next one is kicking off.
Project Time Tracking Methods and Their Pros and Cons
There are two primary ways to track your time when you’re working on projects — you can either do it manually or automatically. While both have their pros and cons, one option clearly comes out tops.
Manual time tracking
Manual time tracking involves jotting down the time you start and end working on a particular project on a physical or digital notepad or a spreadsheet. It means that you have to take careful note of the time. And you need to be hyperconscious of other tasks that might interrupt you. Anything that isn’t billable, or forms part of another project, shouldn’t be logged to the primary project you’re working on.
Here are a few of the advantages of manual time tracking:
- Easy to incorporate into everyday working processes
- Little training required
- No additional costs involved
And here are a few of the disadvantages:
- It isn’t accurate. This is a big one, since you’ll lose out on many of the important benefits above.
- It’s repetitive and mundane, which is a poor use of employees’ time and skills. A global study of 10,000 office workers revealed that 47% find digital administration boring. Some 64% also said that it reduces their productivity. This can lower morale and increase employee turnover.
It costs your company. Employees are notoriously bad at tracking their time well, and this has real and material consequences. An estimated $7.4 million is lost every day to poor time tracking.
Automatic time tracking
Automatic time tracking involves using specialist time tracking software that runs in the background while you work. Since there’s very little manual intervention required, it frees you up to focus on the task at hand. If distractions do creep in, your software will monitor these other projects, and allocate time to them accordingly.
Here are a few of the advantages of automatic time tracking:
- It’s accurate. Timing, for example, monitors every single app, website and document you open. This means that, when you’re assessing how much time you’ve used, nothing gets missed.
- It offers you detailed reports in real time, which means you’re immediately aware if projects start to run over their allocated hours. These reports can also improve transparency to your clients.
- It includes work you do on other devices. The right tool will also let you integrate with Screen Time so that you can account for all your work.
- It helps you to arrange your schedule, so that you’re properly prepared for the tasks that lie ahead.
- It allows you to focus on productive, deep work, without being distracted by alarms, timers, reminders, and the need to enter your time manually.
- It’s compatible with other project management tools and useful apps.
And here are a couple of disadvantages:
- There’s usually a cost involved, though we would argue that the advantages make this investment well worth it.
- If employees aren’t aware of the benefits, they may feel like they’re being micromanaged. This is not the intention, however, and you can usually overcome it through proper training. Timing, for example, doesn’t share which apps, documents and websites team members use, which helps them feel that they’re still in control of how they manage their work and time.
Our vote, as you might have guessed, clearly goes with automatic time tracking software. If you’re interested in this approach, but can’t decide which tool to go for, our handy list of the best time tracking apps for Mac has you covered. You could also give Timing’s 30-day trial a shot for free.
Best Practices: A Step-by-Step Guide
OK, so how do you actually go about implementing an effective project time tracking solution? We’ve laid out a few easy-to-follow steps for you.
Step 1: Set clear goals and objectives
Implementing any workplace solution starts here. You’ve got to set clear goals if you’re going to get the most out of your project time tracking process.
Understand why you’re implementing it in the first place. Do you want to improve your quoting and invoicing system? Do you want to identify gaps and missed opportunities in how you or your team manage their time? Or do you want to improve your productivity and focus?
Keep these goals in mind as you go about selecting your time management app.
Step 2: Choose the right time tracking software
This is probably the most important step of all.
You can identify a good time tracking solution based on several important criteria. It should be easy to use, integrate well with other tools, offer real-time time tracking, and provide in-depth reporting and analytics. It’s also useful if you can enter time manually. Tracking that lunchtime meeting, for example, can’t be automated.
It’s no accident that Timing provides all of these things. We consistently refine our automatic time tracking tool so that it offers everything you need to manage your projects. Let’s explore its features in more detail.
Our solution is fully automated, which means that you don’t need to remember to start or stop any timers. Timing starts working the minute you do. In this way, it saves you time, increases your time tracking accuracy, and lets you get on with the project at hand.
It’s important to remember that you can work on as many projects as you wish. Any clients or projects you create are simply added down the left hand side of your dashboard. If you need to track time for a particular project, just create it within that client’s name. You can add any number of sub-projects, too. In its ability to track both clients and projects, Timing is every project manager’s dream.
Timing’s drag-and-drop feature allows you to categorize your activities into projects automatically. This saves time and streamlines your time management processes, so that you can get on with the work at hand.
Use Timing’s “Stats” page to get a high-level overview of your time over any given period. Have you been as productive as you should have been? Are there apps and tools that are distracting you? If you want to stay on top of your projects, this is an important page to monitor.
And Timing’s reporting functionality gives you a detailed breakdown on the projects you’ve been working on. You can use this information to inform your quoting and invoicing and, if necessary, to share with your clients. Manual entries — like that lunch meeting — are also easy to include.
Step 3: Train team members on how to use the software
The buy-in of your teams is really important. They have to understand the value of using project time tracking software, and know how to use it.
They need to know that you’re not trying to intrude on every single moment of their time. Timing addresses this by protecting team members’ privacy. As a manager, you won’t be able to view which apps, documents and websites your team uses. Instead, you’ll only be able to see the total time they’ve spent on each project.
Training them how to use the app is also critical. Timing’s detailed help section answers many valuable questions, and its YouTube channel features instructional videos. Start by understanding how to assign times and create time entries.
Step 4: Regularly review and analyze data
Your project time tracking software should add value every step of the way. Not only while you work — by helping you monitor your time, manage your resources, and keep projects on track. But also after the fact.
You can use the insights you gain from it to make informed decisions. Make sure you regularly review and analyze the data available to you so that you can work better, more efficiently, and more profitably over the long term.
Project Time Tracking: The Bottom Line
Project time tracking is an essential part of any project management process. In fact, it’s unlikely that you can deliver a well-managed and profitable project without it. You need to know where you or your team’s hours are going, and work on making those hours as productive and efficient as possible, if you’re going to pull it off.
Want to put project time tracking to the test yourself? Download Timing’s free 30-day trial to make your project management process simple, seamless and successful.
Project Time Tracking FAQs
Here are a few short and snappy answers to some common FAQs on project time tracking:
What is project time tracking?
Project time tracking refers to the process of recording and monitoring the amount of time you spend on a project. For best results, you should track your time automatically, with a tool like Timing.
Why is project time tracking important?
Knowing how your time is being spent on each project helps you to quote and invoice correctly. It also helps you to be more productive, and to work more efficiently and with greater focus.
What are the benefits of using project time tracking software?
While you can track your time manually, this process is inaccurate, repetitive and boring. Automatic time management software, however, runs in the background while you work. It automatically tracks the time you spend on tasks, so that you can focus on the work at hand.
How do I choose the right project time tracking software?
Make sure you choose software that is fully automated, is easy and intuitive to use, can monitor as many projects as you need, and integrates with other tools and apps. Take a look at Timing’s features for more.