Time tracking can be a touchy subject, but when used right is a great tool to improve your processes and provide clients with accurate data. What makes time tracking an unpleasant subject to some is most often related to the way it is being applied. Instead of reaping the benefits of this practice, teams tend to use it as a compliance tool.
To make sure this does not happen to you, I have asked professionals from various agencies to share their time tracking best practices. Here is what they had to say.
1. Get everyone on board
Nathan Jacobs, Senior Researcher at The Money Mongers
‘Here’s the real talk on time tracking: it’s not just about billing. We make sure everyone gets why it’s important. It’s about spotting where we can speed things up and ensuring nobody’s drowning in work.
Getting this point across helps us work more efficiently and keeps the team’s workload balanced.’
To establish successful time tracking at your agency, you will first have to get everyone on board. As such, it will be important to relay the benefits time tracking brings and why each team member should participate in the practice. Once you have everyone in agreement, applying time tracking will be that much easier.
2. Make time tracking a routine
Andrew Adams, the owner of Vluchten Volgen
‘Second, establish a routine for consistent tracking, and make it a daily habit to log your time promptly. This practice not only ensures accuracy but also provides a real-time overview of project progress. For me, these strategies have proven effective in enhancing efficiency and project management within agency settings.’
Accuracy is one of the values time tracking provides. As such, aim to track time each and every single day. This way, you will eliminate the risk of forgetting the numbers and keep data true to reality.
3. Work in time blocks
Kartik Ahuja, Marketing Manager of Thailand Nomads
‘Set aside certain amounts of time for each activity by using timers or other time management tools.
This method, which is also known as the Pomodoro Technique, entails working in concentrated bursts separated by brief rest periods. Keeping a sense of urgency and avoiding distractions are both helped by this.’
To ensure productivity and less switching between tasks, work in time blocks. Take a task you are working on and dedicate a certain block of time to its completion. This way, you will sit down and know for certain that from now, until the end of the day, you have time for a specific task.
Allowing you to get into the right headspace and do more deep work instead of switching between tasks and getting distracted.
4. Break down your work into smaller tasks
Marc Afzal and I work for Sell Quick California
‘My best tip for time tracking is to break down tasks into smaller, more manageable chunks. This helps to keep track of progress and makes it easier to stay on top of deadlines.’
Similarly to working in time blocks, you should aim to work in manageable chunks. Instead of trying to tackle one task that will take a week, divide it into smaller subtasks that can be achieved in a few hours. This will give you a real sense of progress and encourage you to start working, instead of dreading the overall amount of work.
5. Establish daily objectives
Prof. Dr. Te Wu, CEO of PMO Advisory
‘In my view, having your staff establish goals daily before they start working is one of the best ways to keep them focused and on target. These objectives need not be broad and extensive. On the contrary, have them make a list of all that they aim to do that day.
Employees can make reasonable progress against their daily goals by breaking them into more manageable parts and working toward them in intervals.’
Breaking work down into smaller chunks and setting the daily objectives, will allow you to bring in more accuracy into the time tracking of larger tasks. Moreover, you will be able to analyze which parts of the task took the longest and what can be achieved fairly quickly. Thus giving you further insights into your process and allowing you to forecast easily in the future.
6. Avoid multitasking
James Gibson, Digital Marketing Manager at Camsurf
‘Multitasking is counterproductive and should be discouraged. Insist on concentrating on a single activity at a time and seeing it through to completion before moving on. An effective and well-organized workflow is the result of task segmentation.’
To ensure time tracking best practices are applied in your agency, you should always aim to be working on one task at a time. As it will provide more clarity in data and will be easier to record. That may not be completely achievable with responding to emails and other client communication, but at least try to apply this approach when working on bigger items.
Explore other time thieves similar to multitasking.
7. Track time off and non-billable hours
Mike Yon, CEO of Growth List
‘Along with tracking time against client projects, agencies should also have team members track PTO, sick days, internal meetings, training, and other non-billable activities. This gives leadership better insight into utilization rates, overtime costs, revenue projection accuracy, and overall workplace efficiency.
Without tracking all-time in the work week, the data set will have major gaps. Some apps let you set rules and customized buckets for easy non-billable time tracking.’
Another one of time tracking best practices is to track all work, not just what is billable to clients. While it may be tempting to focus on where the money is made, without tracking the other operational activities, you are losing the sense of the full picture.
8. Remember to take breaks
Massad, Business and Marketing Director of VelocityPaddle
‘Maximize efficiency by promoting frequent, brief breaks. An opportunity to clear one’s head and recharge one’s batteries is what breaks are all about. Workers who take a break usually come back with more enthusiasm and concentration.’
When thinking about time tracking best practices, breaks may be the furthest from your mind. In fact, they are quite beneficial for both – your mental health and productivity. So even when working hard, remember to take a 5-minute breather from time to time.
9. Minimize context-switching
Elisa Bender, the co-founder of RevenueGeeks
‘Another effective time tracking tip for agencies is to prioritize task batching. Group similar tasks together during specific time blocks. Your team will be able to focus on similar activities consecutively. This minimizes context-switching, enhances efficiency, and promotes a more structured and productive workflow’
Context switching is a menace to productivity. While you may pride yourself on being able to juggle 5 different tasks at a time, it inevitably leads to slower output times. So, instead of going back and forth, try to focus on one thing at a time before starting something else.
For those familiar with Kanban, this can be referred to as a WIP (work in progress) limit.
10. Have regular check-ins with the team
Farah Kim, Head of Marketing at Winpure
‘Encourage an environment of open communication and frequent check-ins among team members. Team members can improve overall time management by identifying where time is being spent and making necessary adjustments by talking about progress and potential obstacles.’
Consider your meeting schedule with the team and think about adding a daily stand-up for quick check-ins. This will allow you to sense where everyone is at and identify any blockers that might affect the time required for various tasks.
Learn more about stand-up meeting ideas here – Scrum meetings.
11. Get ahead by understanding where your time goes
Jessica Chase, Vice President at Premiertitleloans
‘According to my experience, you can find out how you spend your time at work by using activity tracking tools. These tools can help you find things that waste time and places where you can make improvements. Get a glimpse of what your employees are up to with the help of apps for smartphones or dedicated time tracking software.’
Consider looking into where your time goes as another one of time tracking best practices. While you may think you know how much time per day is spent on certain things, it may surprise you to look at actual data.
12. Break down the time-tracking reports for clients
Dustin Sitar, CEO, The Groom Club
‘When an agency tracks time for their clients, the time should be as detailed as possible. Break down all time spent on a task into as many steps as possible to give the client a good idea of how their resources are being used.’
Accuracy and detail levels are very important when billing clients. They will undoubtedly want to know the details behind any task larger than 8 hours or so, and thus it will save you a lot of headaches to track time in smaller chunks from the get-go. Divide large initiatives into smaller subtasks and track time for each of them to form a full overview.
13. Review actual data vs estimates
Ori Tzvielli, owner of One Scales Inc
‘Each team manager once a month reviews team member’s times. Each task has an estimate before completion and a time completed. During monthly meetings, these are discussed and worked on to improve for the future.’
Time tracking itself is done so that we can understand estimation accuracy, identify performance issues, and bill clients for the work done. As such, analyzing the results is just as important and should be done regularly.
Most time tracking software will provide timesheet reports for this cause.
14. Forecast based on historical data
Andrew Johnson, founder of Giveaways.org
‘Utilize historical time-tracking data for project forecasting. This proactive approach enables agencies to anticipate resource needs and allocate team members effectively.’
Taking it one step further from analysis, forecasting is another one of time tracking best practices. By taking your historical data, the team can forecast how much time will be needed for their other endeavors. Giving a very valuable insight into project planning and client management.
Some project management solutions offer such information as a built-in layer. Analyzing the data and allowing the user to immediately see what they will be up against.
15. Cultivate a culture of time awareness
Mark Voronov, the Co-Founder & CEO of SocialPlug
‘Beyond tools and systems, cultivating a culture where time is valued as a key resource is crucial. Regular team discussions on time management, sharing best practices, and encouraging mindful work habits can significantly improve time utilization.
This cultural shift makes time tracking a part of the agency’s ethos, rather than just a procedural necessity.’
There is an old saying – time is money. By instilling the philosophy that time is a valuable resource that should not be wasted, you will also instill a sense of value into time tracking. Compared to other time tracking best practices, this is more of a cultural approach but will pay off nonetheless.
16. Merge project management with time tracking
Ibrahim Taha, Chief Information Officer at Roowaad
‘Implementing an integrated time tracking system transforms minutes into metrics, providing a clear picture of productivity and profitability.’
Lastly, one of the most mentioned time tracking best practices – choose a powerful tool. Having the right tool at your disposal will allow you to perform time tracking, but will not take away from the other tasks. Moreover, consider getting a tool that can also handle project management, thus allowing you to handle the whole process in one solution.
Take a look at some of the most popular options below.
Summary – time tracking best practices
Time tracking can be a powerful tool when applied right. Hopefully, these expert insights gave you some ideas on how to improve your own process for the better.
Remember to involve the team, take it slow, and track everything important to your processes.
Have anything to add? Let us know!
Passionate content marketer looking to bring better solutions to the project management space.
2020 - Present Marketing specialist at Teamhood.
2014 - 2020 Marketing manager for Eylean.