Guest post contributed by Dean Mathews, founder and CEO of OnTheClock.
Opinions are divided on whether time tracking is a boon or bane to employee productivity.
On one hand, there are experts like author Laura Stack, who argues: “Why are we wasting time figuring out how much time we’re wasting? People are spending far more time creating these elaborate systems than it would have taken just to do the task. You’re constantly on your app refiguring, recalculating, recategorising.”
On the other side of the conversation are productivity hackers like investor Andrew Chen who says: “For me, time management tools are super important. When you are in a tech job, the scarcest thing is your own attention and other peoples’ attention. Money isn’t usually the bottleneck. So you need tools to help manage this scarce resource, so you can maximise it.”
There may be validity in some of the arguments from time tracking naysayers, but for time tracking advocates, the job is not to dismiss these opposing views, but to counter them with clear benefit statements.
With that out of the way, business owners and productivity managers need to understand one important point:
Time Tracking Itself Doesn’t Solve Productivity Problems
To say it does is like saying that wearing a fitness tracker, by itself, will help you get in shape.
What time tracking does is provide insights to help business owners, project managers, and HR personnel identify areas for productivity improvements. Time tracking serves as a diagnostic tool to pinpoint “productivity illnesses” and come up with the right solutions to plug these productivity leaks and ensure that teams meet their objectives and key results (OKR) across the organization.
Time tracking as a productivity management practice and as a technology will not solve your productivity problems overnight, however. It’s also not a temporary band-aid solution. It needs to be used consistently and be embedded in a business’s operations DNA for you to reap the well-documented productivity benefits that time tracking technology is capable of delivering.
Time Tracking of Old Versus Time Tracking of New
Let’s go back to the question posited by author Laura Stack above: “Why are we wasting time figuring out how much time we’re wasting?”
For time tracking to help boost productivity data needs to be accurate. For manual timesheets to be accurate, they must be continually filled in. The more frequently timesheets are filled in, the more accurate the data is, as shown in a study conducted by Accelo:
This amounts to a lot of time spent tracking time. In this case, Laura Stack is right. Why should we spend so much time tracking time to figure out where productivity leakages are when the technology now exists to eliminate the need for manual time tracking altogether?
This is why, when it comes to workplace time tracking, it’s important to remember one thing: Technology matters. As the Accelo report pointed out: “Making it effortless to track work is a big part of the solution. By allowing users to quickly create a timer and then let technology do the counting in the background, your people lose a big part of the friction associated with keeping track of their time.”
While technology plays a central role in improving your workplace productivity through time tracking, it’s not the only crucial element.
For Time Tracking to Work, Employees Need to Appreciate Its Value
Quartz reporter Corinne Purtill openly expressed her resentment when the publication decided to implement time tracking for one full week. According to Corinne, time tracking took a significant amount of time. She also shared that time tracking made her job feel “soulless” and highlighted “how much day-to-day grunt work” goes into things that she loves doing.
However, at the end of the piece, the reporter expressed a greater appreciation of time tracking. This turn around happened after she received an email from the support team of the time tracking software they used.
“The fact remains, however, that time-tracking isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. This is more true if how you organise time isn’t a natural evolution of how you actually work, but a regime imposed top-down,” wrote the support team.
For every new process or system that you introduce to your workforce, you need to get your employees’ buy-in. Time tracking is no different. For it to be effective, or even transformative, employees need to have a strong appreciation of the value of time tracking. In their heads, they should be able to answer the classic question “what’s in it for me?”
Beyond the business benefits of time tracking, you have to go deeper and talk about how it can help your employees on a more personal level.
This could include discussing benefits such as:
- Better monitoring of individual productivity metrics for recognition and reward
- More accurate and faster payroll processing
- More flexible working arrangements such as work from home days
- Helping them better organise priorities to prevent burnout and turnover
With a better appreciation of time tracking from a more personal perspective, employees will take more initiative in making sure their hours in the office are time well spent.
This goes a long way in keeping your employees happy and keeping them engaged while improving their productivity.
Time Tracking Highlights Bad Work Habits and Creates Opportunities to Start Good Ones
Not even the best time tracking practices or the most advanced time tracking technologies can solve the worst work habits and productivity leaks. However, time tracking can highlight these bad work habits that are either undetected or ignored.
Let’s go back to the example of Quartz reporter Corinne Purtill. One of her beefs when she was required to track her time for a week was how cumbersome it was going back and forth to the tracker when switching between tasks. Switching frequently between tasks may be necessary at some jobs, but it reveals one of the productivity blackholes that is often ignored or goes undetected at many workplaces: multitasking.
While time tracking highlights bad work habits, it also creates opportunities to start good ones. For instance, through time tracking, CEO Peter Bregman and his team discovered what he called the “single most life-changing, business-transforming revelation of my last five years.” It’s called compressed time. He and his team realised that by allocating less time to tasks, the same amount of work could be done with just as good or even better results. Bregman started by cutting in half the time his team spent on meetings and progressed from there. He observed that in every instance, cutting the allotted time in half (from an hour to 30 minutes) resulted in higher levels of focus and productivity.
Time Tracking is a Vehicle to Productivity, but You Still Need to Drive It
Time tracking won’t serve you productivity on a silver platter. It gives you a vehicle to achieve better productivity, but you still need to get in the car, follow a map, and drive to your destination. Time tracking is a tool and just like any tool, the results will depend on how well you use it.
Dean Mathews is the founder and CEO of OnTheClock, an employee time tracking app that helps over 10,000 companies all around the world track time.
Dean has over 20 years of experience designing and developing business apps. He views software development as a form of art. If the artist creates a masterpiece, many peoples lives are touched and changed for the better.
When he is not perfecting time tracking, Dean enjoys expanding his faith, spending time with family, friends and finding ways to make the world just a little better. You can find Dean on LinkedIn.