Is time tracking accurate?
Do you remember how much time you spent on each task for your latest project or client? There are likely interactions you forget to include: quick calls, emails, or admin while you're on the go. All of these still contribute to the time spent working.
With our schedules constantly changing and requests coming in at the last minute, how can we track time accurately?
Why should you track time?
It is imperative to track employee time accurately in any business where work hours reflect employee wages. Otherwise, you run the risk of underpaying employees and mismanaging finances.
But seeing how you spend your time at work can help companies, freelancers, and consultants improve their businesses in more ways than one.
Time tracking for larger businesses
- Gives payroll data for accurate wages, overtime, sick pay, and other payments
- Helps plan and allocate resources for projects based on past insights
- Identifies areas for improvement in teams, such as taking cost-ineffective tasks off some workers' hands so they can spend their time more effectively
- Balances employee capacity and early burnout signs
With so many upsides to time tracking, why doesn't every company implement it? A few aspects of time tracking that, if not done correctly, can cause frustration across teams and refusal to fully adopt the new time tracking method.
Turning time tracking into micromanagement and spying on employees' computer screens will quickly lose the confidence of any employee. Some white-collar workers describe these surveillance methods as "demoralizing," "humiliating," and "toxic."
It's one thing to gather data on how teams perform or each individual's workload. Still, once you cross the line with unethical surveillance methods, it's near impossible to regain employee trust in the business and in time tracking. To prevent this, it's essential to introduce time tracking with empathy and listen to employees' concerns.
Time tracking for freelancers and consultants
- Assesses time spent on tasks and projects to more effectively price proposals based on time and effort spent on past projects
- Ensures any paid work and extras like calls, meetings, and consultations are recorded on invoices
- Manages work-life balance by using tracked data to do time audit or a simple weekly or monthly reflection
- Shows when and where you are most productive so you can adjust your time management methods to fit your lifestyle better
To be competitive but successful, freelancers and consultants set their rates using different variables: their experience, niche, types of services provided, return on investment for the client, desired income, and work and personal life balance, among others.
In the freelance writing industry, income can range anywhere from less than $30,000 to over $126,000 per year. Due to the listed factors, everyone's business and revenue look different.
Time tracking is another aspect that affects rates. Knowing how long it takes to complete each part of a project, you can determine what fee you should charge a client so your business remains profitable and you stay energized.
If you spot too much time spent on admin and repetitive tasks in your tracked time reports, you can consider outsourcing them to help you focus more on high-value activities.
How can you make time tracking more accurate?
Trying to track employee time on a spreadsheet or using other manual methods is impossible to avoid human error. Sometimes we forget events or rush to complete a timesheet before the next meeting or task on our list. If you multitask more than you'd like to, you already know how difficult it is to keep track of every time you switch context.
It only takes a simple error of incorrectly logging hours to send data reports haywire. It is also challenging to maintain manual timesheets since they require trust and accountability from both employers and employees.
Unlike spreadsheets and manual timers, automated time-tracking software like Timely uses AI and works in the background to track the different tools and apps you use on your desktop. The software logs your activities without you having to use a stop-and-start timer between each task, allowing you to focus on work.
Even though automated systems are still prone to some errors and bugs (they're created by human developers, after all), they are the closest thing to accurately tracking and reporting time. If you want to implement an automated time tracking system that is as accurate as possible, consider the following when picking your software:
- Ease of onboarding and usability, so everyone is up to speed, understands how the process works, and knows where to get support if they run into any issues
- Privacy protection features to avoid employees being inclined to manipulate the system if it is intrusive, tracks mouse movements, records screenshots, or invades their privacy in other unethical ways
- Tech stack compatibility so you can integrate your time tracking tool with your most-used apps, for example, Zoom, to track the exact time spent on meetings
- Whether the tool is truly automated, since some only offer automated features such as reporting and timesheets but still base time logging on manual timers
- A full-feature trial so you can test out the software with everything it offers and see for yourself if it automates the time tracking and is easy to use or adds unnecessary steps
Use reliable time data to improve your business
It isn't easy to estimate a business's productivity and team health without real data. Once you start tracking time and have reports on hand, you can begin seeing room for improvement in capacity, profitability, productivity, and team happiness.
Marco Cevoli, the managing director of Qabiria, a content and translation service, tracked time spent on projects since day one. It was necessary for Marco and his business associate to understand where their time went.
"As technical translators, we usually sell our services for a word rate, but that indicator doesn't tell you whether the project was viable or not," he says. "Only by tracking the time spent on all the tasks included in a project, you'll know the project's profitability."
"Having clear reports on spent time is pure gold. Without data about previous projects, we won't be able to estimate future projects. For instance, if I know that we spent X hours on research for a project, I can factor in these hours for the next similar project."
Marco believes you can only estimate your future efforts by tracking your time. "What you can't measure can't be improved," he adds. "Tracking time is the single, most effective measure you can do in your business."
Having a better understanding of your non-productive time can be just as important as seeing how much it takes to finish a paid project. Marco and his team set up a "grab bag" project to add non-productive activities like browsing the web or chatting to see how much time gets wasted.
"At some point, at the very beginning of our company, we realized that the hours spent on that 'grab bag' were... a lot. That eye-opening moment made us review and change our daily habits."
Scale your business
Growing your business can mean different things to different people. Some want to take on more clients, while others wish to have fewer but higher-paying clients. Others may want to increase their hiring or launch new products. Whatever scaling a business looks like to you, using tracked time data to inform your decisions can be helpful, as it did for freelance content writer Raphael Ibrahim.
He started tracking time with the Pomodoro technique to become more efficient in his work and eventually moved to a time tracking tool to see in-depth reports of his time usage.
"When I think about working on a project, I check the amount of time I used to research and write," he says. "These insights help me to set billable hours where they apply, set the right deadline for completing the project, and consider if I can deliver within the allocated time."
"It also helps to create room for some flexibility because you can't plan the time right down to the minute. My tracked time insights help me to create space for other events."
Regularly tracking his time has allowed Raphael to reach his goals on time. Successfully splitting up his schedule with time blocking and adding deep focus work, he has delivered better work to his clients and does it faster than before.
"I open up time for rest and schedule meetings effectively. With better time management, I have scaled my business to handle larger projects without being burned out. It's not perfect, but it's better," Raphael adds.
The key to successful planning is accurate data
Time tracking is a powerful tool to analyze how freelancers and employees spend their time across different projects and tasks, as long as it's done correctly. Only accurate timesheets will add value to the business and make it a worthwhile investment.
Automated time tracking software like Timely can help eliminate human error, such as forgetting to start or stop a timer on a busy workday. Not only will your employees thank you for making their admin easier, but you will also get reliable data reports for your business.