10 Best Ways to Track Time Spent on Projects & Tasks for Improved Consistency

Sheena McGinley, April 24, 2024

10 ways to track time spent on projects

The struggle to stay focused and manage your time effectively is real. And continuous. That’s the thing with time, it stops for no one. But, fret not, fellow perpetual clock watchers! There are several ways in which you can effectively track the time you spend on projects and tasks.

From low-tech classics to tried and tested software solutions, we'll dig into all the options to suit every project size and company budget.

Here’s a breakdown of what we will tackle in this blog post:

Why you should track time spent on projects and tasks

Why track time spent on projects and tasks

Before we grapple with “How best to keep track of project tasks”, we should probably remind ourselves “Why you should track time”. After all, people can be somewhat reluctant to spend more of their precious time logging the hours they’ve already worked. It seems counterintuitive initially. But, trust me, spending yet more time tracking your time is not an exercise in futility.

For instance, effective time tracking contributes to:

  • Improved time management overall: By tracking project hours, you can identify areas where tasks take longer than expected. This allows for essential adjustments to deadlines, resource allocation, and ‘big picture’ project planning.
  • Accurate billing (if applicable): If you bill by the hour instead of applying a flat rate per project, tracking tasks mirrors the time you’ve invested. Nobody likes working for free.
  • Better project costing/budgeting: Data indicating your hours helps you to estimate future project costs. This means more realistic budgeting.
  • Team productivity analysis: Tracking time spent by various team members can reveal areas for improvement in your workflow or identify bottlenecks. It also promotes accountability.

What does “good time tracking” look like?

Sometimes, it's hard to know if you're doing something right. Especially when that thing is so subjective. Let's face it, time-tracking policies vary wildly from company to company.

Effective time tracking is more than merely recording how many hours you work. It's about tracking your progress. It's making use of valuable insights to improve your workflow and, by extension, your productivity.

To keep you on track with your time tracking (apologies) below are some tell-tale signs that you're doing it right.

  • Your time tracking is consistent. Are you capturing your time accurately and consistently across all tasks and projects (including non-billable activities)? Then your time tracking should seem consistent. This is key to generating reliable data for analysis.

  • You're gaining measurable and valuable insights. Obviously, this is the optimum indicator. Are you using the tracked data to identify areas for improvement? Does it help you make more informed decisions about project timelines, resource allocation, or otherwise undiagnosed bottlenecks?

  • Your productivity is increasing. Are you getting more done in the same amount of time? Perhaps you're completing tasks with greater efficiency. Either way, if your time tracking is revealing hidden time-wasters, you're winning. Once identified, you can re-allocate that time to more high-return activities.

  • The tracking method is efficient. Once implemented, does your time-tracking method meld into your workflow? It shouldn't be a chore in itself.

  • You feel the warm glow of being in control. Does time tracking give you a clearer picture of where your work time goes? Do you feel a sense of satisfaction and further motivation? This overriding sense of control can reduce stress while helping you to prioritize effectively.

Remember, good time tracking is about finding the right approach for you. It should give you valuable information to work smarter, not harder. The key is to strike a balance between capturing accurate data and keeping your workflow super smooth.

10 Best ways to track time spent on projects & tasks

Now, it’s time to roll up those sleeves and join me in the proverbial weeds as I recount all the efficient time-tracking methods since (quite literally) the beginning of time. While some might seem antiquated, they’re not without their benefits.

This isn’t where we build up to suggesting time-tracking software as the best option, I’m actually going to lead with it.

1. Get the latest time-tracking software

Time tracking software by Memtime

It’s as simple as that. There’s a multitude of applicable offerings out there (Memtime is just one of the proven and tested solutions in this regard) that facilitates high-level time tracking automatically.

When you’re selecting your software, opt for one that will readily align with your company’s project needs. Ideally, it should enable you to combine varying aspects of your workflow.

It should also…

  • Give you a detailed overview of what a workday looks like (Memtime does it down the minute).
  • Never interrupt tasks and/or your focus (Memtime works in the background).
  • Integrate with a project software you use daily (Memtime has 50+ project software integrations available).
  • Let you generate detailed reports (you’ve guessed it - we've got you covered!)
  • It should respect your privacy (for example, by keeping your time-tracking data offline, similar to how Memtime does it).

There are so many on the market, it’s hard to know which one will be the optimum fit for your needs. Therefore, it’s best to start with a trial. As it happens, we have a free trial you can access here. We truly believe that Memtime is the only time-tracking tool you'll need.

2. Keep it old school – use a timer/stopwatch

Using a stopwatch for time tracking

Nothing gets my creative juices going quite like a ticking clock. For fellow deadline addicts, timers are a simple and efficient method for tracking the time spent on a project.

Simply start the timer when commencing each task and observe precisely how much time is spent and what progress has been made. This also gives a better understanding of the overall timeline needed to complete future tasks.

The huge downside of it though, is that you need to constantly remember about it. This can disrupt focus, and the risk of your stopwatch running for hours on end is real.

3. Manual, printable timesheets

Clearly, a simple, low-tech, and low-budget form of time-keeping. Numerous timesheet templates out there allow for segmenting your day into hours. Also, weekly timesheets are quite popular. The multitude of options available for free is enormous.

Of course, you’ll need to remember to fill them out, and recalling your day as time passes tends to be (very) inaccurate. Unfortunately, you can’t exactly manage and analyze your precious data at the touch of a button.

4. Spreadsheets

Behold another classic and affordable option that allows you to customize categories while tracking a variety of project details. While Microsoft is the OG, there are a slew of similar offerings, most notably Google Sheets.

Similarly to paper solutions, there are multiple templates, and most of them are free. Another advantage is that you can search and organize the file according to your needs.

5. Use project management tools

Asana. Teamwork. Clickup. We could continue. Many of these project management tools have built-in time-tracking features that can be further supercharged by integrating with Memtime. A good option if you're already using project management software.

6. Log it

Fellow Luddites rejoice! For there are yet more analog joys to embrace. This involves – yes, you guessed it – jotting down consistent notes on what you’ve worked on, and for how long. This can be a viable option for people who prefer a more basic approach to time tracking. However, the accuracy and consistency here will likely be close to none.

7. Calendar systems

Calendar systems

With the multitude of calendar software out there, such as Google Calendar, you can easily mirror your day structure. Insert start and stop times and have all the details accessible on multiple devices.

This is also a free option, which is a plus. The downside though is that your calendar events will likely look too perfect and won’t account for interruptions. This, of course, makes it look good on your calendar app, but not very close to reality.

8. 25-minute sprints

Sprints, in the conventional ‘Agile’ sense, last about four weeks. However, there are more time-sensitive options. For instance, The Pomodoro Method involves working in super short, focused bursts, which last about 25 minutes. These bursts are then followed by brief breaks (usually around 5 minutes) with a view to keeping your mind engaged.

After completing a set number of these mini-sprints (often 4), you take a longer break (around 20 minutes) to recharge. The aim of this structured approach? It allows you to tackle tasks in more manageable chunks to boost productivity, it also makes time-tracking tasks far easier.

9. Time blocking schedule

Time blocking

This essentially involves scheduling how you’ll spend your day and deliberately sticking to it. The aim is to better manage your time and discover where it’s being underutilized or wasted entirely.

The downsides? Well, the planned time blocks rarely match reality. Thus, slipping on one time block will cause all your other blocks to break. In turn, this can introduce a lot of time stress in terms of "sticking to the plan".

10. Appoint a project lead

Getting team buy-in in terms of time tracking can be notoriously tricky. That's why assigning someone as the project lead to oversee the tracking progress (to provide guidance throughout, and constantly review and improve the system) is imperative.

They need to be constantly attuned to new ways of enhancing your time-tracking process. However, they cannot act as surveillance; this will give the opposite results.

Key factors when choosing the right time-tracking method

Below are some key factors to take on board when choosing your optimum method of time tracking.

  • Complexity of project: For simpler projects, a timer or spreadsheet might suffice. Complex projects with many tasks might benefit from dedicated software for better organization and analysis.
  • Working style: Give some serious consideration as to whether you prefer manual data entry or automatic tracking.
  • Budget: You can’t get more affordable than a pencil and paper. If it is software you opt for, even though there are a few free options, paid software might offer a more streamlined experience & attentive support.
  • Ease of integration with a project software of your choice: Well, it shouldn’t be difficult. It’s meant to make your life easier.

Pointers worth remembering when tracking time spent on tasks

It’s all too easy to get overwhelmed by not just the project itself, but also having to account for the time you’ve spent on it. So, here are some additional tips to help you demystify tracking the amount of time spent on a project.

1. Make prioritizing your priority

Before you even begin, identify the most critical tasks with the tightest deadlines, using something akin to The Eisenhower Matrix. You can learn more about it in our article featuring proven time management methods. This will guide your resource allocation and scheduling.

2. Break it down

Breaking the day into chunks

Literally. Into smaller tasks. This is especially useful at the project initiation and task assignment phase. By breaking larger tasks into manageable chunks, it clarifies expectations. The byproduct? It makes time tracking more accurate.

3. Set milestones

While you're breaking things down, why not set some achievable milestones with specific deadlines for each new segment? This will help you track progress more easily, while keeping everyone focussed on the next milestone.

4. Multitasking is not your friend

It may seem like a good idea to spin all the plates at once, but – as Charlotte points out in this blog post – multitasking can lead to wasted time due to, well, a lack of clear focus. Instead, try this novel approach – actually completing one well-defined task at a time. This will make for better time tracking and efficiency in the long-run.

5. Delegation mitigates frustration

Assign tasks clearly from the offset, ensuring everyone involved understands the scope and expected timeframe. Then you can all basque in the feeling of not being overwhelmed.

6. Get SMART

For the uninitiated, SMART refers to Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This simple framework can be applied throughout the project lifecycle, especially when setting goals, deadlines, and delegating tasks. This ensures clarity and facilitates accurate time tracking.

7. Review and refine as you go

What’s the golden rule regarding processes? They're never "done". They're always evolving. The same can be said for project work. You should always be refining your plan, deadlines, or resource allocation as needed throughout. This is where the data you’ve gained from your time tracking will come into its own.

8. Communication is key

You’d be surprised just how many projects go awry thanks to ongoing ill-communication. So, prioritize the maintenance of clear communication with your team and stakeholders.

Make it a necessary habit. Be it once or twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays tend to work well), send regular updates. Clearly outline the progress made, while addressing any concerns. Also, pay particular attention to the timeline and be transparent about any adjustments, if necessary.

9. Use your data for good

The entire point of tracking time spent on project tasks is to acquire key data. By analyzing this data, you can readily identify areas for improvement and plan/adjust future project timelines and resource allocation accordingly.

10. Ensure alignment

Before you start anything, make sure the project itself and the individual tasks therein align with your overall goals. Then, ensure your deadlines are realistic. This helps to maintain your focus while making sure that no effort is wasted!

Wrapping up

Time tracking is accessible to everyone. Therefore, everyone should be doing it. Why? Because it brings accountability and better processes across the board.

The best way to track time spent on projects will, of course, be largely dependent on the unique needs and preferences required.

Consider factors such as the complexity of your projects, your budget, and your preferred method of working.

Meet the author:

Sheena McGinley - post author

Sheena McGinley

Sheena McGinley is a columnist and features writer for the Irish press since 2008. She’s also a business owner that is conscious of how time tracking can foster progress. She wrote for SaaS companies and businesses that specialize in revenue optimization by implementing processes. She has the unique ability to digest complex topics and make them easy to understand. She shares this precious skill with Memtime readers.

When she's not making words work for people, Sheena can be found taking (very) brisk dips in the Irish Sea.