6 signs that your time tracking is pointless


 Niclas Preisner, 30 October 2021
Signs of bad time tracking

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Tracking times for projects is considered a necessary evil. What a lot of people don’t know:

Not tracking times at all does less damage than tracking them poorly.

Below, we collected 6 signs for wrong project times. Find out if – and why you might be better off not tracking your times at all.

Why stop time tracking completely - instead of doing it badly?

This way, at least you won’t waste any time.

Project times only fulfill one purpose: to provide data for decisions that affect your profit.

For Example:

  • What should I bill my clients?
  • How much time should I budget for this type of project?
  • What prices should I put in my proposals?
  • Should I take on more projects – or am I at capacity?
  • Which services should I offer – and which ones are not profitable?

Certainly, it’s not a good idea to make these kinds of decisions with your gut feeling. But it surely is better than relying on wrong times.

Bad time tracking costs money

If I am aware, that I don’t know my effort for different tasks/projects, at least I can turn to other business models.

For example, I could try and work with a more value-based pricing instead of an effort-based calculation.

Though, if I mistakenly believe to know my efforts – and make them the basis for my decisions, those decisions will very likely be wrong and lead to lost profits – e.g. through missed revenue or unused capacities.

Adding to that, I will lose time and nerves. Basically, I’m paying with my time for a process, which leads to wrong decisions. Which again, will cost me money.

-> If you’re noticing more than one of the following signs – you should really start to question your time tracking.

1. You’re not tracking your times daily

According to the study Time is money, 33 % of project times are wrong or end up on the wrong projects – even if you’re still tracking them on the same day.

To blame is the so-called Forgetting Curve: The more time passes, the more inaccurate your memory becomes – and with it your estimations.

If you’re only tracking every 2-3 days, you have already forgotten 46 % of your time. If more than a week passes, 64 % are forgotten.

That means: Daily time tracking is a basic requirement to assure that your times are at least partly realistic.

2. You only track times in whole hours

You’re only writing down working hours in whole hours, e.g.

Project A = 2 hours Project B = 3 hours Project C = 1 hour etc.

Even measuring with half hour steps would be too inaccurate. In reality, half and whole hours occur just as often as any other times.

That means if someone is thinking in half or whole hours, their tracking is already pretty much wrong by 15-30 minutes. That adds up a lot.

That way, a person can easily lose around 40 hours a month – which would make it a whole week of incorrectly tracked project times.

3. You’re using a timer software

Most people would manage to start a timer (stopwatch). To stop this timer every time you get interrupted or finish a task, on the other hand, is hardly something anyone can do in the long run.

If your working day gets busy, the likelihood of forgetting to press the timer increases. Thus, there will always be days on which you have completed 4-5 tasks but only tracked 1-2 large timeslots.

That means, you often have to discard times and end up estimating them anyway.

Therefore, timers don’t give you a better result than estimating times – additionally, they require you to permanently interact with them when you’re stopping or starting a task.

This big amount of time that you’re investing is wasted as soon as you forget to press the timer.

4. You have colleagues who never track times

If you’re self-employed you can directly skip to paragraph 6 – but employees should be aware of this:

Even if there is only one colleague on your project, who doesn’t track his times at all, or only tracked them less than once a week, the team’s times are wrong to an extent, that the whole tracking was practically for nothing.

In teams, employee‘s project times are rarely monitored individually. Rather, the focus is on the total hours per project, subproject, or project step.

This means: If the times of a colleague are missing or are grossly incorrect, your own project times become part of a false total time.

Therefore, it doesn’t really matter how much effort you put in. It was a waste of time.

5. Your boss expects you to always put in 8 hours

If bosses suggest that all 8 hours of attendance time should also be allocated to projects, employees will round up their times, so the total makes 8 hours. Meaning a workload of 100%.

A realistic workload with projects for service providers would be between 40 % and 60 % though. Exceptionally good would be 70-80 %. The rest of the time is necessarily spent on internal communication, administration or breaks.

Expecting a higher workload is therefore neither realistic nor reasonable because it would make the actual purpose of project time tracking irrelevant:

After all, you want to know how much time was REALLY worked on projects in order to be able to make the above-mentioned decisions.

6. You always have to work over-time

Sure, there are self-inflicted overtime hours. But if they are the rule rather than an exception, there are only two possible reasons:

Poor planning - or intentional exploitation.

Both have one thing in common: too few resources or too few hours are budgeted for tasks.

If that’s the case, planning is either regularly based on incorrect times from past projects - or the correct times are deliberately ignored.

Both mean the same: the time tracking was for nothing and time was only wasted.

My time tracking is pointless – what can I do?

If some of our 6 signs sound familiar to you, you basically have two choices:

Stop tracking your time completely - or improve your time tracking.

As an employee, you probably can't decide this on your own, but at least you can make a good case for it.

Disciplined time tracking has been proven to lead to the best possible profitability. But for this to happen, time tracking must be accurate, complete and up-to-date.

You can improve time tracking by following one of two possible approaches that we have described for you in this post.

If you can't do that - or if you think that your times don’t have to be that accurate after all and that you only need approximate values - you should be consistent and go with your gut feeling. In other words, go without time tracking.

There is not much to gain in the long run. But at least you won't lose any more time.

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