If you’ve ever reached the end of a long working day only to look back and wonder exactly what you’ve achieved, you’ll know how surprisingly difficult it can be to count the number of achievements on one hand.
That isn’t because you’ll run out of fingers – far from it. You’ll more likely struggle to count one or two things you completed successfully or pinpoint any significant progress made on specific projects. Don’t worry – you’re not alone.
There’s a reason for this and it is a trap we all fall into: overlooking the importance of time tracking and its relationship with productivity.
You see, productivity and time tracking are intrinsically linked. One can’t exist without the other and, in business, this relationship is the very reason the phrase ‘time is money’ is so often uttered in meetings and by finance teams.
On the face of it, the process of tracking time may seem like a waste of time itself. Much like some of the more intricate forms of productivity, you’d be forgiven for assuming that one will spend more time tracking time than actually getting stuff done. But it doesn’t have to be like that. Working out how much time you spend on each and every task should be a simple affair that benefits every working day.
If you’re still unsure, this post aims to convince you otherwise. Below, I’ve listed 16 reasons time tracking can boost your productivity.
16 reasons time tracking can boost your productivity
1. You’ll be able to better estimate
“How long will this job take?” When someone asks you that question, do you struggle to answer? In fairness, how can you answer if you have no prior record of such a task? By time tracking, you’ll build up vital knowledge of how long it takes you to do things and you can apply that knowledge to take the guesswork out of estimation.
2. It encourages constant improvement
The only way to get better at something is to measure how long it takes. If it takes too long, you’re doing something wrong, but the same can be said for jobs that you finish with way too much time to spare.
3. You’ll start to value your time
If you’re a freelancer, you may not be appreciative of how valuable your time is. You may not be charging for the hours you spend researching, for example, and once you start tracking that time, you’ll realise just how valuable it is to both you and your clients.
4. Time really is money
If you’re in charge of the budget for a business or your own freelancing career, you have to be scrupulous about the hours you (or your staff) work. Tracking time enables you to budget properly and assess the effect of productivity on the bottom line of the business.
5. Accurate invoicing
How much time do you spend on invoicing? Chances are, if you’re not tracking your time, you’re having to estimate, and the thought process that goes into estimating is valuable time you could spend being productive. Being able to quickly refer to a time sheet is far more efficient.
6. Helps set clear objectives
When you get into the habit of tracking your time, you’ll find that objective setting becomes far clearer and clear objectives will always increase productivity.
7. Work out where you need help
If certain projects are taking far longer than they should, you’ll be able to suss out where you need assistance. Productivity doesn’t have to be a lonely endeavour and you can increase your ability to get things done when you know the stages at which you need help.
8. Spot scope creep
An often hidden benefit of time tracking is the ability to spot the early warning signs of a project veering from the original scope. If one particular stage is taking far too long, you can prevent yourself falling down a rabbit hole before it costs you more time (and money).
9. Set accurate delivery dates
After spending a few months tracking your time, you’ll have an invaluable set of data from which to pull solid delivery dates for clients. But that doesn’t just benefit them – it’ll benefit your own productivity, because you’ll finally have a realistic ETA to which you can work.
10. Get used to completing one job at a time
There is no bigger productivity killer than jumping constantly between jobs. The process of tracking time means you focus on one single project – nothing more – and that’s a brilliant productivity habit.
11. You’ll be able to see into the future
Changes to projects midway through can be a nightmare and push your timescales and levels of productivity out of the window. The more you track your time, the more you’ll be able to spot the possibility of changes heading your way. If a certain task is taking too long, experience may tell you that something big is going to change and you’ll be able to prepare or head it off at the pass.
12. Get a handle on ‘effort remaining’
As you track your time, you’ll always be aware of how much effort you have remaining on the task in hand. That’s reassuring and a productivity booster, because you’ll always feel as though you have a handle on what’s ahead, thus creating a positive, get-things-done mentality.
13. Create a sense of purpose
The feeling of being lost in the middle of a job isn’t a nice one, nor does it help with productivity. If you track your time, you’ll always know exactly where you are and how long you have left. That creates a sense of purpose, which is a real boon for productivity.
14. Make important changes
Scope creep isn’t always dealt by your clients – you’re just as capable as going wildly off course yourself. Tracking your time is akin to building a fence around the task you’re undertaking and keeping it on the rails. If the clock starts to look rather strained, you’ll be able to work out if you’re to blame – and make changes if so.
15. Force task prioritisation
When you know you’ll be tracking the time taken to complete every task on your to-do list, you’ll naturally start to prioritise them accordingly and, as we all know, the key to getting things done is the ability to prioritise tasks effectively.
16. You’ll never say “where does time go?” ever again
That’s right – such a phrase will never again pass your lips once you start tracking your time. Instead, you’ll be saying “wow – look at how much I achieved today!”.
BONUS CONTENT – Time tracking tools
Hopefully, I’ve got you excited about the benefits of time tracking, but how do you do it, exactly? Thankfully, gone are the days of spreadsheets and calculators – there are now a huge number of apps dedicated to the task. I’ve picked out two which I personally like best:
Time tracking should be simple, and hours absolutely nails that premise. Open the app and you’re presented with a big green button which, when pressed, prompts you to enter a project with a respective client and colour code (if you wish). That project is then saved in a list with a timer icon next to it. Click the timer, and it starts recording – simple.
Hours allows you to edit previous time tracks, split them and make notes of where breaks were taken, so if you forget to hit ‘pause’, you can retrospectively correct. Add to that integration with accounting software, reminders and a nice little reporting suite, and Hours is a tough act to beat (although it is best suited to freelancers managing multiple clients).
ATracker is a somewhat simpler take on time tracking, but equally as effective as Hours when it comes to delivering on the main premise. If anything, ATracker is actually a bit easier to get started with; as soon as you open the app, you’re presented with three default tasks (gaming, gym and housework – highlighting the type of user this app is aimed at). Press any of them, and the timer begins. Easy.
You can add your own tasks, view a calendar of previous time recordings and run some basic reports on productivity. ATracker is a no frills affair but a brilliant and approachable way to get into the habit of time tracking.
One of the biggest misnomers about time tracking is that it is a tool purely for freelancers who bill by the hour. This simply isn’t the case. Time is money, but it should be used effectively by everyone. If you track your time properly, you’ll impress your boss, make quicker home improvements and reach goals you never thought possible.