7 lessons learned from a decade of time tracking in a digital agency

What did the last decade teach me about the value of time tracking? Here are 7 lessons learned I’d like to share with you.

in Time tracking by Luke Karwacki

Nov 13, 2020

I’ve been running a software development agency for 10+ years. During that time, I got to learn a lot about the reality of tracking time in a company. The problems I encountered on the way inspired me to build Weekly, a complete time and resource management solution for teams that is perfectly adapted to the needs of digital agencies.

So, what did the last decade teach me about the value of time tracking? Here are 7 lessons learned I’d like to share with you today.

1. I don’t draw meaningful productivity insights every month

When I started to get serious about time tracking, I thought I’d be analyzing my timesheets every month to find some valuable insights about my own productivity. Instead, I noticed that I’m doing that only once or twice per year.

Having said that, I should also admit that constant productivity analysis wasn’t the most important thing for me - or at least not as important as billing clients.

Still, here’s what I’ve learned: you need to log tasks for a long time before being able to notice patterns - for example, too little time spent on X, too much time spent on Y.

Lesson learned: An application that makes a note of your EVERY action doesn’t always give a lot of value. You might need to spend hours on ‘deciphering’ the automatically generated logs while actually needing this data for productivity analysis purposes only once or twice per year.

2. Being super accurate isn’t worth your time...

Generally, I found out that I don’t need to be as detailed with timesheets as I originally thought I should be.

At first, I was obsessed with timesheet accuracy. I had more than 30 different timers (I even had a few different ones for different types of breaks). I was changing times for 1-2 min tasks. I wrote little essays in descriptions.

Why did I do it? I assumed clients required it.

Now I see that I went a little too far - and spent way too much time on something that was supposed to make me more productive.

At the end of the day, it’s all a matter of trust. Clients need to trust you and you build your integrity when your actions follow your words. It’s not a matter of incredibly detailed and accurate time tracking.

Lesson learned: Now, I only capture the essentials: the project, the work category, and max 2-line description. Most of the time, a 15-min precision is good enough. In larger projects and bigger teams, clients actually want to see 8 hours worked during a day and don’t go into more detail than that. This relaxed approach also helps to avoid overburdening your team with too much bureaucracy.

3. ...but details still matter!

Having said that, I always keep diligent timesheets for the rainy day.

I always told my team to keep their timesheets up to date because you never know when the client might ask for them.

Projects go through different stages during their life cycles. There are better times, and there are worse times. Team members deal with different complexity of tasks at hand, and sometimes clients may be more confused, emotional, or uncertain than usual. This is why they might want to take a more careful look at the timesheets to understand the situation better - even if they’ve never done it before. We once worked with a client who did this after a few years of not looking at our timesheets at all!

If you have sloppy timesheets, they can break your relationship with the client because they undermine the trust you’ve built so far. But if you were diligent even while the client wasn’t looking, it’s going to paint a very reassuring picture for them.

Lesson learned: All in all, timesheets can help teams to keep healthy, honest, and transparent relationships with clients. This is especially important in agile teams that deal with a lot of change and uncertainties, so rely on client trust and feedback even more.

4. People always complain about time tracking, but they actually adapt very quickly

I met this person once. This person praised a certain integration in a project management solution and said it’s an absolute must-have for teams. But when I asked further questions, it turned out that this person used a different tool at work and wasn’t aware that the same integration was available for that tool. They never complained, so they never got to learn about it.

The truth is that people always complain about time tracking. But once you introduce a tool, they can adapt very easily - especially when you show them the benefits and listen to their feedback to implement the integrations they need.

Lesson learned: People generally don’t like changes. So it might seem that they’re always somewhat pessimistic about introducing a new solution or changing one tool to another. But don’t let this affect your approach to time tracking.

5. A simple time tracking process does the job

To get accurate and up-to-date data about time spent on tasks, you need your process to be really simple.

There’s no reason to get 100+ apps and integrations and then employ some large AI algorithm to track your time and give you insights.

Lesson learned: Don’t overdo it. A simple and intuitive interface, a logic that makes sense, and easy availability (in a browser, using the most common integrations) are all you need to make time tracking a source of powerful insights at your company.

6. Timesheets can be used to draw business intelligence (as long as you have the right tools)

A financial or operational analysis based on timesheets can open your eyes to your business's actual performance. You can see the revenue, labor costs, utility rates, and billable rates calculated on an intuitive interface and easily available to you.

But most time trackers are too simple to provide that level of insight. You might end up with lots of different spreadsheets that you need to manage and shape over time.

Lesson learned: This is why the choice of the time tracking solution is so important. It helps to centralize knowledge about your performance and automates a lot of manual tasks that take lots of time and effort.

I couldn’t find any solutions on the market that would provide this amount of details, so I decided to build my own tool. Weekly unlocks this value of time tracking and provides all the insights directly in the app for easy access.

7. It’s all about trust and performance

Let me get this straight:

People can cheat or manipulate timesheets.

But if you look at their performance regularly, you’ll be able to quickly notice that and take action.

Lesson learned: Timesheets aren’t a measure to control your team members. They’re a solution that introduces transparency and trust in your relationship with co-workers. Moreover, by introducing a time tracking tool and setting clear rules for using it, you’ll be offering them an opportunity to analyze and improve their performance.

If you’re looking for a time tracking tool that combines key features that allow this type of visibility, Weekly is a good match.

Subscribe to this list , and we’ll let you know as soon as we launch Weekly so that you can see how powerful time tracking can be for your company performance.

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