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6 Time tracking methods for every type of team
Published:Nov 14, 2023

6 Time tracking methods for every type of team

As a project manager, you’re no stranger to seeking project management apps and tactics that help you optimize processes in order to increase project delivery efficiency.

Want better methods for monitoring project progress more accurately, meeting deadlines more consistently, and improving stakeholder and client satisfaction?

We created this article to help you discover different time tracking methods so you can find one you and your team can use to improve time reporting and gain useful insight into how time is being spent.

What are the benefits of time tracking?

Tracking and monitoring time use across your team is critical for many reasons — especially as that team gets bigger, projects become increasingly complex, and budgets restrict.

Super accurate estimates

Why take a guess — even an educated guess — when you can accurately predict the actual amount of time a job is going to take?

Having a way to collect and analyze time data gives project managers everything they need to create precise project cost estimates. A good estimate is key to budgeting and resource allocation, and offers many other benefits that go hand-in-hand with effective time tracking.

Different approaches to cost estimation in software development

Worker self-improvement

A fact that is often overlooked is how time tracking can actually inform self-optimization for the people in the weeds doing the work.

When you’re able to see how you’re using your time throughout the workday, can identify time-sucks that might indicate skill gaps, understand your productive peaks (and when to schedule breaks), and plan your days in a way that’s both rewarding and productive.

Great resource allocation

Informed resource allocation is incredibly valuable for anyone managing large, skilled teams across constantly changing project requirements.

With time tracking that captures the amount of time spent on each activity, project managers can quickly pinpoint areas where they need to adjust the number of workers or other resources.

Identify work bottlenecks

When managing a team, it’s difficult to be aware of every single hang up that leads to workers devoting more time to tasks — aka, bottlenecks.

When you’re not doing the task yourself, it can take longer to realize bottlenecks are happening until an excessive amount of work has piled up and is threatening to throw the project off course.

And unresolved bottlenecks aren’t just harmful to project progress, they’re bad for employee morale and can stir up doubt in the stakeholders whose confidence you need.

Accurate time tracking can help you spot and resolve these bottlenecks before they become catastrophic.

Closer budget management

By tracking, in almost real-time in some cases, how much time is spent on different tasks and the overall project, managers can quickly see how progress compares to the budget. With this information, game-time pivots can be made to cut expenses, save time, or even modify the budget to make sure project spending remains on track.

Right-size your team 

There’s no better way to ascertain whether people on your team are underutilized — or overworked — than looking at the work hours they’re billing.

Keeping an eye on utilization over time can give you the best information on how your team size stacks up against all the work you need to get done, and when it’s time to grow your team to beat burnout.

There’s nothing worse for company profit or for team morale than extreme overutilization that keeps everyone stressed and behind or underutilization that leaves workers feeling understimulated.

The trouble with collecting time data

As the need for accurate time tracking grows, unfortunately so can the hassle of collecting and analyzing time data — When you don’t have your best method locked in, that is.

Time tracking can be distracting

Context switching — in this case, moving back and forth between the task at hand and time tracking apps — has been shown to be terrible for efficiency.

In fact, close to half of people report that switching between tasks hurts employee productivity. Human brains simply need time to refocus every time they move to a new task or tool.

This is something to consider when choosing your time tracking method. Requiring people to leave their workflow and jump into a new time tracking process may interrupt deep work or cause distractions between tasks.

Context switching kills productivity

Micromanagement is a morale crusher

“I love when my boss looks over my shoulder as I work!” said no one ever.

Using time tracking to watch and criticize every move your team makes throughout the day amounts to micromanagement.

Unfortunately, this is a practice some project managers can unintentionally slip into when they don’t have a time tracking app that makes it easy for workers to create accurate data — and easy for managers to use that data to understand and act on trends. Once you’ve got the right app up and running, no over-the-shoulder observation is necessary!

Reporting errors are rampant

Data entry errors happen.

People are notoriously bad at estimating how long it will take them to do something — or remembering how long it actually did take them to do something.

Add to that non-automated processes or paper timesheets and you have a recipe for wildly inaccurate time entries and data. And then you can find yourself basing big business decisions off incorrect information, which is a major problem with choosing the wrong time tracking approach.

Time consuming — for everyone involved

Another drawback of time trackers that don’t offer integration and automation is that they, ironically, consume time.

First there are the workers who have to spend a chunk of their day remembering and entering time data. Then there are the managers who have to spend their time reminding teams to track time, the financial folks who need to devote time to reviewing and sorting through all this data for accurate billing purposes, and so on.

6 Different time tracking methods

Interested in stepping up your game in the time tracking department now that you understand the benefits of accurate time data (and the risks posed by having inaccurate time data)?

Then let’s explore a few types of time tracking for every worker and team.

1. Integrated, automatic time tracking software

Time tracking software that prioritizes integration and automation cuts right through all the issues introduced by manual, disconnected methods of time tracking.

Because it’s always working in the background, accurately recording time spent, no context switching or incessant “Please track your time!” reminders are required. This means you minimize errors and distractions, and boost productivity and morale for workers, including project management and financial folks who have to convert time tracking data into reports and invoices.

7pace is an example of an integrated, automated time management app. 7pace uniquely works seamlessly inside Azure DevOps, GitHub, and monday.com — providing transparent time data that feeds more detailed reports, easier billing flows, better project planning and maintenance, and achievable employee improvement goals.

What type of team it’s best for: Integrated, automatic time tracking software solutions will usually have more features than individual freelancers or owner-operators need, but of course they’re still a great option if you want to really understand and optimize time usage.

Small to enterprise-level development and creative teams that work on different tasks and want to make the most of their time (and time data) can benefit from professional, automation-focused, integration-optimized time tracker apps like 7pace.

7pace offers automated, integrated, & professional time management

2. Activity-based time tracking & estimating

Interestingly, teams that haven’t yet made the switch to the above automated time tracking solution usually understand time through broad estimates and averages.

So they’ll look at how long a worker spent on a specific task in one week — let’s say a developer put 20 hours toward debugging. Then they’ll look at how many pieces of that task they completed — let’s say the dev closed 12 debugging tickets. They divide the hours by the tasks to determine that each task took, on average, just over 1.5 hours. They then move forward to estimate the budget and timeline for future projects with the idea that each debugging task should take 1.5 hours.

The problem with this method is that everyone works at a different pace, and that pace even changes at an individual level based on expertise, workload, time off and all kinds of external factors that impact motivation day to day. For example, a developer who’s sleep deprived because there’s a new baby at home is probably going to take a productivity hit for the next several months!

There’s nothing wrong with that — fluctuation is inherently human. The problem is that the activity-based time-tracking system that doesn’t account for this fluctuation. Nor does it give project managers a way to spot these fluctuations and work to cover them before they impact the bottom line.

What type of team it’s best for: The method of understanding time usage and planning projects based on activity averages doesn’t work well in a team setting, because it lacks transparency and assumes humans are robots who are identical to one another every day. But it can work for individual freelancers and contractors who know their pace and can consider factors they know will influence that pace when planning hourly rates and timelines for future projects.

3. Manual time-recording & accounting programs

Manual time-recording programs are primarily for tracking how long different tasks take for the purpose of billing that time to one or more projects or clients.

FreshBooks is a prime example of user-friendly but manual time recording software that flows into accounting features. Toggl is another example with some additional, “light” automations including reminders and “idle” notifications that make sure you’re tracking time when you mean to.

What type of team it’s best for: Due to the hands-on nature of tools in this category and their focus on using one person’s or a small group’s time tracking data primarily for invoicing, most manual time-recording & accounting programs are geared toward freelancers, contractors, owner-operator businesses, and small teams.

4. Self-reporting timesheet

At its core, a virtual timesheet that requires individuals to manually enter their time on various tasks and projects is just a digital version of using paper spreadsheets to track time. Of course there are benefits to this digitalization, such as better reporting, easier budget monitoring, integrations, and some time savings.

Harvest is a good example of this kind of time tracking app. Its main function is to collect employee time, which managers can then use to understand utilization. And in the case of a business with clients, billing specialists can use it to create invoices.

What type of team it’s best for: Because of the reporting and invoicing features typically found in self-reporting timesheets, this software is often a good fit for businesses that have multiple clients to bill on an ongoing basis based on time used — such as agencies.

That said, even small businesses that don’t necessarily need to track billable hours could use this software to better understand employee time usage, though the manual nature of using it could introduce time sinks and distractions into the workflow. This manual nature may also make it a less-than-ideal fit for larger businesses that need to track time across hundreds of employees and dozens of projects and clients.

5. AI-powered timesheet software

Recently we’ve seen artificial intelligence (AI) applied to the above concept to help automate employee timesheet software.

Timely is an example of a tool that automatically captures everything that’s happening on employee computers and uses AI to turn that information into timesheets. While this is a very interesting application of AI that removes a lot of manual effort and can help companies capture accurate time spent and prevent time theft — in our opinion it can easily spill over into employee surveillance that may make companies and workers uncomfortable.

What type of team it’s best for: Though we can see the functionality of background time tracking for teams of all sizes, we think AI-powered timesheet management software like Timely is still best suited for freelancers and contractors who can make the autonomous decision to let AI view their screens and create timesheets. This prevents feelings of micromanagement in team settings. We should also mention that businesses working with sensitive data should carefully review how these types of software protect information before granting them access.

6. Time clock applications

Time clock applications are the digital incarnation of punch clocks and time cards of the past.

A lot of modern payrolling and overarching small business management applications include digital “clock-in, clock-out” capabilities today. Integrating them in this way makes a lot of sense as it’s much quicker than manually translating data from punch cards then feeding that information into all the other systems it informs.

Homebase is an example of an all-in-one business platform that includes a digital time clock feature that feeds its payroll, labor cost control, employee happiness, onboarding, HR, and other features.

What type of team it’s best for: Because time clock applications lack the ability to understand which different tasks employees work on throughout the day and really only track attendance and number of hours at work, they work best for businesses that don’t have clients, where workers are doing the same task every day. Think delivery drivers, restaurant workers, retail clerks, warehouse workers, etc.

Which time tracking method will support your team?

We’re big believers in using technology to take over stressful, manual tasks so teams can focus on the deep, creative, and uniquely human aspects of their work.

If you are too, give 7pace Timetracker a try and see how powerful automation and integration can help your team grow their skills and help you meet key business goals around delivery and client satisfaction.

We keep our pricing simple and include a free trial at every tier. Get started today to find the time tracking package that’s perfect for your team.

Free eBook

Rethinking Timekeeping for Developers:

Turning a Timesuck Into Time Well Spent

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