Time tracking

The Importance of Time Tracking

time-tracking-imageKeeping track of hours is one of the most important tasks in a project. Proper and diligent time tracking can tell you a lot about your business. From potential bottlenecks in your process that suck team members’ time to the real costs vs. profit of your gigs.

When I started out as a freelancer, taking the time to get myself on a time tracking routine helped me a lot.  I aimed to use the data I got from it to validate my package pricing and cost estimation methods.  And after recording the time I spent in a few projects, you know what I found? I was off on all my previous estimates.   As is common with most people, I was underestimating the time it takes me to do things.  Who of us hasn’t had a daily household task that they thought will take an hour or two but ended up taking most of their day?  Unfortunately my errors didn’t mean I lost a weekend taking 4 trips to the hardware store.  These mistakes meant I was either charging clients for more hours than I’d quoted or losing money on projects.  Neither of which was a great outcome.

At that time, I used a labor-intensive combination of timers, handwritten logs and spreadsheets to make static reports. Thankfully proprietary online solutions have come a long way since then. When I need to measure time for my own projects and for the teams I collaborate with, I’ve found the online tool Toggl to be a great solution

Toggl is Scalable

The service is free for teams up to five; which makes it a great tool for boutique agencies with smaller teams.  And for larger organizations, Toggl offers affordable plans that scale to those needs.  Using an intuitive system called Workspaces, the app can also isolate one team’s time from another’s.  That way, I can separate the time I track for my personal projects from my work projects.  In a larger organization, internal teams could have their own workspaces whose time is overseen by a department head.

Recording Time with Toggl

Toggle Desktop Client

Toggle Desktop Client

Using Toggl is a breeze.  After making a free account, users can start recording their time entries nearly instantly.   Toggl’s methodology is simple: it tracks time for Projects grouped under Clients.  Projects can be selected from a drop down menu anytime during your time entry, so time tracking mistakes can always be corrected.  Clients can have an infinite number of Projects beneath them and when Projects end they can be archived.  This means keeping the time entries without having the dead Project cluttering up your UI.

The service uses a smart combination of offline and online time tracking tools.  There’s a desktop client for Windows, Mac and Linux that allows basic functionality.  A mobile app also available for Android and iOS, for time-tracking on the go.  With them you can, of course, track time but also create projects, edit previous time entries and add tags. The client works both on and offline, syncing to your Toggl profile the next time you’ve got an internet connection.


Reporting with Toggl

On the web side of things Toggl offers a robust toolset to search, isolate and report on your accrued time.  By default, the reporting dashboard shows an overview of your time spent in the current week across all projects.  By using several search criteria (Team, Client, Project, Tag, and Billable Time Entry), ad-hoc reports can be instantly generated for a real-time overview of any project.

The Toggl Time Tracking Dashboard

The Toggl Time Tracking Dashboard

While I wholeheartedly recommend Toggl, it’s only a tool to do what I’m really endorsing here – diligent time tracking.  While it may take an adjustment period for you or your staff to get used to doing, the rewards you reap are limitless.  For any sized organization, knowing the time that gets spent by its members is invaluable for doing cost benefit analysis before starting any project.  Clients can also be more reliably quoted and timelines adhered to more regularly.  And I think that’s something any company or team leader can get behind.

What time tracking tools do you prefer? Let me know any new and exciting app recommendations in the comments section below.

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