You may be busy all day, but how do you really know where the time went, or what you accomplished? Most private practice lawyers and accountants do, as they tend to bill clients in six-minute blocks. Many of them even tally up the time they spend on unbillable tasks such as administration and professional development (yep, really).
Sounds like a drag, but it is one of the simplest, yet most powerful, business tools available for improving and maintaining productivity, accountability and profitability. And time tracking is set to become the new normal as apps such as Zoho, Toggl and Harvest grow in popularity, and small businesses, charities and non-profits get on board.
If, despite to-do lists and motivational posters on your wall, managing your time feels like trying to herd a thousand cats, try keeping a record to see where it all goes. At first, it can be painful and, funnily enough, take up an annoyingly large amount of time. But before long you’ll see patterns emerging and figure out how long different tasks are taking. Then, taking into account business costs, you can calculate true hourly rates and identify your best-paying work and clients, as well as time-sucks, which you may be able to delegate.
To help you on your way, we asked social researcher, business consultant and principal of McCrindle Research Mark McCrindle for his tips on rolling out time-tracking in your company.
1. Explain why you’re doing it
Expect that people will sometimes get frustrated by the tedious nature of tracking their time. In service-based, knowledge-based businesses, the commodity is time, and the key expense is payroll. If you’ve got good professionals, and you’re developing careers, payroll is going to grow. The only way to ensure ongoing growth of salaries is to make sure there is a greater return on investment, and that means a return on time, and therefore monitoring that time. Real-time awareness and personal responsibility for time allocation definitely helps grow revenues and salaries. It’s a positive thing.
2. Think “big picture”
Time-tracking can create more micro-focus or short-term thinking, and you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Things that don’t bring about a financial return can end up being pushed off the to-do list, yet they can be important, like training, reflecting on a task or gathering information that might develop a better system for the business. If people are over-focused on the ticking of the clock, they can be doing what they’re doing really well, yet be working ineffectively on the business and missing the whole point. To survive, businesses need to be innovative and adaptive. They need to look at the external environment and the mega-trends, and keep fresh.
3. Strive for balance
There’s an expectation, particularly with Gen Y and Z, that people will feel engaged and enjoy their time at work. The modern workplace is a community, and the lines between business and personal life have blurred. At the same time, productivity matters. The challenge is achieving an engaging workplace of social belonging, but managing productivity, enhancing outcomes and making sure people are stewarding the time and resources they have, without commoditising time and bringing it down to a point where suddenly relationships don’t matter and everybody’s on a clock-in, clock-out mindset.
4. You are not your hourly fee
Don’t take your hourly fee to heart. Don’t think that you’re really worth $450 an hour. If people believe that’s their worth in all areas, it creates arrogance. They’re waiting in a queue, or someone is asking them a question, and they’re thinking, ‘I’m worth this much per hour, do you realise? I’ve just given you $230 of my time.’ Your fee is a dangerous thing to carry around in your head. Yes, your time is worth a lot in a professional sense, and you need to believe and respect that, but turn the fee calculations off outside work.
5. Don’t use it everywhere
Thinking about time and allocating our time can bring better efficiencies in life and help with broader goal setting. A lot of professionals who track their work report that it helps their time management outside work, too. They’re aware of their commute time, and think about how they can utilise that time effectively. They’re cautious not to invest time in pursuits or hobbies that aren’t bringing a lot of joy. They think about the return on their time investment in many areas, and that’s great, as long as they’re not clock-watching as they talk to friends and loved ones. You have to keep things in perspective.
6. Make every minute count
I love Rudyard Kipling’s poem If, and it always comes to my mind when I think about time. There’s that famous line, “If you can fill the unforgiving minute with 60 seconds’ worth of distance run, yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it.” That’s the definition of success there. I often think about that. We can get so caught up in the minutiae and the red tape, stress [over] the small stuff, fill those unforgiving minutes with distractions and inefficiencies, and allocate precious time to things that, in the scheme of things, are irrelevant.
I think the great challenge of life is to fill that unforgiving minute that comes every single 60 seconds. It’s not going to change or slow down for any of us. How can we fill it with something worthy of our lives?