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The biggest problems with time tracking

Last updated on
September 24, 2021

Time tracking sucks! It’s killing our culture! Such an arbitrary measure of productivity! Just trust me to do my job!

Sound familiar? These responses are a sure sign that someone has massively misunderstood the point of time tracking – or that you haven't communicated why you're doing it clearly enough. As a fiddly and often invasive task, many employees can see it as an infringement of their professional space, rather than an essential admin task for every business.

But time tracking simply won't work without employee trust and buy-in, so you need to be extremely clear on what it does and doesn't mean. That starts with understanding and addressing why employees aren't comfortable doing it. To reframe and restart the conversation, here are the biggest problems employees have with time tracking.

The purpose of time tracking

The thought of being tracked can immediately make employees feel uneasy. "Tracking" is latent with distrust, spying and micromanagement. But business time tracking in itself isn’t inherently "good" or "bad". It isn't about spying on people or setting an unrealistic pace for productivity, and it shouldn’t make anyone feel uncomfortable.

Time tracking is ultimately just a means to understand what we're doing in order to get more value for our effort. As William Penn said, "time is what we want most, but what we use worst"; tracking it simply enables you to get more quality from it. It offers employees and employers greater self-knowledge and the opportunity to make effective, meaningful changes to the ways they work.

You just need to communicate that purpose clearly and effectively. We've written elsewhere about how time tracking benefits employees and how to introduce time tracking to your team in a way that offers them control. But clarifying the purpose of time tracking also involves addressing what it is not.

Biggest problems with time tracking

You can't get employees on-board with time tracking without addressing the common fears, misunderstandings and issues people have with it. Help even your most sceptical colleague reconsider their position on it, by addressing these common concerns:

“Tracking time makes me feel policed and watched.”

Time tracking doesn’t exist so employers can breathe down the necks of their employees or make wild evaluations of their entire professional performance. Since time efficiency doesn’t translate easily from task to task or person to person, you can’t make blanket assumptions from it anyway – each project has to be viewed in its unique context.

A handful of employee-first time trackers actually make such policing impossible. They use a model of employee consent to make data available to others, meaning that colleagues and managers only information that is pertinent and relevant. By putting employee privacy first, people actually feel comfortable and secure using the tool.

🔒 Discover employee-first time tracking

“I always forget to do it anyway – it’s an unnatural way of thinking.”

Most time tracking apps are tremendously non-user-friendly and rely on regular manual input, where you need to toggle start/stop timers or type notes. Being extremely intrusive and distracting, manual time tracking is extremely difficult to sustain. It's unrewarding but requires a ton of cognitive effort to do well, making people resent it or just put it off.

The human brain isn't designed to track time meticulously, which is why it makes sense to just automate time tracking. A few apps actually already offer this – accurately recording all the time you spend in different apps and websites in the background for you.


⚡️ Trial automatic time tracking for free

“My timesheet doesn’t reflect what I actually do.”

Time tracking doesn't mean a employee's value will be determined purely solely from their time sheet. Whilst time tracking gives managers an overview of how you employees spend their time, it doesn’t offer a fully-formed metric for assessing employee performance.

Time tracking is ultimately just a discovery tool. Ok, you spent longer than expected on a task: perhaps that was because it wasn’t scoped properly at the beginning. Or maybe it needed more resources to complete it on-time. Also, weren't you were dividing your time between two massive high-priority projects? Only time tracking can accurately fill in these gaps and, ultimately, help you address the issues that limit your performance.


“Let’s just sell our client weeks instead of hours.”

Great, whatever works. But you’re still selling your value as an increment of time. Time tracking doesn’t have to be at a minute level, but it’s still helpful to understand how you spend the time you commit to a task – whatever the measure.

“Let's just decide together what we’ll do each week and feed back on how we're doing.”

This is a really nice approach in theory, but in practice it’s just going to mean wasting more time on process and talking about time. Saturating your week with ad hoc updates itself can also be pretty disruptive to people’s working styles – especially if you’re trying to increase your ability to work for longer periods of deep concentration.

“Time tracking isn’t for me – it’s made for my employer.”

Actually, if you’ use an employee-first time tracker, there’s a ton you can get out of it, from insights on how you work to accurately documenting all your overtime. Some of the biggest advantages for employees include:

  • Identifying inefficiencies in your workflow
  • Seeing where you need more support
  • Ensuring you’re working to your priorities
  • Quantifying how much deep work you're getting
  • Accessing a complete productivity log for each day
  • Capturing time spent on low-value shallow work
  • Understanding your own working habits and behaviours
  • Revealing where you waste time or get distracted
  • Creating better schedules based on average task durations

It’s a tool for negotiating improvements and new opportunities, as much as for keeping your time accountable. Many employees use time tracking data to ask their boss to work remotely, review their salary or develop their role.

✌️ How time tracking benefits employees

How to get your employees to track time

Whatever you do, don’t charge in making big changes. Before committing to any time tracking tool, get your team to trial it for a period and make sure they’re comfortable with it.

Once they can see the value it should be an easy transition. Try sharing your own tracked activity to set the standard for open communication around time.

Thinking about treats? Remember that time tracking shouldn’t be a burden people need to be rewarded for being put through. It’s a super powerful tool which can help us develop our thinking, actions and outlook – and you don’t even need to lift a finger to do it.

💡 How to roll out time tracking to your workplace

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