Managers have been hounding employees to log their hours since time tracking began back in the 1800s. It’s a problem many companies still haven’t cracked, causing end-of-month invoicing bottlenecks, reporting inaccuracy and team tension. So how do you motivate employees to track time, exactly?
At Memory, we're not sure you can. Time tracking is a notoriously fiddly and unrewarding task that the human brain just isn't programmed to do well. Instead of trying to find incentives to encourage people to do it more frequently, we believe the most rewarding solution is to just outsource the entire thing completely.
The time tracking motivation problem
When people are serially unmotivated to do a task, something is broken. So, when your employees repeatedly forget to complete their time sheet, it’s not a sign that they’re lazy or stubborn and don’t realize the importance of time tracking; it’s a sign that the existing process just isn't working.
Many managers go to great lengths to gamify time tracking in an effort to make it fun - trying different combinations of competition, punishment and reward. But these efforts miss a crucial point: time tracking will always be unrewarding. It's a textbook "shallow task"; something that is necessary for business, but that doesn't materially advance us towards our goals or feed our sense of purpose. No matter how much you try to dress it up, it's a repetitive admin task.
Why employees are bad at tracking time
On closer inspection, time tracking is actually an extremely unnatural and cognitively difficult task to do manually. To be vaguely accurately, you need to rigorously document what you work on in intense detail using manual timers and notes as you switch between tasks. When you forget to stop a timer, you then need to reconstruct your activity by memory, which is notoriously fallible. The human brain simply isn't designed to have machine-like itemized recall.
Manual time tracking also requires you to effectively split your attention between your work and the time you spend on it. If you concentrate fully on a task, you necessarily can't attend to time passing, leaving you reliant on heavily subjective estimation which introduces errors into time reporting. Our brains perform best when focused on one thing at a time, but manual time tracking requires us to maintain a state of continuous partial attention. It's unrewarding and frustrating, preventing us from immersing ourselves in the undisturbed "deep work" that nourishes our sense of purpose.
If people aren’t biologically built to track time, hate doing it and feel their productive focus suffers as a result, why would you keep trying to make them do it?
At Memory, we’ve removed the time tracking burden for all our employees by automating the whole task. We use our own automatic time tracking tool Timely to capture everything we work on in the background while we work.
It creates a flawless digital memory of our day that is completely private to each of us. Using AI, Timely then transforms our data into draft time sheets, which we just need to approve to make public.
Automatic time tracking ensures none of our work is forgotten or misreported, but more crucially it frees everyone in our team for more important work; time tracking simply becomes something we just don't have to think about. Problem solved!