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Task trackers: what they are, why you need one

Last updated on
September 24, 2021

Most people approach time tracking from a macro perspective, looking to get a general sense of where their time goes. But when it comes to improving performance, every detail matters. Tracking your work down to the task can provide you with a ton of practically useful insights to help you improve your processes, resource allocation and profitability. With robust task trackers, teams can understand why certain projects take longer that expected to complete, and create healthier, competitive estimates for future work.

What is a task tracker?

Simply put, a task tracker is a software that lets you map out deliverables into tasks and record the time and effort you put into each. Some people use task trackers to understand how they distribute their time between general activities, such as time spent writing an article or coding a website. This is extremely interesting from a personal productivity perspective, especially if you are looking to protect more space for specific types of deep work.

However, task trackers are mainly used by teams who need to manage budgets and capacity against a specific deliverable. They allow project managers to map all the work that goes into producing a specific output and follow the status of each against available project resources.

How task trackers work

There are a ton of task management tools out there to help you stay on top of project work. However, the majority unnaturally separate task creation from project time reporting. Increasingly, companies are choosing automatic task tracking tools that can perform both functions accurately without duplicating effort. Using Timely as an example, here's how automatic task trackers work:

1. Define your project tasks

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Start with the building blocks—adding all the different deliverables your team needs to complete for a specific project. Give these a deadline, estimate the amount of time you think you'll need to complete them, and assign them to a team member—this will effectively build a project to-do list for everyone on your project team.

2. Schedule resources for project tasks

Your team can then schedule these tasks into their calendars, updating their capacity so you can gauge their workloads while showing you exactly when project tasks are due to start. With Timely, scheduling project tasks is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks from your prioritized to-do list to your schedule.

3. Log time to project tasks using automation

This is where the automation kicks in—Timely will automatically capture all the time each team member spends on project activities while they work. It's all recorded to a private activity timeline only they can access. They just have to drag and drop these activities to their timesheet to log them to a specific project task. This automatic workflow cuts time reporting admin by 75% compared to manual methods and ensures all project activity is accurately reported.

4. Follow the status of project tasks in real-time

Every time your team logs or plans time to a project task, the task's progress bar will update. This allows project managers to check the status of specific tasks without interrupting people. Timely also automatically highlights tasks that are in danger of running behind schedule, so teams can reallocate work and resources as needed to keep projects on track.

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5. Review and report on task performance

Whether you need to report on project progress or pull a report as part of a retrospective, Timely lets you dive into the detail of task activity. Powerful reporting lets you review how much effort you've poured into different parts of your project, as well as compare the time you planned against certain types of work vs the time you actually ended up spending on them. It's invaluable for reviewing project estimates and plans, and ensuring project rates capture all costs and internal time.

The benefits of using task trackers

Stay on-budget

Understanding what people are working on helps you work out where your project’s budget is going. Perhaps you’re spending too long on simple tasks or non-billable work. Perhaps you have employees with high hourly rates working on low-value tasks, or the overall cost of the employees on the project outweighs the allotted budget. Understanding where your budgeted time is going makes you better placed to direct it to where it’s needed most.

Focus on priorities

Breaking down all project tasks also lets you know if you’re actually working to your priorities. Are you taking longer than normal on standard tasks? Is your project suffering from “scope creep”? Are you over-committing on any of your projects? Is any work in danger of falling behind schedule? A task tracker can tell you.

Use resources wisely

Understanding the individual effort that goes into project tasks also helps your project team work more effectively. You can see who has too much on their plate, who needs a bit more support and who has capacity to help out. It lets you allocate resources intelligently, getting the most out of every team member and creating balanced, happy teams.

Improve estimates, rates and efficiency

Project task tracking is essential for making project estimations as accurate as possible. It also sets benchmarks for each task that can help guide your team’s efforts, helping them manage their own time more effectively. By identifying the most expensive drains on your project budget, you are best placed to address them—from creating more realistic estimates for future work to addressing the processes slowing down delivery. It all makes for a more robust project plan that delivers on its promises.

Quote competitively for new work

Once you know exactly how long each task for a given project takes, you can quote watertight estimates which are actually profitable. By revealing your minimum delivery requirements, task trackers help you pitch ambitiously for new work.

Bill accurately for all project work

Task trackers are the easiest way no to lose money. You can see exactly how long you spend on each billable task and bill clients accurately, without overlooking or misrepresenting any of your work.

Manage your productivity

On a personal level, task trackers help you understand and improve your efficiency by mapping out exactly what you do. You can pinpoint where you get distracted and where tasks take longer than normal to examine surrounding circumstances and address your performance.

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