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 and own work approach.
While there’s no universal hack to improving work performance, task trackers are pretty much the next best thing when it comes to improving essential project management, organization and profitability.
What is a task tracker?
Simply put, a task tracker is an app that records all the time you spend on each computer-based work task. You can set them up to be as detailed as you like, applying tag names for the tasks you want to track time for.
Some people just want to understand how they distribute their time between general activities, like so:
Others tag individual categories within these umbrella terms for more granular insight, which is great for understanding the time required to complete a particular piece of work within a broader goal or project:
Why would you want to track task time?
For a pretty simple tool, task timers bring a surprisingly large number of benefits:
Optimize project workflows: by visualizing where all project time goes, you can see all the tasks that go into your projects. It’s great for identifying budget drains, helping you cut out unnecessary steps and streamline the essentials.
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 your project work: this is probably the classic use case for using a task timer. You can see exactly how long you spend on each billable task and bill clients accurately, without overlooking or misrepresenting any of your work.
Improve operational processes: task trackers give you unparalleled insight into your organization’s working methods. You can instantly see which tasks take too long, who has too much on their plate and who has extra capacity to help out. It’s the basis for intelligent resource allocation and operational improvement.
Understand your productivity: similar to the previous step, but the focus is on your own productivity! 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.
Get full time control: few people actually track the resource they spend on internal tasks like research, new client pitches, communication, and essential admin. Task timers are simple solutions for visibility over all these forgotten efforts.
Stick to priorities: task trackers are great for helping you spend the right amount of effort on each task. If you’re concerned you might not be spending enough time on each client, or are skipping project tasks in order to meet deadlines, a task timer will tell you. It helps you focus your attention on the highest-priority tasks.
How to choose the right task tracker
There are two types of task trackers – manual and automatic. With manual trackers, you start and stop the timer yourself; with automatic trackers, the app records your time in the background as you work.
Most task trackers also provide helpful real-time dashboards and reports to help you make sense of that data.
The method you choose completely depends on your own personal working style. Many people like to feel in direct control of their time and prefer to start and stop timers as they work. Others find manual timers intrusive and irritating – and frequently forget to stop them – so prefer automatic task trackers that do the work for them. If you frequently hop between clients and projects, you’ll most likely want to outsource the whole thing to an automatic tracker, so nothing gets forgotten.
Your tool preference also depends on what you want to get out of task tracking. If you just want general oversight for a few core tasks that make up the majority of your work, a manual timer might be best. But if you want to gain a comprehensive and accurate account of all the time spent on different tasks, an automatic time tracker is the obvious choice.
For maximum insight and minimum effort, automatic task trackers are a no-brainer; you get a full breakdown of all your time and understand precisely where your budget is headed without having to break concentration on your work.