How Much Time You Spend Tracking Time? (Is It a Good Use of Your Time?)

I talked with couple of friends of mine who reported that their companies track everything they do. Ranging from pretty much going to toilet to drinking coffee to sitting in meetings to other stuff one does at work, they track everything.

And… then they (seemingly) don’t do anything with the numbers (or read them wrong, or give such penalties that people start to lie about numbers which effectively leads to the same thing).

I know some guys like to track their time (and it can be a good thing, maybe), but I’ve always liked to track more about the result side of things. Of course both are important if you want to analyze (it’s important to know how much certain project took resources and compare this with the results), but if you’d need to pick one: pick the results – count the achievements accomplished in certain time for example.

Some managers make it a must thing to track everything in micro level. You need to calculate how many hours you put into planning and brainstorming and meetings and coffee drinking and whatnot. Sometimes it starts to puzzle me how much these guys put time into tracking time (maybe some companies actually track time they put in tracking time…).

If they actually use the numbers, then good… but if they first require everybody in the team to give a detailed numbers of how many hours they spent coding different things, I think they are quite in the wrong track.

If they only ask Joe to report his 151 hours of programming (and do nothing), then things are bad.

If they actually use Joe’s numbers to estimate how much something took time, and what Joe should do (and whether he should do more programming) then we are getting somewhere.

Although… people work in teams. Team consists of several people. Tracking Joe’s, Tim’s and Eric’s time separately doesn’t necessarily help much. Knowing that these guys spent 308 hours last month to program doesn’t help much either. If they know that these guys managed to finish X number of features in 308 hours can be helpful. You can use it to estimate future features (and their costs) and help make decisions. If on the other hand you “do this stuff anyway” – what’s the point of tracking time?

How much your team spends in tracking time? Is it really useful? Do you use the numbers for something?

Juuso Hietalahti


  1. @Jörgen: What if you’d start charge “by project/accomplishments” instead of hours?

    @Garret: “At the beginning of every day, I totally up how much time is left on my wall and plot it on a chart.”. Now one question. Why? (I’m not saying you shouldn’t, just pondering if it’s needed? :))

  2. Oh yeah, one thing to note about my method: the accuracy of my time estimates is irrelevant as long as they are consistent.

  3. I find value in tracking what I get done. I do sort of a personal Scrum. On my wall I place a bunch of note cards with tasks and an time estimates. At the beginning of every day, I totally up how much time is left on my wall and plot it on a chart. With this graph I can estimate when every thing on my wall will get done by drawing an imaginary line from the start point through the current data point. The day when this line crosses the x axis is when I will get the work on my wall done.

  4. I know a very large company in the game industry that asks it´s employees to do exactly what you tell. As you said, is pointless. Tracking on excel takes to lying to your self as company. People think that they work eight hours per day! We created an time tracking software at our studio…we found out that the average of worked hours per month was around a 120hs per employee…and hour price per hour was based on 160hs! 25% less… This does not mean that you have to go after your employees with a stick! It means that you have to know the real thing then make your own decisions.
    Also let´s say that is a little degrading to ask people to fill time sheets, more in a technology industry. Check our app we made it public it´s call tracking-time.com.

  5. The key is to report the necessary information. When a person has finished a specific task, he should be able to record this specific moment and let know the others members involved in the task that his part has been completed. Project management tools are extremely useful for this case.

    A lot of producers don’t believe in these systems, they prefer to keep the secret of the completed parts of a tasks between the own team members of the task. The love to keep the secret even for months (or many times forget about them) until they communicate the next step to proceed to the other team members, not given them any chance to analize the complexity of the problem and not having time to develop a proper solution. This is the reality in the average game development studio…

    That’s why I’m going to leave this industry of shit, it’s impossible to find a minimal good professional in the most important part of the project: the production.

  6. I think that tracking time is a double edged sword. I’m a GTD wannabe and that system pretty much helped me to control some things on the time management spectrum but it definitely can be a negative when you start to realize that you are just looking at a list of nicely checked tasks instead of doing productive work where its really needed.

    Also, I’ve read somewhere that some people use as much as… 30% on time management duties… its insane. My take on it is to use as much as you need, if you are actually doing work you list should, like you said, constitute of things you did, features achieved, instead of A, B, C checklists.

    Its that old, movement versus action thing.

  7. for my own projects, I probably don’t track enough… in fact I know I don’t. But for contract work I most definately do.

  8. As a conusltant I am paid by the hour; then tracking time is crucial because its the cost the customer have.

    But tracking and not using the nuimbers is just stupid. I have seen it happen…

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