How to Track Your Project Workflow Using a Time Log
Has your agency ever completed a project for a client and wondered how much time it actually took your team to get it done? 🤔
The answer is almost certainly yes.
If you are paying your creatives per hour, it's even more prudent to know how long it took your team to complete each task. Keeping time logs is a great way to track your agency's overall productivity levels, and see how close (or not) your project estimates match up with your project actuals. However, without the right time tracking system in place, that’s easier said than done.
In Float's Global Agency Productivity Report 2020, 68% of agencies said they required their team to track their time, yet 43% of employees rated that process as "below average".
Why the disconnect? After all, keeping track of time isn't rocket science. At its simplest, all it takes to keep a time log is an employee writing down how long a task takes them to complete. In turn, you get more accurate data on how long your team members spend working on specific project tasks, you can forecast more accurate project timelines, and you can plan your team’s time more effectively.
What are time logs?
A time log is a record that details a person's activities with a time stamp. Simple, right?
If you want to know how long one of your team members worked on a task, a time log is a quick, effective way to keep track. Time logs keep accurate records of your team's time so that you can see how efficient they have been on a project, and are then able to optimize each team member’s workload based on that data.
We know what you might be thinking, but, rest assured, time logs don't look like they used to!
In the past, keeping a time log was a manual process that required teams to fill out timesheets. If a team member forgot to fill out a timesheet, they were left guessing as to how long they spent working on a task. As the Float report found, the longer an employee leaves their time log unfilled, the more inaccurate it becomes. In fact, more than half of the team members who responded to the survey said they couldn't easily recall what they worked on, leading 41% of them to simply guess how long they had spent on each task.
These days, teams have turned to digital solutions to help them track and manage their time. 🖥️
With time tracking software, teams can fill in digital timesheets with an estimation based on their work schedule, so that each team member can simply confirm or update the actual time taken on each task before logging their hours.
Time tracking is also essential to solve another challenge that faces today's agencies: overbooked schedules. The reality is that teams say they are overbooked nearly 3 in 4 times a month!
According to the Float survey, 62% of agency principals identified resource scheduling to be their biggest project management challenge. Keith Shields, who is the CEO and co-founder of digital product studio Designli, believes these challenges can be overcome by creating a better way to schedule resources internally.
“In my experience, an agency manager’s expectation of resource utilization and what reasonable utilization actually is in any given week is one of the main contributors to overbooking teams.
This is often supported by the lack of a rigid schedule of bookable time per week for projects.”
Designli now relies on the use of a dedicated resource planning tool to prevent burnout and overbooked team members. The agency manages their entire project pipeline by setting a rigid schedule, which ensures team members are only working on specific tasks and their calendars aren't being overbooked.
How activity logs work
Activity logs are time logs that track individual tasks and activities. Rather than logging how long they worked for the day, team members instead record how long each activity they’ve been assigned takes to complete. Tracking your team's time this way helps you get a greater sense of where they're spending their time, and how long certain tasks are taking to complete.
Tracking activity time also helps you create more accurate estimates for a project's timeline.
For example, if certain tasks are taking way longer to complete than they were estimated to, you can ask your team to explain the discrepancy and adjust the estimated time for similar tasks in the future. On the flip side, if your team is only taking half the time to complete certain milestones on a project, you can use the spare time to get other tasks finished, and even move up the deadline of the project (and we all know that delivering a project early = a happy client! 😀).
Utilizing time tracking software makes keeping activity logs even easier. If you’re using Float’s time tracking feature, each task can be adjusted by your team to match the actual time they spent working on it. Once a task has been adjusted, team members click “log” and the time is recorded.
If you need to track a team member's time for productivity, every hour they've spent on a project will be accounted for. Time tracking can help project managers understand how long activities actually take, and in turn, can become a powerful tool for building ridiculously accurate timelines for your future projects.
Time tracking also empowers teams by creating visibility and transparency. There's something oddly satisfying about completing a scheduled task, verifying its time is correct, and clicking “log” ⏱️.
3 benefits of time tracking for projects
1. Accurate reporting
The success of a project is often a juggling act between staying on budget and making sure your team is hitting its milestones. Time logs keep a real-time record of how long tasks are taking. Ideally, you want to be able to directly compare the time you forecasted and scheduled with the actual hours taken, so you can see if you're tracking on, under, or over budget. It’s helpful to visualize your project’s progress in real time, so you can ensure that it's on track and not on fire! 🔥
Once the project has been completed and handed off to your client, you can take a deeper look at your estimated time and budget to see how it lined up with your actuals. This level of in-depth data will help you create more accurate timelines and budgets for future projects.
2. Productivity tracking
Time tracking helps project managers create more realistic schedules for their team. Instead of guessing how long a task will take when assigning it, project managers can refer back to the time log and work out what's realistic. Not only does this help you create manageable workloads for your team, it also allows you to align their time with key performance indicators. For example, you will get a more detailed look at how your team is spending its time by tracking:
- Average activity length
- Billable/non-billable time %
- Total hours worked
- Total hours budgeted
- Overall capacity
Using this data, you can then calculate your team's efficiency (task length/total hours worked), where they're spending their time (billable time/non-billable time), and their overall capacity (hours worked/hours budgeted).
3. Streamlining payroll
An agency's payroll often involves a lot of moving parts. If you have part-time staff or you hire contractors to get a project completed faster, your payroll may change from one week to the next. Using a time log can help you cut out a lot of the manual labor involved in tracking everybody's hours, and make the process less complicated.
Let's say you need to pay the wages of a part-time employee for the work they did in March. Using Float, you can pull up the employee's records and see that they logged 43 hours for the month:
Because the employee has kept an accurate time log, all that's left to do is to go into the employee's profile on Float to see what their hourly rate is:
The employee is owed $6,880. It's as easy as that! 💰
How to integrate time tracking software with your project schedule
We've highlighted the advantages of logging time and the importance of using a dedicated time tracking tool to do it. Float’s time tracking feature makes it easy for agencies to view and compare their scheduled time with their team members’ logged time under the same roof.
Here’s how that works:
Step 1: Create your project plan by scheduling and assigning tasks to your team
Before you start tracking a team member's time, the first step is making sure they've got a clear work schedule to follow. This includes their upcoming project tasks, schedule time to be spent on them, and any key project milestones they’re working towards.
Using resource management software, you can allocate tasks to your team's calendar to clearly outline what their daily, weekly, and monthly work schedule is.
Step 2: Make sure your team is logging their hours every day (or week)
In Float, your team’s timesheets are pre-filled based on their scheduled task hours. Under the “Log Time” tab, each task from your team's schedule is pre-filled based on its estimated hours. From here your team can simply hit “Log” to confirm the time taken, or update the hours with the actual time taken to complete their assigned tasks.
Logged hours are recorded and can be immediately viewed within your reporting.
Once time for a project has been logged, a project manager can archive the project to make it read-only so the data is preserved for accuracy.
Pro-tip: Using Float, you can send your team a helpful nudge to log their time daily or weekly, depending on which you prefer:
Step 3: Build schedules from past daily/weekly time logs
Once your agency has been using time logs for some time, you can start to create more accurate estimates from your records.
By clicking on your time tracking reports, you can get a true view of both the estimated time that appears on your team's schedule and the actual time it took your team to complete tasks.
This step is especially handy for agencies who book similar projects into their pipelines.
For example, if an agency builds websites for restaurants, the core tasks of the project will likely all take the same amount of time each time. By accessing past time logs, a project manager can get a better understanding of how long each task usually takes the team, and then build a more accurate schedule for their team the next time around.
Pro-tip: Finding that your team still has gaps on their timesheets? Try reminding them to log their work via a Slack channel as well. Using Float's Slack integration, you can ping your team daily or weekly to remind them to log their time.
Step 4: Use project reports to compare estimated hours vs. reality
Keeping a time log cuts down on management time by having your team's detailed timesheets sent directly to you. As data is logged instantly, a time log gives project managers a true status of every project in their pipeline:
If halfway through a project, it's clear the budget is being overspent, a project manager can revisit how long tasks are taking and whether they can cut back on scheduled billable hours. Tracking a project's budget in real time can help you avoid running over budget.
Pro-tip: You can track how a project's scheduled vs. logged hours is stacking up using two reports. The first report can break down logged & future scheduled hours across days and weeks:
Time logs are an easy way to keep your finger on a project's pulse
Arguably, the most crucial element of a project is accurately capturing how much time your team spends on it. That time spent links directly back to a project’s budget and your team’s productivity.
Keeping time logs is the easiest way to find out how long your team is working on tasks, and using a time tracking software makes the process even more painless. By combining your time tracking and resource scheduling into one software, you’ll have access to a real-time flow of data that will tell you precisely how much budget you’re spending and how productive your team is.