Time Tracking: How Granular Should You Be?

Lots of clients like you to track your time and submit reports detailing your daily activities, so they know their money is being spent well. It’s good practice for them, and it’s good practice for you, since you have a handy log of how you work, and you can then analyze and improve upon your habits using that information.

The trick with time tracking is arriving upon a degree of detail that’s both useful and efficient. It doesn’t help you if keeping track of things is all you end up doing because it’s such a time and attention-intensive process. Conversely, a general account of “Peformed project-related work” for a time block of eight hours isn’t particularly illuminating, either for the client or yourself. So how granular should your time tracking and reporting be?

I worked with one company that insisted on providing time reporting for all project staff in 15-minute increments to all of its clients. It might seem impossible, and in practice, it was, though that didn’t change the wording of the guidelines. What ended up happening was that either the client would demand simpler reporting, or company assets on assignment would “go native” and refuse to submit such ridiculously extensive accounting of their time.

Over time, the most sensible way of going about time tracking for the company became apparent. Generally speaking, project staff would report changes in activity throughout the day in blocks of time of no less than half an hour, and no more than three. Then before passing on said info to the client, administrative staff would edit it, depending on the needs and wants of the particular client stakeholder receiving the report.

As a web worker working on a contract basis from home, your process should be similar. The easy part is knowing to what degree of detail you need for your own purposes of professional development: experience will tell you that. Determining what a client wants is trickier, but should follow a similar logic. Arrive at a standard first through trial and error with some early projects, and then use that as the template for all future engagements. Solicit and pay attention to client feedback after that to determine what’s right for the person you’re currently working with.

As with most things, the best way to go about it is to avoid extremes. Report too much or too little, and you’re likely to either over- or underwhelm a client. The perfect balance is hard to achieve, but a good balance shouldn’t be too hard to arrive at.

How do you determine how granular to make your time tracking?