Time Tracking as Productivity Tool

by Rocco Costa, Monterey Institute of International Studies

In 2007, Journyx announced their first annual Excellence in Project Accounting Philosophy scholarship. Following was the winning essay, which netted its author a $500 award toward graduate level study. It focuses on "persuading someone who does not want to track time on a per-product per-activity basis why it is in his or her best interest to do so."

You cannot mandate productivity; you must provide the tools to let people become their best. – Steve Jobs

I would add to Mr. Jobs' observation that you can't manage productivity if you can't measure it. Persuading people to "become their best" at work depends on finding and meeting their needs. The "tools" for accomplishing this include using kind of time management system.

Tracking the time spent on products and activities throughout the workday has many applications, most importantly as a cost-saving instrument for business. If a person can measure productivity within a given period, they not only know how their time is spent, but also whether it is the best value for the company. Both businesses and employees gain from this since workers can establish if they are functioning efficiently, and businesses can determine their deadlines, profits, and costs on an hourly, daily, and even yearly basis. Enhanced productivity leads to maximized profits, which may then be distributed via promotions, raises, and even the creation of new jobs.

This tracking need applies to all industries. Even the public sector—where measuring productivity and outputs is more abstract—acknowledges the substantial benefits. Nonprofits and international organizations increasingly look to such private sector methods as a way to improve efficiency and capacity. Their donors are beginning to behave like investors: they want to protect their "investment," determine what a service is really worth, and set deadlines for results.

Tracking time per-products and per-activities is derived from the principle mentioned earlier—you can't manage what you can't measure. In terms of personnel, it offers an unbiased, clear picture of a company's costs and profitability by gauging the output of individual workers. This lets managers make informed decisions about what helps or hurts the business. By determining a subordinate's productivity, they know the extent of their contribution and time management skills, which often reveals an organization's star performers.

When the formula produces unfavorable results, managers can pinpoint causes and solutions. This approach to tracking products and services answers the time-based questions managers ask: how labor or cost-intensive are the company's activities and products? Are they produced efficiently and as scheduled? Can they be simplified or discarded? Do certain activities or products deserve more time than currently allotted? Why isn't the company's or an employee's time being used effectively?

Despite our varied interests and occupations, there are two things everyone in the workforce would like more of: money and time. Even those who love their jobs with the utmost zeal will concede that one cannot live on enthusiasm alone (nor pay the bills). And who would refuse extra time to spend doing what they love or with family and friends? Since a business also wants to harness these two elements, its greatest control comes from only maintaining workers and/or activities that bring in more than they take out in terms of costs, wages, salaries, etc. The most competitive applicants are, therefore, the most productive.

People should be more aware of how they spend their day because it empowers them. Applying a tracking tool can be an eye-opening process, since the quality of one's work is often affected by the time dedicated to it. Once you realize how time is spent, you can best decide how to regulate yourself and prioritize work. Managers ultimately judge performance this way, and it's hard to dispute subordinates presenting tangible evidence of their productivity and time management skills (e.g. an analysis of per-product per-activity output). Not only should we recognize whether we are more of an asset to our company than a cost, but we should also know by how much. An accurate assessment of output translates into proof of value, which—we would hope—equals suitable compensation. And when it comes to pay and job security, it's no longer a matter of whether we can afford to track time on a per-product per-activity basis, but whether we can afford not to.

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