When I first started consulting, it didn't take long for me to figure out that I needed to keep very good track of my time. I've been doing it for almost three years now, and boy - has it been a journey! The truth is, it hasn't been easy - but it has changed my whole approach to work for the better. (FYI - I'm tracking my time on writing this blog - we'll see how long it takes!)
Why Time Tracking is Important
Here are 5 benefits of tracking time that have helped me the most:
Predict how long certain tasks take: For example, if I know it takes me about an hour to write a blog, and I want to write 2 per week, then I know that I need to find at least 2 hours to get that done. I can block that off on my calendar in an organized way instead of spreading it out haphazardly over the week - which would probably add more time to the task anyway.
Keep focused on the priories: Once I know how long tasks take, I can predict what I can get done in a day or week, or longer. I can prioritize tasks more effectively.
Save time on individual tasks: When tracking time, I'm more likely to stay focused on one task until it's completed, rather than be pulled in a million directions (which wastes time).
Improve my processes: Every month I look at how my team and I spent our time. It's helped me to see where the inefficiencies are and think about how to improve the return on time invested. You know what they say - time is money!
Eliminate the jobs I should not be doing: When I see jobs that take me an inordinate amount of time, I ask myself if there is someone else that could do it faster. The answer is usually yes, someone could do it faster, and probably better too. If it takes me too long, it's probably something I'm not that good at and shouldn't be doing anyway. (For example, if it takes you 4 hours to write a blog - you'd probably be better off hiring someone to do it for you!)
So, if I get all those great benefits of time tracking, why would I call it evil? Because it's a really hard habit to develop. I've been doing it for three years, and I still don't always do it as well as I should.
It's OK to make mistakes and get off track. It will happen, especially until this becomes an ingrained behavior. Even if you're not perfect at it, you will start seeing the benefits of time tracking, and it will get easier as you go along.
In case you're curious, I use Liquid Planner to manage my projects, tasks - and time. There are a lot of time tracking programs out there. Do a quick Google search and you'll see. I wouldn't recommend using Excel - there are much better and easier systems out there.
(OK - this took me 1.5 hours. A little longer than I hoped!)
Update: January 2018. We still track our time religiously. I couldn't run my business without doing it. We use a simple tool called toggl.