Structure your work
Detailed time entries can be prepared with little effort by creating the right habit. I prepare time entries myself, and below you can find my suggestions on how you can minimize the “administrative burden” and instead gain value from the process.
Adding maximum value and preparing a high-quality time entry both starts with planning and structuring your work. You need prioritized to-do lists and/or work plans.
Thereafter a strict focus on High-Impact Low-Effort (HILE); resist the common urge of letting your inbox and email flow decide in what order you execute tasks!
Structure todo lists and your daily plan so that you can dedicate a continuous block of time to a specific group of closely related tasks. Don’t jump back and forth between unrelated tasks. In addition to getting things done, this will allow you to easily split up your time entry into hourly blocks.
“People with good work habits have todo lists that are reasonably prioritized, and they make themselves do what needs to be done. By contrast, people with poor work habits almost randomly react to the stuff that comes at them. People who are good at this stage can reliably execute a plan. They tend to be self-disciplined and proactive rather than reactive to the blizzard of daily tasks that can divert them from execution. -Ray Dalio”
Focus on the toughest and most challenging HILE tasks when you are most alert. For most people, this is the morning session. You may be able to crack the really hard nuts in your todo only in the morning of your best day of the week, so don’t waste such “prime time” on simple tasks.
- When I come into the office in the morning I usually have a quick glance at new emails. But I respond only to very HILE tasks. Most often this step takes just a few minutes. The remaining emails are ignored for now or streaked till the afternoon, to be dealt with at a time when my energy level might be lower. Some tasks might, of course, be streaked for even later too, for example, low-priority tasks that will likely be grabbed by someone else.
- I have a quick glance at my various to-do lists, and pick a group of closely related high-impact tasks which are always on top of each todo document. Once the first high-impact tasks are completed I repeat this process. Ideally, I get 4-5 hours of high-impact tasks done before a lunch break. These tasks are easily broken down into one-hour time entry blocks.
- After lunch, I may continue with high-impact tasks if energy level permits, or I revisit the non-urgent emails which are streaked from the morning. I separate any tasks originating from those emails into separate todo lists, or respond to them if they are quickly dealt with. Minor, non-urgent and administrative tasks that require little effort but might require some time to complete are added to my low-effort todo.
- Thereafter I might focus on low-effort tasks such as completing the monthly accounting routines or other such administrative tasks that I cannot delegate.
- I try to leave work with a clean inbox, prioritized to-do lists and a pretty good idea of what my next morning’s high-impact tasks will be.
Minimize interruptions. Ignore non-urgent IMs. Respect your colleagues time so that they respect yours; plan a time for meetings in advance and gather all your questions for a single meeting. Meetings that are low-effort for your senior are better scheduled for the afternoon.
Don’t check email too frequently; once an hour is more than enough even if you are involved in client communication. And use streak or add to an appropriate todo list instead of letting new emails disrupt your daily plan.
I believe it’s healthy for the organization that everyone knows that they can’t expect their colleagues to handle non-HILE tasks swiftly. This might even give colleagues an incentive to try to get such tasks done themselves, assume how to do a task themselves, report clearly instead of in a haste and so on.
Register time entries when you stop work for the day
Seniors might check your time entries early in the morning. This is why it’s important that you register your time entries when you stop working for the day:
- Seniors can review the reports and gain important insight without any delay.
- Seniors can adjust their plan for your next working day if necessary. Scheduling decisions will be made easy.
- Seniors won’t need to spend valuable time sending reminders. They won’t have to make notes in their to-do lists to check your entry later in the day once you have registered it properly.
- Your time will be registered even if you fall ill, require an emergency leave or for any other reason be prevented from booking your time the next day.
- Management can access accurate cost and revenue reports in the mornings.
And for those working for clients, these benefits are added:
- Clients can see an accurate account balance at all times.
- Automatic invoicing will work.
- Management can verify that the right hourly rate is applied to requirements.
Break down into one-hour blocks
It always makes sense to break time down into one-hour blocks. For example “10.00 Login page: HTML form 11.00 Login page: method to check credentials 12.00” instead of “10.00 Login page 12.00”.
Now some may feel that this is just too much detail and a hassle, however, consider:
- Seniors can properly assess your work and come up with relevant coaching and improvement suggestions.
- It results in more detailed time overviews, which can give us valuable information for decision-making.
- You can analyze your own work retrospectively.
- It is really easy to write a detailed time entry if you have structured your work and formed the habit.
And for those working for clients:
- The client pays for each hour and deserves to know what’s done. Just like you’d want a detailed bill when you pick up your vehicle from a workshop. Detailed entries impress clients and show them respect. It allows them to dig deeper whenever they want to.
- A client might dispute a time entry months after it was registered. It would be practically impossible to add accurate details to time entries in retrospect. I’ve experienced many cases where we have had to discount too many hours because time entries and time overviews were not clear enough.
Smart Match System (SMS)
You can register time entries more effectively using the SMS. The system will automatically match the time entries to corresponding project and requirement thus making it more user-friendly and time-efficient. Both tabs (SMS/ SMS – single project) are available under time clock on our staff panel.
SMS – Single Project: Those who mostly book their hours on one single project (eg: recruitment or admin team) can use the single project tab to register the time entries.
You will need to enter the start time along with the first letters of the requirement named followed by an underscore. Once you finish the work of the day, add the end time to last entry and copy paste it. Example.
SMS: Those who book time under multiple projects can follow the same steps as with the single project but they should use the underscore to differentiate between the project and requirement.
When you book time under the requirement “Developer Review” on Unbillable tasks (Training – > Developer Review) you can register the time as UNB_DEV or UNB_REV, the system will recognize and match either one of these. Also, you should use this page to clock-out. Example.
Make it a simple habit! Detailed tips
It shouldn’t be an administrative burden to write down and register your time entries. In addition to the section about structuring your work, this section contains more tips on how you may simplify your time entries.
Note downtime blocks continuously throughout the day. This way you can quickly register it even if you need to leave the office urgently. And your entries will be accurate.
If all your time entry blocks belong to the same requirement you can register all those blocks in one entry.
Be concise! Brevity is a virtue! Write “Sign up step 3: validations” instead of “Checked the client’s response and implemented the modifications. Added validations in step 3 of the signup form. Tested and uploaded.”.
The block start and end times don’t have to be exact down to each and every minute, if that presents a challenge. The aim is not for this to be an administrative burden but a simple habit. You can round off 10 minutes here and there if you need to frequently jump between several tasks.
“923 Meeting personA regarding feature X, Y 945 Code review for last week: personB 1040 Meeting personA regarding featureZ 1100”.
It would be ok to simplify this to “923 Meeting personA regarding feature X, Y, Z 1000 Code review for last week: personB 1100”.
This would still reflect how time was spent, but make it easier to book the two blocks on separate requirements and easier for seniors to interpret.
If you find yourself having to register time on a lot of different requirements each day you may want to make your requirements/time overview less fine-grained or try to focus on fewer requirements at a time. Eight or more different requirements would probably be too much, though there’s no exact limit.
Sometimes you may not be able to link a block of time to one single requirement. I may for example work with a piece of content for our website that aims to improve our recruitment process. It’s related to both content marketing and recruitment.
Applicable for technical staff
Like time overviews and work plans, time entries can be of legal importance in case a client fails to pay and we need to take legal action.
Push your code to a repository accessible by seniors when you stop work for the day. Only make one commit per project and day (few exceptions such as when a colleague urgently needs your latest code).
Register your time entries in the commit message as well, so that it’s easy to review your code. Only include the portion related to the project you are committing code for if you worked on more than one project that day.
Non-coding time should be mentioned, so that code productivity can be evaluated properly.
930 Client portal paypal IPN: sandbox testing. Add new client: randomized pw. 1015 Notify clients of account balance and payment amount in notifyProjectOwnerOfPayment(). Added bcc field to swift mail function. 1115 break 1130 Client skype discussion about the aforementioned features 1230 Lunch 1315
Here are the code extracts corresponding to the time entry example above. It is very easy to evaluate:
Use the time format 1315 (or 13:15, though this might be phased out). You don’t have to add totals, but if you do then use this format: (0.5h). This is so that we can process entries programmatically.