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I work in a small company of around 20 people and the manager has recently started sending out emails indicating their desire to micromanage the whole company.

First email:

I want detailed time tracking in 15 minute increments.
I want to see what every minute is being spent on.

Second email:

How can we improve if we do not know what we are spending our time on?
How can your manager understand what is on your plate and what you are struggling with?
How can we calculate sales commissions if we do not know the true cost of every job?
How can I justify my time and salary?

I like to focus for long periods to maximise my own productivity. I can't remember at the end of the day how long I spent on a particular task, especially when interrupted, and when I have to task-switch. Currently, to comply with these written instructions, I'm interrupting myself every 15 minutes to record what I'm doing, which breaks my concentration.

A commonly quoted figure is that it takes on average 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back into the flow after being interrupted. I never even get into the flow in the first place, and I sense that the manager thinks my output needs to be higher. This is despite doing a lot of things that are not in my job description, which the manager asks me to do. I'm happy to do these things, as long as it's understood that doing so will slow me down in my core duties.

How can I explain to the manager that:

  • the lack of trust from being micromanaged will reduce productivity
  • breaking the workflow before reaching maximum efficiency is incredibly wasteful, and will end up costing the company
  • a large portion of my day is now recording in detail what work I've done

Or do I say to myself, "Company policy is not my problem", let them do whatever they want, and look for another job in the meantime?

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    Does the manager actually require something to be written every 15 minutes? If not, I suggest keeping a log of when you change activities, including interruptions. At the end of the day, fill in the 15 minute reports from the log. – Patricia Shanahan Oct 23 '18 at 0:12
  • What field are you in? – Dark Matter Oct 23 '18 at 1:04
  • @DarkMatter I'm a programmer. – CJ Dennis Oct 23 '18 at 1:04
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    Just an advice form experience - when manager is doing something like this is because the company is struggling financaly and they want to "plug the small holes" they think the money is running out. Now matter if it's true or not. Such a move is, in my opinion, a sign of bad managment in whole company and I would advise to look for a different job. – SZCZERZO KŁY Oct 23 '18 at 10:00
  • The question is really: How will leave first - you or your manager? Find out if the level above the manager knows what is going on. If yes, look for a new job. Meanwhile fill out your 15 minute details. Take your time doing it. And program your phone to give an audible alarm every 15 minutes. Productivity is important, you want to produce 32 reports every day. – gnasher729 Oct 23 '18 at 17:58
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How can I explain to the manager that:

  • the lack of trust from being micromanaged will reduce productivity
  • breaking the workflow before reaching maximum efficiency is incredibly wasteful, and will end up costing the company
  • a large portion of my day is now recording in detail what work I've done

Or do I let them do whatever they want, and look for another job in the meantime?

You could try explaining your feelings to your manager about accounting for your time. You are probably best advised to skip phrases like "lack of trust", "micromanage", "incredibly wasteful", "23 minutes and 15 seconds", etc. That will just end up making your manager defensive, and won't be helpful to you at all.

Instead, talk about "getting into the flow" and how tracking your time might detract from it. (Although if you "never even get into the flow in the first place" that would be a rather weak argument.)

Then listen to what your manager says.

Currently, to comply with these written instructions, I'm interrupting myself every 15 minutes to record what I'm doing, which breaks my concentration.

I doubt if it's really necessary to interrupt yourself every 15 minutes.

Personally, I'd try to track my time only when I change tasks. For example if you are working on one task for 1.5 hours and then start on a new one, just write down how long you spent on the first task before starting the second.

At the end of the day, you break the first task down into six 15-minute segments. Just ignore any trivial periods of interruption. Skip any very short tasks. Round up other tasks as needed.

Much easier and far less time-consuming. And no interruptions to the flow.

Ultimately you get to decide if this time tracking is a deal breaker for you or not. If it is, find a new job (making sure you ask about time tracking), get and accept an offer, give your notice at your current job, work the notice period, and put it all behind you.

I worked for a metrics-wacky company that recorded tasks in 15 minute increments. It made no sense to me either. I went through a few rounds of discussion with management, until it became clear that they didn't want to hear reasons why it shouldn't be done.

So I gave them what they wanted using the method I describe above. Eventually, you get used to it (although it still makes no sense to me). And I found that most of us in the company did a fair amount of estimation when we filled out our timesheets.

At my company, they went several steps further. You were only allowed to assign time to formally-assigned projects using the formal project numbers. And the project participants were responsible for making sure they came in within + or - 10% of the estimated time. And, one of the VPs started complaining if folks' timesheets added up to less than 45 hours. It made no sense then and still made no sense when I retired from that company.

  • What I mean by "It's not my responsibility" is that I'm not the manager, so maybe I shouldn't try to influence company policy, but just put up with it. If the manger asks for counterproductive things (especially in writing), I just do it, instead of pointing out that it's counterproductive. – CJ Dennis Oct 23 '18 at 0:23
  • How do you track your time as you're being interrupted? – CJ Dennis Oct 23 '18 at 0:29
  • I was able to get into the flow for hours on end previously. Now, even being aware of tracking how much time I spend on each task detracts from my productivity, because my attention is split. I need to get to the point where I'm focussing 100% on my task. – CJ Dennis Oct 23 '18 at 0:32
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    @CJDennis It sounds like you're still thinking in real-time "what am I doing in this 15 minute segment? What will I be doing in the next? When is 15 minutes up?" etc. Joe's answer is saying don't do that. Make a note of the time when you started a task, then focus on doing the task. Make a note of when you finished it (ie: 3 hours later.) At the end of the day, break that up into 15 minute segments and write "worked on task X" for all of them. Unless your boss literally wants a new email every 15 minutes, you shouldn't need to pay attention to every 15 minute segment individually. – Steve-O Oct 23 '18 at 13:42
  • There are tools made for tracking time, but I just use an Excel sheet I made. Did you know that ctrl+shift+semicolon fills the current time into Excel? Every day I start with a new sheet that has formulas to calculate time differences and total them up. The sheet has sections for different types of tasks. I just type a task name into a new row, then add the start time. At the end of the task or at an interruption, I enter the end time then start a new row. At the end of the day, everything is already totaled up to the minute. Impact on my work: 10 seconds at the start of each new task. – Guildenstern Oct 23 '18 at 18:54
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How can I explain to the manager

By tendering your resignation.

  • After you have found a new, better paying job, and both sides signed the contract. – gnasher729 Oct 23 '18 at 18:00

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