9

My workplace has recently implemented a time tracking system that we're supposed to use to track our time and associate it against certain activities. Every day I am now supposed to log in to this thing and associate my time in the day to a specific task. We also have an equally basic timesheet system that lives in an Excel Spreadsheet, and my time tracked in this tool is supposed to match what I have in my timesheet.

As a software developer, I'm really passionate about making enjoyable experiences for the end user and using the super clunky time tracking tool bothers me because it involves a lot of repetitive actions that exist only to essentially give my managers a pretty report of who spends their time doing what. I'm also casually aware of more "automated" time tracking systems that exist in the wild. We were given no notice of this system being implemented nor opportunity for feedback, instead, all of a sudden it was a requirement.

To contextualise this, I work as a maintenance developer maintaining some fairly retro applications in a one man development team. I could be chasing a bug or implementing an improvement for 90% of the day and then my manager will tell me to log my recorded time, and also make sure that it matches what it says in my timesheet. This means stopping what I am doing, and using the clunky time tracking tool, then open my timesheet and make sure the times align. Me using this tool at the moment is not a realistic reflection on how I spend my time, I am simply doing it to get my manager off my back.

On one hand, I'm trying to balance coming off as an entitled twenty-something dude who doesn't like the tooling that he's provided. On the other, having to remember to log into this system every day and spend 15 minutes kludging my way through it to track my time is really getting me down. Also, my manager circulates the time that everyone has tracked that week via email, so we can see who has tracked what. Sometimes, when I've forgotten to track my time, I'll show up as having tracked no time for a few days. This makes me wonder if people see that and think "hey, has he not done any work this week?". I could be overthinking this.

When I took this job ~6 months ago, I was given the choice between the role I am doing today and another software developer role. Today, the other role doesn't have this time tracking requirement. If I had my time again, I would have taken the other job.

Am I just being too sensitive to this new requirement? I also have to do most of my own admin so it feels like this new thing is just making me drown in paperwork. It has taken a lot of the joy out of my work as a software developer which is making me feel negative about my work, and is affecting my productivity somewhat. I have tried to talk to my boss about it but he has essentially said that it sucks, but everyone has to do it. If I was a lawyer I would have to track my time as well, so I should just get used to it. I feel like that's a bit of a specious argument but I don't want to rock the boat by getting into a protracted argument with him.

If I am correct that this isn't a reasonable task, how do I avoid wasting time on it?

My choices (as I see them) are:

  1. Talk to my bosses boss about this new requirement (its come from him). I would say our relationship is fair. I'm not sure I could convince him to not use it, or to use something else. Plus, then I would be known as not liking the tool.
  2. Automate the time tracking tool with something like Selenium that would add my time in for me every day with some believable "fuzz" (add minus a few minutes every day) to make the reports believable
  3. Just suck it up and be glad I have a job

Am I making too big of a deal about this? Does any of the above 3 options sound like an okay idea? Really keen for input.

  • Possibly. Can I ask how you did that? What I mean is, did you login to a web app, or was there an easier way to track our time? – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:12
  • Done on paper, the foreman gave you a job and noted the start time, when you finished you handed back the job card and the end time was noted. Some jobs had stated times so you either earnt bonus or not... – Solar Mike Aug 8 at 8:15
  • The incentive system sounds good in this instance. This time tracking system has no incentives. – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:21
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    Use both systems to record the time spent filling out the time spent detail... :) ie 10 minutes entering the morning activity detail and 10 minutes entering the afternoon activity detail... Of course if the manager says you cannot record that time then you ask when should you do it and is it ethical to charge clients for that time... – Solar Mike Aug 8 at 9:14
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    Have you asked for training on the new system? You might not use it correctly otherwise ;) – Smock Aug 8 at 10:24

11 Answers 11

35

You can accept that this new system is there, that it is clunky and useless, that it costs your productivity - but you are still getting paid.

That said, all you need to do is inform your manager that you spent a lot of the time that he is paying you for doing nothing useful but filling out timesheets twice and checking that they match. You can also tell him that when he interrupts you to make you fill out these time sheets, he breaks your focus and costs even more time.

So the summary is: Don’t complain because you don’t like it, don’t complain at all, just inform them that it costs the company money.

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    And it costs the company in intangible ways; this sort of reporting creates a culture of low trust, which in turn lowers morale and staff retention. For knowledge workers, the likely gain from all this admin is small compared to the potential losses. – Julia Hayward Aug 8 at 15:28
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    "filling out timesheets twice" That's the thing that gets me, you're tracking your time twice. This is utterly useless. – MlleMei Aug 8 at 15:52
  • @MlleMei But if you only did it once, what would they compare it to to ensure it matches? – JimmyJames Aug 8 at 16:13
  • @MlleMei, if I have to do it twice, I would most likely fill the Excel version with whatever data was logged on the other system, so of course they will match. Comparing 2 data sets for cross checking is only useful if the data sets come from different sources ... – Hoki Aug 8 at 16:59
  • the likely gain from all this admin is small - I'm not sure any of us are in a position to assume that. Maybe there's a regulatory or audit requirement. Maybe there's a client involved, who needs detailed billing. Maybe the employer's cost accounting for projects depends on this information. And so on. – dwizum Aug 8 at 17:43
7

I feel your pain. I just never remember to enter time into the tracking system either, and by the time I remember, I've forgotten the specifics of what I've done. I quickly found out that complaining never achieved anything positive; often the person who has to implement or enforce the system (your immediate boss) isn't the one who has decreed that it be used and he isn't particularly happy about it either, thank you very much for reminding him and giving him a target for his ire...sheesh...

There are several things that help me deal with the situation (it just got implemented in my current job last week and it is, as always, annoying).

First, create a weekly task on your calendar for Monday morning to make a guess as to what you are going to be working on during the week and jot it down somewhere you won't lose it. This is your emergency backup plan in case you get to Friday and you have to reconstruct a week's worth of work on the fly.

Then, create a daily task to come up around quittin' time that says "Do your time sheet". If you don't have time to enter your time, don't dismiss the reminder, just put it off for another fifteen minutes. Let it keep bugging you til you get it done. If you don't get it done before you leave, let it pop up in the morning. Don't get in the practice of simply dismissing it, thinking "I'll get both days done tonight" because...you won't. Ask me how I know this.

Lastly, automatically report half an hour a day for "administrative tasks" which include all the time wasted pulling out of a programming problem, entering the time, looking through your notes to figure out what you did, and then having to pick up all the threads of what you were working on afterwards.

6

The same thing happened in my team, we went from not having to log our time to having to log everything down from 15 minutes of work up. It seemed a bit overkill at first and everyone was very resistant to change.

Resistance to change is very common place at work, especially when it's perceived (or does) take more time than seems reasonable to complete a simple task. Admin is a fact of life, it's required in all jobs, technical or otherwise. It's part of your day-to-day responsibility and you should manage your time accordingly to plan the time sheet entry in. Some people used to find it easier to keep a little spreadsheet with a quick note of what they'd spent time on each day, then each Friday afternoon they'd spend 30 minutes completing their time sheet for the week. I used to find it much easier to spend 10 minutes a day entering my time.

We had the same sort of 'name and shame' email process where we would send round to the team a list of who had and hadn't completed their hours for the week, basically to prompt the others to complete this. At first everyone was pretty bad and argued against the process but we started to streamline it by raising our issues with our boss and holding a group review of our codes and how we were writing our time.

I'd recommend you raise these things with your boss, explain how you think the tool is slow and perhaps there are ways for it to be improved, whether that's through a review of your working time codes or other methods. It's probably unlikely they'll go with replacing something they've only just started using, but if you perhaps suggest alternate tools for time tracking and get others in your team to back you up you might have more of a foothold there. If you can automate the reporting somehow yourself, then I'm sure that would be appreciated and show drive.

Try not to focus too much on the 'admin' side of this otherwise you will only focus on the negatives, just think of it as a routine part of the job that everyone has to do. 90% of the companies I have worked for all have ridiculous time tracking tools, you just have to grin and bear it and suggest improvements where you can.

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    But 10 minutes a day of your time is nearly an hour a week; over the course of a year that's a man-week. Admin for its own sake really should be pushed back on; if your managers can't justify the benefit they are getting from the data. – Julia Hayward Aug 8 at 15:25
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    @JuliaHayward How much time do you spend getting coffee each day? How much time browsing The Workplace? 10 minutes (if it really takes that long) filling out a timesheet is just not that big a deal. – DaveG Aug 8 at 18:42
  • It is a big deal if there's no benefit to it. What important management decisions will be assisted by the data? For anything other than low-skill manual jobs, time spent is not proportional to output achieved. – Julia Hayward Aug 9 at 7:05
  • @JuliaHayward I've seen the benefit of the timesheet data, I produced management reporting from it and worked out our Accruals and Deferrals from it for our projects, it was actually really helpful and essential to the type of work we did. It's not admin for admin sake, I agree if the business does nothing with the data then don't do it, but I think the OP mentioned it was used for reporting. – Clare Aug 9 at 7:14
  • Fair enough if it's useful. Software development is notorious for that not being the case, though. – Julia Hayward Aug 9 at 9:18
6

From my perspective, you seem to feel this is onerous and burdensome to you.

Many of us have to account for our time in the way in which you're being asked to. Is it mundane? Yes. Is it frustrating? Sometimes.

But that's what we're asked to do. so that's what we should do. It really isn't that burdensome. How long does it take you to jot down a few notes about what tasks you've been working on and how long you've spent on those tasks? A few minutes at most?

I get it, it isn't an enjoyable part of your job. Many things aren't enjoyable. We do them because we have to. That's part of being a working adult. Accepting that we have to do some things that we'd rather not do, but we do them because that's part of the job. If you're looking for jobs where you're going to be in 100% agreement with management and are going to enjoy every aspect of your job, you're going to wind up disappointed.

My advice, suck it up.

4

I'm going to go against the grain a little here and say that these tools are often poisonous to development efforts. It is important to consider the reasons you feel upset about this new rule.

I have run into a similar hurdle in the past. At first I thought it was frustrating me because working with a time tracker was monotonous busywork, and required too much mental space to be possibly worth the effort. At our best as developers, we can often end up spending hours deep in thought and poking at code, during which time minor disruptions can actually result in major losses of headspace. But ultimately I came to the realization that I wasn't losing much time to the tool, and there were often short mental breaks in my work where I could make adjustments to my time tracking.

The process still frustrated me, however, and after discussion with my coworkers I was able to better articulate my grievances:

1) This is information which is readily available through our standups, and spending extra time on it getting the minor details written down is worthless.

2) Detailed time tracking was in this case the result of myopic micromanagement, and gave the impression that management was both incompetent and moderately hostile.

3) When operating in this fashion, I didn't feel like I was being treated as a professional. While a time tracker may be useful for getting a better feel for sources of time loss, it was more often used as a means to make developers feel like they were being monitored at all times. It was largely used to increase pressure and stress on team members whom management felt they might squeeze a bit more work out of, while dodging coming off as the 'bad guy'.

In the end, this manager's time tracking behavior was discouraged enough by the team that they gave up, and they were eventually replaced, but the morale hit stayed with the team long after the manager left, and in fact probably never fully recovered. In retrospect, I should have jumped ship from that company earlier than I did.

TL;DR: Ask yourself why this really frustrates you. If you feel like you simply dislike the input method, you can likely contest it. But if you feel like you fundamentally dislike the style of management that is making this change, or you feel like management does not trust you to do your job, remember that you're a professional, and feel free to take your services elsewhere.

1

In addition to gnasher729's answer there are some things you can do before speaking with your manager (if you haven't already done so).

  • Find out how much time you really lose. This may sound strange at first (especially since you may need additional documentation of your time), but since not every human is a pro at instinctively tracking time, there may be a difference between "time you actually lose" and "time you perceive you lose". You may lose less time than you think, or it may be even worse than you think. Going into your meeting with your manager well prepared, may help getting your point across better.

  • Try out different strategies about when and how frequent you document your time. If using the new system in the middle of coding disturbs your flow, you could write notes on paper or use your commit history at the end of the day to find out what you did when. If documenting in the evening fits not well with you, you could try to do it in the morning or after a break when you are not in the zone anyway. If it is still killing your productivity after trying to change your routine, you at least can tell your manager, what you already tried on your own, to solve the problem.

  • See what you can automate in a reasonable amount of time to streamline the new system and the excel sheet, with the goal to write your report only once. It doesn't have to be pretty. Excel works well with the csv format and maybe the new system has some API you could use that you are not yet aware of. Don't attempt to put in false/auto generated data.

1

I understand that time tracking is a boring task and a clumsy tool doesn't make it any better. I feel your pain, if you ever have to use e.g. SAP CATS you know what a shitty UX is.

But you should refrain from complaining to your boss, you will probably be seen as entitled and your company probably won't get rid of time tracking just because you find it boring.

A few suggestions how to cope with it, though:

  • add a daily reminder in your calendar to fill the time tracking tool, so you won't forget it and remembering what you did yesterday/today is easy.
  • You could think about improving the process. Maybe get rid of the Excel sheet or at least auto generate it every week, etc. If you discuss such improvements with your boss, you may look like a problem solver and not entitled.
  • work always has some tasks, which are boring and mundane, so don't let such inconveniences drag you down, if it's just 15 minutes per day.
-1

Unfortunately tools like this come around when someone in management latched onto the idea of "grip" or whatever the current lingo is. It is very annoying but will be very hard to change.

The only way to influence managers like this is to go with the flow and suggest "improvements" to their "great idea". For example, is there any reason you need to track your time twice? It should be possible to ditch the Excel. Or ask if you could automate parts of the job? Most of these supposedly clunky tools are actually pretty good but are crippled by bad implementation.

I would advice against option 2 though, that is technically fraud and could lead to a host of problems.

  • There's a requirement in having a timesheet, the whole enterprise uses a timesheet. I have thought about asking if the time tracking thing exposes an API that I could maybe wire up a client app to, to make the tracking better. But I don't know how that would go over. The time tracking app seems to be in-house (that is to say, I don't think anyone could market such a crude application. I could be wrong). – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:11
  • Nothing is too crude to market if you have a good sales team. I don't know how technical you manager is but if he needed to do this from just the team's budget he might just have gone for the cheapest option he could find. – Borgh Aug 8 at 8:23
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    Believe me there's a whole market of very crude time tracking applications out there, I've not yet been able to work with a good one. :( – Clare Aug 8 at 13:56
  • @Clare I worked at a place that changed time software every 5-6 months. It was so ridiculous. – HenryM Aug 8 at 17:56
  • @HenryM that is crazy! – Clare Aug 9 at 7:13
-1

I've seen these simple time sheets before. They were introduced maybe a year before massive lay offs. Although many business decisions are made just 3-4 months in advance. I think the sheets are in the form they are because it's what the business execs getting them are used to working with every day. They probably dream in spreadsheets.

I've worked at places where there were many rounds of lay offs with management cutting the least needed people first, finally ending in 10 person teams being reduced to just 1 person each. And places that just cut to the bone in one swoop.

Your reaction should be based on 1.) How likely it is you'll be laid off (Forbe's "How Do Struggling Companies Decide Who To Lay Off..."), 2.) What are your short and long term goals.

At any rate, the last thing you should do is code a tool to improve the time tracking process because the time you spend doing that could have been better spent on doing something the business leaders in your company think is worth money or looking for a job. If the leaders in your company thought improving the time tracking was worth money they would have already created a project and had someone working on it. And regardless of whether you think it's worth something or not: they don't. And they will ultimately decide who is worth keeping at the company based on their perception of your value.

If I'm in your shoes I would ask my boss about what the most important business goals are right now and what's the biggest problems we face. Then go to the highest level business leader in your company who you have access to and ask them the same question. Unofficially, not at some formal meeting. Now you have the information you need to position yourself to be more valuable which may include transferring to a new team, learning new skills (asap) or realizing that you need to put all of your energy into getting a new job.

-1

Have you looked into techniques for automating entries? If the application is web-browser based, you can use Selenium wrapped up in a python script to only put in the required data once and let the script do the rest of the work. You can even watch it do its work in a browser window if you so feel inclined.

EDIT: Just to be clear, I am not advocating option 2 that OP came up with regarding falsification/adding fuzz. use it to honestly add your timesheets

  • Not understanding the downvotes? it is a perfectly valid solution to deal with the infuriating process. – 520 Aug 8 at 13:48
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    I'm only guessing here but either they disagree with option 2 or they want you to explain why option 2 is the best. Personally, I don't think this is a bad choice if it won't take long to do. Maybe people object to having to program a solution to this on principle? – BSMP Aug 8 at 17:06
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    Oh, it could be that the OP's 2nd option includes having it add "fuzz" as opposed to an honest accounting of their time and people think you're agreeing about that too as opposed to just suggesting the automation part. You might want to make it super explicit that you're not suggesting OP lie about their time. – BSMP Aug 8 at 17:16
  • @BSMP Many thanks! I didnt spot that in OP's post! – 520 Aug 8 at 19:54
-3

I don't envy your position, and I don't believe you are entitled.

However, something to keep in mind is that there may be some others in the team that are really struggling to time-manage. As such, to be fair to all members of the team, your manager may have asked everyone to start time-tracking.

The reason this is a suboptimal solution is that for those that want to do work this is a needless distraction, and for those that want to waste time, this is gold.

First things first. Make sure you do all this paperwork during business hours. Which means there should be an entry in your paperwork for the paperwork.

You should certainly have a chat with your manager. Don't say "this sucks". That's not objective. Be honest with how filling out this paperwork makes you feel.

You will probably get used to this over time, but if not, you should explore the other team.

  • I've had a chat with my manager. My line of reasoning was to compare my current team with the other team and say "okay, so, we have to do this, the other team doesn't. Can you explain to me why someone would join this team over the other team with this in mind? How do you expect we will attract talent with these requirements in place?". The default answer was essentially just him saying that he gets that its frustrating to use but if I was a lawyer I would have to track my time. So it's not really helpful... – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:10
  • Do you get paid as much as a lawyer? A large part of being a lawyer is dealing with paperwork. I don't think the analogy is reasonable. – Gregory Currie Aug 8 at 8:13
  • I don't know how much a lawyer gets paid. But I don't think I do. I think the main reason we are doing this is to define on a broad spectrum our support costs so we can shape our support agreements with customers. The intent is understandable but the execution, I feel, is poor. – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:14
  • If you were getting paid as much as a lawyer, I'd say suck it up :P – Gregory Currie Aug 8 at 8:15
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    I just googled what a lawyer gets paid, turns out I get paid nowhere near as much :) – misterpotatomato Aug 8 at 8:20

protected by Mister Positive Aug 8 at 17:46

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