Question: For best productivity, shouldn’t we measure all the time actually spent and compare to the time we planned to spend?

Answer: No. It works against you. Try this instead…

As a productivity coach with years of hands-on experience, here’s what I’ve learned about time monitoring and tracking:

Do NOT track and reconcile every minute of work—not with your team, not with yourself.

True, time and money are similar:

  • Both get spent by people
  • Both need some form of budgeting

But what happens to a company when every dollar is tracked down to the penny, all the time?

What if every expenditure must be approved or justified to a manager? Does productivity improve? No—it almost always gets worse, because morale declines. [Exception: when cash is the key factor for short-term survival, you have to monitor it closely during turnaround.]

The same is true for individuals. The best personal budgets have both fixed and flexible components, for two reasons:

  1. People have feelings. Good psychology is an essential part of great productivity. Too much constraint kills morale.
  2. Agility and versatility are essential. You need room to respond intelligently, intuitively, to new opportuntities and threats as they arise.

But you don’t want either of those to get out of control. So how to balance them?

For Yourself…

Be as organized as necessary—no more, no less.

DO budget time appropriately and get excellent feedback on its use. But a “natural feedback loop” is best. It should:

  • Automatically give you feedback with no effort
  • Take no extra time
  • Require little or no logical analysis
  • Change behavior naturally, subconsciously

That kind of feedback loop is already built into the Total, Relaxed Organization time management system:

  • The feedback happens automatically, intuitively during your Reviewing step (5 min./day regardless).
  • For longer tasks/steps, you also get that feedback constantly during the DOing step.

Easy Personal Time Tracking Tool

For smaller items, if time is draining inexplicably, use a simple spreadsheet printout, one column per day, 1/2 hour time grid, and a pencil.

  • Record the ONE major type of activity you did during each 1/2 hour block.
  • Set an onscreen timer if needed. I like this one:
  • That’s as much granularity as you need to see what’s going on.

For Teams and Direct Reports…

Do NOT use Time Doctor or any other tool that tracks actions and records screen shots every minute. They will:

  • Create stress, resentment, and looking-over-my-shoulder feelings of mistrust
  • Kill initiative and creativity
  • Force your best innovators to go somewhere else

See this excellent YouTube video about some of the psychology factors with teams and direct reports:

The optimal approach:

  • Hold people accountable for broad visions, objectives, assignments, goals
  • Have regular 1-1 meetings to discuss objectives and progress
  • Let them find the best ways to accomplish those things
  • When intervention is needed, use the easy personal time tracking tool above

Total, Relaxed Organization also makes this easy. Automatic 1-1 follow-up and zero-preparation group agendas are built into the system.

What’s your experience?