90% Done, 90% left to do: The Truth About Effective Time Management

  • brucem's picture
  • brucem

  • 30 July 2013

Time management can be one of the most frustrating parts of a project manager's job. Being trapped between a workforce motivated often by those interested in self-preservation and those with hoping to build a reputation will yield inaccurate time data.  As a consequence, upper management will suffer from unrealistic expectations and be put under pressure trying to please the client, leaving you are between the proverbial rock and hard place. In a worst-case scenario terrible time management is one symptom of a death-march project.

It doesn't have to be that way. With a well-designed and administered time management system and proper personnel communication, time management, including proper time projections can be achieved with minimum effort on the part of all involved.

The advantages of proper time management to you as a project manager are numerous. The ability to properly project, track, and allocate time on a project will open the door for higher productivity, morale and profitability. With these goals achieved your days can be much smoother and contain fewer headaches.

Time management systems

There are literally thousands of time management/tracking systems available today. They range from simple spreadsheets to products that have so many features you would believe they'll make your morning coffee. The one that is perfect for you is a matter of personal choice but there are a few things you should keep in mind when choosing one.

The time management system that is right for your company may not be the one with all the bells and whistles. When choosing a time tracking system there are several things to consider: whether time records be automatically created or manually entered, whether the system fits how your company operates, and how easily report generation for both in-house and exported reports is handled.

Easy Time Entries

Do not underestimate the importance of your time tracking system making it simple for people to enter their time into. Systems that make key-coding and time entries overly complicated can actually hurt both morale and productivity while leading teams to be more prone to entering time incorrectly by virtue of them not entering their data regularly or unintentionally entering data under improper codes.

There are companies who expend more time trying to teach their people how to use a system that was supposed to save time than the amount of time the system should have saved. Time entry should be a simple matter entering a few keystrokes and pressing return.  Any code use of key-codes should be simple and customizable by department. Having your employees search through a list of hundreds of codes is asking for your data to be confusing and counterproductive.

Fitting your company

Every company or organization has its own way of doing business. There are procedures that you follow, step-by-step that may or may not be the same as another organization. Your step 2 could be another companies step 3 and vice versa.

For example, If your normal procedure is to have your marketing department do mockups to assist your sales department in making the sale and you implement a system originally designed for a company that required contract numbers to be created before marketing can enter their time you are left with two options. Change the way that everyone in your company does business or overload your system with data that can never be completely accounted for or charged to any real customer. In the first case resentment and confusion will be created and in the second your system management will become too cumbersome to maintain. Better to have a system that fits your company.

Easily generated reports

The entire purpose of having a time management system is to manage time. This requires that easily understood reports can be generated for analysis, billing and to help with future time estimations. For this to be possible the data in your system needs to be highly filterable and reports customizable for both internal and external distribution.


No system can give you better information than what has been fed into it. Garbage in, garbage out. Keeping this in mind make sure you investigate any potential ways time has been wasted.  Some wasted time is harder to notice than others 7 Ways You’re Wasting Time and Don’t Even Know It will give you a good start finding them and clean up that wasted time!

Proper Communication

In a truly disorganized environment, you may find two types of time estimators when you talk to your personnel that make communication difficult. Those that have been brow-beaten about being able to do the impossible and the hero wannabe. The first will tell you what ever will get you to go away and let them work, especially if they believe you want them to report that a thoroughly complex job can be completed in 20 hours flat. They will tell you it can be completed in 20 hours and then spend the next two weeks explaining why it hasn't been completed. The other type of employee, the hero, probably believes if they give you an estimate of 200 hours and complete the job in 2 days, you will believe that they are great workers and can walk on water. Both types are a detriment to your peace of mind.


Explaining to your staff the reasons that you need proper time estimates is actually quite complex.  However if you find yourself in a worst-case, it will go a long way all by itself if you can show everyone that as long as they give you honest answers risks can be minimized.  Stick up for valuable staff, communicate with them clearly, and they will reward you with better time reporting. With your communication set right, and your systems implemented correctly you’re on your way to overcoming and truly managing time on your project.

Article courtesy of ProjectManager.com: Online Project Management Software


John D.'s picture


Thank you, it's very cognitive and interesting article. There is a lot of new information for me. Could you please write more.