Why Every Marketer Should Spend a Month Time Tracking

Chad Kearns Jun 7 2017

If you’re not tracking your own hours as well as those of your team, I’m here to convince you to start today.

Time tracking task by task isn’t fun. It can seem trivial for some and scary for others. But with effective time tracking and analysis, the payoffs in identifying bottlenecks in current work processes can be game-changing for your team.

I’ll show you how we used this practice at Portent a little later, but first I have a confession to make: I hate the hourly billing model.

It turns great marketing work into a commodity. It creates a fallacy that the number of hours spent to complete a task is somehow more valuable than the level of quality and value represented in the outcome.

The fundamental question here: Is a project more or less valuable based on how many hours were needed to complete it?

I don’t believe so.

Does the raw number of hours that someone on my team spends (and then bills) on a deliverable take into account the investment they put into learning the skills required to do it well? To do it efficiently?

Of course not.

[Rant over.]

What Time Tracking Does for You

My challenge to you as a marketer and a leader: If you’re managing a team, you should absolutely try tracking your and everyone on your team’s hours for one month. Record down to the individual task level in 15-minute increments.

You will be amazed at how much this seemingly distasteful practice uncovers actionable opportunities to take bottlenecks out of the way for your team, to streamline process, and to get them working on the most impactful parts of their jobs.

Learn from the agency model: It starts with where your team spends their time. It’s tedious, it’s the scariest part for people worried about their jobs, and it can require major behavioral change. But it all starts here.

Collecting that data is important.

Understanding, analyzing, and acting on that data is critical.

Here’s an example of what we found and did with some of that data at Portent.

Looking through months and months of time tracking entries, we found a few places where more time than we might have expected was spent across our teams:

  • Meeting with clients
  • Collecting raw data from the same platforms over and over again
  • Manually compiling reports from that data

What did we do with that information?

Client Meetings

Cutting down facetime with clients is going to be a tough sell to anyone.

We love working directly with our clients. It helps us get a better understanding of their goals, opportunities, and constraints, as well as what’s going on in their business and industry. It helps them get a better understanding of exactly what we’re working on and why we’re doing it.

We’re not touching that. Meeting with our clients is too valuable to decrease our time investment there.

Collecting and Compiling Data

On the data gathering and reporting side, we found our team spending a ton of time. That’s not necessarily problematic because the analysis we do around what’s working and what’s not is a huge part of the value clients get in working with an experienced agency.

But the numbers still seemed too high.

By tracking and analyzing time entries down to the individual task level, we identified that a significant recurring amount of time was going into manual data gathering across multiple platforms.

Not only was our team spending time gathering that one-off data, they spent time again and again formatting and reformatting clunky data tables so our clients could see a complete picture of their performance.

I expect this is a common theme for anyone who’s ever had to prepare management reports, marketing or otherwise.

So what did we do?

We dove into every data platform and source we routinely pulled for clients. We looked for alternatives to get that data into a report format that we could drive with our current automation. And when we weren’t satisfied with the remaining level of manual labor, we searched for new reporting formats.

We abandoned practices and tools that had been in place for years, based on what was possible at the time of their creation, and migrated all our data and reporting into Google Data Studio.

It was a major investment of time—and by extension money—but it was worth it for our team’s sanity, their effectiveness, and for our long-term bottom line.

Equally important, our new reporting system wasn’t only better for us, it was better for our clients as well.

We were able to provide our clients with a more intuitive and actionable work product in the report itself and freed our time to focus on execution instead of data collection in our client work.

The Takeaway

What would happen if you took the time and effort to do a similar analysis of the bottlenecks in your team’s processes?

Are there things you’ve taken for granted because that’s the way you’ve always done them? Those things may have been innovative when you put them in place a few years back, but tools and platforms are always changing and new ways of working become possible.

What would you find?

What would you improve if you had data to quantify the scope of your inefficiencies?

Time tracking won’t give you the answers to fix what’s broken, but it sure as heck can give you both the direction and the ammo you need to get things moving.

I hope you give it a try, and we’d love to hear what you find.

5 Comments

  1. David Portney

    David Portney

    Hey Chad,

    Tracking time to find ways to improve efficiency is so easily overlooked; your post is definitely compelling and very good advice. I’ve been a remote worker for the last ~5 years and I’ve been tracking my time by the quarter hour (as you recommended here) even when it was not required of me by my employer because it allows me to see where & how my time is truly being spent – that also “keeps me honest” and accountable to myself. At the end of each day I like to review how I spent my time that day and see how productive I’ve been.

    • Chad Kearns

      Chad Kearns

      Hey David,

      Completely agree with that point as well. Not only can time tracking provide learnings on where and how we spend our time, it can also be used as a method for keeping people and teams accountable to each other.

    • I definitely agree. Of course, I’m not saying track exclusively – we still need to drill down into various elements of website performance, search engine optimization (SEO), social engagement, etc. But having three metrics in focus at all times will unite and motivate your team to achieve tangible results.

  2. ronell

    ronell

    Could not agree more. I did this for myself and my work/business in 2016. Amazing how it made me see things different. For one, I realized how unrealistic I was being in expecting to get too much done in 10 hours a day. Also showed me where I was spending time on areas that were not going to yield signiifcant benefits.
    RS

    • Chad Kearns

      Chad Kearns

      Exactly.

      Regardless of how strong of a grasp you feel like you have on you or your team’s work, actually getting those time logs recorded provides a new perspective to look from.

Comments are closed.