Would you like to hear a story?
It was January 2010 and it was snowing in Toronto, again. While crammed into the corner of a tiny Starbucks, our feet wet from the slush and the air warm with pumpkin spice, we made a real plan for the new year: more clients, bigger projects, grow the business.
Our business, by the way, was providing marketing services to other businesses.
Just four months later, as the ice was starting to thaw, something really interesting started happening. We had more clients. Our projects had gotten bigger. We were growing!
AS WE GREW
We started to think about things we'd never thought about before. Like hiring more people. Were we ready to hire? Just how many people did we need?
We thought about our own focus. Were we still paying attention to the right things?
We also wondered about our profitability. More specifically, which projects were making money and which ones weren't?
It was then we decided that all employees, including ourselves, needed to start tracking their time ruthlessly. If we were going to get to the bottom of our bottom line we needed data.
We started with a practical mandate: keep a record of all your time spent and every Friday enter your numbers into a Microsoft Excel document. Everybody's desk was soon littered with illegible notes scrawled on scrap paper and post-its. Most of the time we were too busy to fill in our timesheets, and so every Friday turned into every other Friday which soon turned into once a month.
Notwithstanding the enormous task of manually consolidating the various spreadsheets into a single report we could analyze (this was well before widespread adoption of Google Docs), the process wasn't working. Writing down our time was easy enough but avoiding inputting it for several weeks turned the basic task of time entry into a dreaded 2-hour administrative burden!
SO WE GOT SMARTER.
So we thought. We started using a service called activeCollab to better manage our projects, and it had a time entry system built right into it! Goodbye scraps of paper! Goodbye spreadsheets!
activeCollab was a great project management software (in fact, it still is) but it didn't take long for us to discover we'd traded one problem for another. Even though we now had a system we could input our time into, it still required the task of entering our time. And just like before, we started putting off that task in service of other "more important" tasks.
The delays we created by resisting the time entry task meant that we were right back where we started: we had no accurate data for measuring which projects were more profitable than others.
So we looked around and found some other time tracking tools we thought we might try. But in the end none of them were really right for us because they all relied on memory and data input.
Now the task of finding ways to track our time was taking up too much time!
We thought, maybe we should just abandon the quest and stick to guesstimates and gut feelings?
So we did. But not for long. Because, dammit, we needed to know if we could do better if we had better insight.
THEN WE HAD A BIG IDEA!
What if there was a way we could track our time while we were doing the task? What if we could just start and stop our timers like a stopwatch?
Yes! That was it.
But that tool didn't exist yet.