The Cella Slant: A Love-Hate Relationship with Time Tracking

By Jackie Schaffer

Recently a few members of an in-house creative team stopped me mid-sermon to say “Jackie, we’re not anti-time tracking. We just want it to be easy.” I had falsely assumed the team didn’t want to time track. But in reality the team had already bought into the advantages of time tracking, they just were unwilling to time track using their current homegrown tool.

At a recent Cella event, about 40 creative leaders were discussing the pros and cons of time tracking and about 80% of the room, if not 90%, were pro time tracking—a sizeable minority of which were time tracking evangelists like myself.

But there is still a vocal minority of creative leaders and creatives who are vehemently against time tracking. In conversations it seems that smaller teams are more likely to be anti-time tracking, but results from the 2012 In-House Creative Services Industry Report don’t support this generalization. So potentially it’s my personal bias that smaller teams can get away with not time tracking, but that larger teams typically come under greater scrutiny and therefore have a greater need for time tracking.

Regardless of team size or love-hate status, I think the in-house team I mentioned at the top of the article hit the nail on the head: as long as time tracking is easy and non-invasive, teams will do it. It’s when time tracking is over-engineered or time intensive that creatives get turned off. So here are a few tips to encourage adoption and compliance with time tracking:

  • Seek a tool that requires minimal inputs to create time tracking entries (e.g., the team only needs to enter a project number, their activity or task, and then hits a “start” button; when they’re finished they hit the “stop” button)
  • Include the team (or a portion of the team) when evaluating potential time tracking tools—team buy-in is critical to success
  • Don’t underestimate the value of a “pretty” or “cool” interface—overly technical or lackluster interfaces will detract from the team’s adoption rate
  • Don’t create 50+ different tasks; keep the task list simple—if the team needs to look up a definition to a task code, something’s not right
  • Show the value of time tracking—if you can’t point to any ROI from time tracking, why are you doing it? Make sure the team understands how their efforts support business decisions and processes.

Jackie Schaffer, vice president and general manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative.

Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.

2 thoughts on “The Cella Slant: A Love-Hate Relationship with Time Tracking

  1. Kelly

    This is such a great post. As long as you make it simple for your team, the benefits of accurate time-tracking data far outweigh the drawbacks. If I might recommend a tool, our team recently launched Hours Tracking ( We built it because we weren’t satisfied with other time tracking tools we tried – just too cumbersome and time-consuming for our team members to use. We designed our app to keep track of what team members work on, so they can start, stop and switch between projects with just one click. We were happy to find that our team members bought in very quickly and now use it religiously.

  2. Andy

    Great article, Jackie and thanks for sharing some tips. One of the reasons why employees are against time tracking for it invades employees privacy. Our company also uses a time tracking tool ( and we believe that an employee should have access to any data that is monitored. Any employee using time tracking software should also be fully aware of what is monitored and when they are being monitored. Ethical monitoring or using non intrusive time tracking is a great way not to invade employees privacy and improve business productivity.