I’m not productive every single minute of every day

A reader writes:

Recently, our vice president decided she wanted to start time tracking for our department. She has positioned this as wanting to gain a better understanding of which of our internal clients are taking up the most of our time, and what type of work we are doing, which I can definitely see the value of. However, I think it’s creating some problematic assumptions about productivity.

The tool we use makes it very easy to track tasks while you’re doing them. Our work days are seven hours of actual “work time” long, excluding breaks. At the end of every day, once I’ve tracked all my tasks, I’ve generally got between 6 to 6.5 hours of “work” time. However, my manager is concerned that I am not working every single hour of every day. She thinks that at the end of the week, I should have 35 hours of productively spent work time.

But the reality is: I don’t work every minute of every day. There’s up to an hour per day that I spend doing things like … talking to a coworker, mentally decompressing after one task and deciding what the next thing I should work on is, getting a cup of coffee, using the bathroom, etc. None of it is “break” time — it’s two minutes here and five minutes there, and not easy to track. I’ve always thought of it as perfectly reasonable “lost” time that occurs in the course of any workday — I’m not a robot!

Is it actually reasonable to expect someone to be perfectly productive for their entire work day? If I’m right, and it’s not reasonable, what’s the best way to gently push back against this expectation and explain that while our time tracking tool doesn’t track this downtime, it’s still a necessary and normal part of my day?

No, this is not reasonable! It is entirely normal, expected, and unavoidable for humans to occasionally pause to use the bathroom, get a beverage, speak with other humans, check email, give your brain a short break, or take a moment to think and/or reorient yourself. I’m sure your boss does these things as well.

How clearly have you spelled this out to the VP? If you haven’t yet, you should say, “Each day there is a small number of activities that don’t neatly fall to a specific project — using the bathroom, getting a cup of coffee, speaking to colleagues, and figuring out priorities and what to tackle next all take a few minutes each, and together each day they add up to between 30 and 60 minutes. I think this is the same for most people. Is there a different way you want me to categorize things like bathroom breaks and quick conversations with others?”

I suspect she hasn’t thought realistically about how this stuff adds up. If you hear someone isn’t working for an hour a day, it sounds like a lot! But when you break down all the little things you described, and you look at how normal humans operate, it’s entirely typical for it to add up to that.

I’d also be interested to know how your coworkers are logging their time. Is the VP raising this objection with all of them too, or are they logging their time in a way that avoids it? For example, it’s possible that you should consider Task A still in progress right up until the moment you start Task B, even if you’re in the bathroom, getting coffee, or chatting with a coworker in between the two tasks. If your coworkers are recording it that way, you should too.

Also, I’m assuming the vice president is your boss but if she isn’t, you should talk to your boss and ask her to push back on the VP’s thinking. Ideally she’d emphasize to the VP that your productivity and work are both good and you’re using your time well. Ultimately that’s what matters — and if you’re meeting your work goals, it’s ridiculous to micromanage your time this way. (And if you weren’t, the solution still wouldn’t be “don’t use the bathroom.”)

Read updates to this letter herehere, and here.

{ 379 comments… read them below }

      1. Charlotte Lucas*

        I worked somewhere that clocked Desk Time for all those tasks that didn’t fit anywhere else. But Alison’s answer is perfect.

        1. ThatGirl*

          Yeah, I had a job where I had to track project time, but there were categories for things like emails, filling out the dang tracking sheet, and general administrative tasks.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            My first full-time job required time tracking for every 15 minute block, despite the fact that my role was salaried, exempt, and non-billable. It was ridiculous (and, looking back, probably should not have been exempt). I used to log an hour and a half each day to “email and general administrative tasks” until my manager said that wasn’t a good use of time.

            So I logged an hour to “email and general administrative tasks” and half an hour to “time spent logging how I spend my time”.

        2. Sloanicota*

          “Desk time” is the perfect description. How else can you log all the time spent reading and answering asinine emails you were cc-d on, responding to stupid Slacks from coworkers, and trying to figure out where someone was that you needed for something? I’d also be thrilled to push back on my management for time spent in stupid staff meetings that don’t contribute to progress on any project. They never seem as eager to cut that out as they are my one midafternoon coffee.

          1. KTB1*

            100%. I did a “time study” for work recently and good lord email is a time suck. But also a good grab bag excuse for unstructured time.

            My BFF works in clinical medicine and they have “admin time,” which is when they’re supposed to catch up on patient notes/reports, billing, and all of the other paperwork that goes into patient care, but isn’t covered by patient billing.

          1. MP*

            As an auditor that used to work for a public accounting firm, that is what we used, as well. OP should add that to her tracking.

              1. Ally McBeal*

                Depends. I work for a company that works on retainer, and we’re discouraged from rounding out costs, particularly for clients with small retainers. But if I finish a task for a big client at 10:09, I am absolutely taking rounding up that last 6 minutes of the 15-minute increment to check AAM or respond to someone on Teams chat.

      2. Keeley Jones, The Independent Woman*

        This is accurate. I’ve learned way more real-world actionable techniques from both Allison and the community than I ever learned in college.

      3. NotAnotherManager!*

        100%. I have sent AAM columns to my management team and would be fine with them charging ProfDev for the time to read it. I recommend it to all my new managers.

    1. Workin' 9 to 5*

      That’s what I was going to say! Ummm…how am I supposed to track my AAM time??

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Given that my new manager has actually complimented me on my professionalism, which is 85% thanks to this site, I think I could get away with that.

    2. AnonInCanada*

      Me too! And yes, this nano-managing VP should be given a dose of reality. Even robots need rest and routine maintenance or else they break down from overwork. Just like humans.

      1. Chris too*

        Okay, I’m going to be in the minority here. I’m reading this during my break and I am expected to put in pretty darned close to 7 hours of work in a seven hour day. I’m sometimes able to go to the washroom outside my breaks – not always. I’d be allowed maybe 5 or 10 minutes a day – maybe – to be tracking people down, and maybe two minutes at the beginning of the day for all the “good morning” greetings.

        We aren’t robots but this is kind of – a niche thing – maybe manufacturing adjacent? I don’t think this expectation is unreasonable. Most of the workforce is expected to put in almost a full day’s work.

        The boss should realize there are little gaps here and there, and I’m sure the problem is how the OP is categorizing things, but I’d be concerned as heck if somebody could only account for 6 out of 7 hours.

        1. Fernie*

          Yes, Chris too, I think it’s a niche thing. It makes sense in manufacturing, or production roles where your work is to perform a high volume of similar tasks, but it does not make sense for Knowledge Work.

        2. Letter OP*

          To clarify, I work at a white-collar desk job doing knowledge-based work, and there’s no expectation of only going to washroom on breaks, or limiting conversations to two minutes.

          1. Anon and on an on*

            I am in desktop publishing/production. I work when the tasks come in. My job would make your boss’ head explode.
            Please let us know how the VP wanted you to bill the time you spent discussing how you spend your time?
            And yeah, please investigate if the reward for working more hours in the day is doing more work, while others do less of the same work. You should be rewarded with better projects and first choice of projects, not someone else’s overflow. signed, someone who’s been there

            1. Mitzii*

              LOL, I know how you feel — some days my timesheet would be like, 7.5 hours waiting for the client to come back with some answer we were waiting on then .5 hr trying to cram all the actual work in before the deadline.

          2. MP*

            OP, add that time to admin work. That is what we had to do when we tracked our time. Not everything can be billed to a client.

          3. BubbleTea*

            I spent three hours today on a single phone call, explaining a complex area of law to a client through an interpreter. My brain was utterly fried afterwards and all I did in the next hour was write up my notes to log the conversation and eat some lunch. Any attempt to do work for another client would have just meant I had to redo that work at another time because I was incoherent.

            It is completely normal for brain-work to require downtime.

            When we first went to working from home, I time tracked for my own information. I discovered that on a day I considered extremely productive, I was focused and working for 90% of my work hours. A standard good day was about 80 to 85%. It wasn’t common but occasionally I’d have a day where I was off task for upto 25% of my paid hours.

            I’ve never had a single word from my boss about not getting enough done. In fact I get complimented on how detailed and thorough my work is. Which is a direct result of taking downtime to ensure my brain is functioning well!

        3. Tyche*

          Yes, I have worked jobs like this where they expected you to be productive for every minute you’re there. That doesn’t mean it’s realistic though. Nobody should be forced to limit their bathroom breaks and human interactions to their breaks.

        4. Sophia*

          Ditto what Fernie said. I’ve worked both types of jobs. I was way less stressed out in the job where I needed to work every second. My tasks were relatively clear and repetitive. Now I *work* far less hours but I’m thinking about work for far more than 40 hours a week. And there are periods of intense focus and stress that really need decompression times in between.

        5. Lobsterman*

          I’ve noticed that manufacturing tends to hold its office to busy-busy expectations, to match the shiftwork nature of manufacturing work. It’s performative, and of course it ends once you hit a certain higher level.

          1. Chris too*

            Manufacturing adjacent was the best I could come up with, what we do is so niche, but I actually work for the government.

        6. Ursula*

          That’s really only the case in manufacturing, and frankly is probably a source of repetitive stress injuries. In other place like retail, there will be slow times that you don’t have to be doing much. Office work almost always has space for doing nothing or chatting here and there. Other service work also tends to have time that you can rest or think about other things for a while. It’s why the “if you have time to lean you have time to clean” mentality is such a problem.

          For a specific example, a friend of mine worked at a massage therapy provider, and she said that if you schedule the therapists with 30 minutes in between each session, they can work it forever. If you schedule them with back to back sessions, they’ll last a year or two before something in their body can’t take it anymore. Massage therapy is VERY physically demanding work.

          In other words, yes, it’s a norm in manufacturing, but manufacturing should be redesigned with things like 5 minute stretch breaks every hour to help prevent wear and tear on peoples’ bodies. Amazon’s warehouses have the ‘work every minute’ standard and people there get injuries constantly.

          1. Hapless Bureaucrat*

            Call center work often has similar “be on all the time, breaks only at designated moments” expectations. It has some of the same issues with wearing people out, too.

            1. Canterlot*

              Call center is the worst. I’ve temped in call centers, and you had to send up a flag when you wanted to go to the bathroom so the call center gorgons could call up you to their table of judgement, check a little box next to your name, and clock you out.

            2. Hannahlouwho*

              I did call center work for about 6 weeks. It was not for me. Understaffed, underpaid, and minimum call quotas. Yuck.

            3. Lady Glittersparkles*

              Yes! I found call center work to be grueling to the point where it felt inhumane. I remember being confronted when I had a 7 minute gap in productivity – I had stomach problems that day that required me to use the bathroom outside of my regularly scheduled break. I used to cry on the way to work. I don’t understand how people work in call centers for years on end.

              1. Joy*

                The jobs aren’t all the same. Usually people who can make it through the first six months can move into something more challenging with less micromanagement.

            4. lilsheba*

              exactly! I worked in a call center and we were supposed to be on and working every single second. We were only supposed to be logged off during the day for breaks and lunch, no other time. But of course that’s unrealistic. I am not going to limit going to the bathroom to my breaks and lunch, and there are times I logged off to just take a mental break, and a break from wearing a headset 10 hours a day, which hurts after a while. Now I have a lot more freedom and I get all my work done, much better.

            5. Zak*

              Good call centres (yes they exist) understand that anything higher than 85% uptime causes more problems than its worth.

          2. whingedrinking*

            This is the source of many, many teachers’ frustration with “Well, you don’t work 9 to 5, so of course you get paid less”.
            No, Uncle Bob. The *school day* may not be 9 to 5, but I don’t know a single K-12 teacher who puts in less than eight hours a day, and usually more. The five or six hours that students are in class are not the extent of the job. There is this thing called “marking”, and another thing called “preparation”, and still another known as “professional development”.
            And that’s without getting into the fact that for those five and half hours of face time, teachers barely get to scratch their noses. I teach adults, so I have a bit of latitude to run to the bathroom if I really need to, but if you teach elementary school? You have to have a bladder of steel, because no way in hell do you get to duck out for a pee, much less a cup of coffee or a smoke break.

            1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

              Yeah, you’re basically performing, you’re at the front of the class with lots of students all looking at you, you can’t even scratch your nose in fact. All day. When I transitioned from teaching to an office job, I felt like office work was cheating, it was so much more relaxed.

          3. Mr. Shark*

            Even manufacturing, when you are reviewing capacity and resources, you schedule for 80% effectiveness of the persons doing the processes. That’s because yes, they take bathroom breaks. They may go to pick up a tool at another station, and end up talking to someone for a few minutes. They may need assistance from engineers, so have to wait a few minutes here or there. No one is 100% efficient, nor should they be.
            Having to log 7 hours of a 7 hour day on tasks seems not only unrealistic, but impossible, especially if you are doing knowledge-based work.
            But since you are being asked to track that, I would go ahead and include some of that “admin” work into the tasks that you are working on, unless it’s official breaks, if that is the way your office is counting those time between tasks.

        7. stretchingisgood*

          Sure, but a couple things:
          1/ manufacturing workers also get *real* 15s and 30s. Desk workers are usually expected to still be answering emails or chats when they *Ding* on lunch.
          2/ if the work requires creative problem solving, that usually requires mental ease. Coming up with that weird turn of phrase or that funny sales pitch often happens when you cut yourself a moment of slack and get that glass of water.

          1. Emmy Noether*

            Any kind of creative or problem solving work will also occupy some brain space outside of work hours. So I may take AAM breaks during the work day, but to compensate, I will come up with the best ideas in the shower or on my bike commute and I’ll sketch something or look something up in the evenings if I have to get it out of my brain.

        8. Canadian Librarian #72*

          Yeah, that’s sector-specific. For anyone in knowledge work, it’s not a reasonable expectation; in fact, it’s so unreasonable and unrealistic that I kind of struggle not to laugh at the idea! Not at you, but just in general… as a knowledge worker, there’s just always going to be those few minutes here and there that are slack time (not as in the productivity tool btw).

        9. Jenga*

          I think it depends on the job. For me, if I’m going through a complex document looking for errors, I go through it. Then I take a break, so when I look at it a second, third, forth time, I can catch things I didn’t previously see. Often that “break” is reading/returning emails or crossing something else off my to-do list, but my brain needs it and the end result is more errors get caught. There’s also sometimes a creativity element to my job, so if I’m trying to figure out the best way to word something, stepping away from the laptop and going to get a coffee or heading down to the bathroom often helps. Even though I’m not physically at my desk, I’m still mentally working out how to execute a work related task.

          1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

            Yes! I find when producing a document, I need to do a draft one day and then read through it again the next day. A word that was escaping me on day one, mysteriously pops into my brain at the right time on day two.

      2. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Let’s ask this VP how many times *they* go to the bathroom/get coffee/talk about Young Sheldon to a fellow fan?

    3. Anon and on an on*

      Let’s see.
      47 minutes on the Llama account. $20
      3 minutes to read emails ignored during that. $5
      5 minutes to go the bathroom. $7
      1o minutes in an ad hoc hallway meeting with coworker who had a question. $9
      3 minutes, back to desk, unlock computer, open new project, $6
      The VP reviewing staff productivity records and completing the mental gymnastics required to reach this conclusion and not seeing the irony, Priceless.

      1. Oakenfield*

        Haha, yes!
        I can see wanting a breakdown of how each employee’s day is spent, but it certainly wouldn’t be to-the-minute!

    4. GreenDoor*

      I am reading this at work and, given that I am a manager, I consider it part of my professional development. (Seriously, this site has helped me way more than any of the silly conventions and online trainings I’ve been forced to attend…)

  1. Susie Q*

    As a manager, who even cares. I’m exhausted thinking about this. Does the VP work every single second of every work day? Like WTF. “People are dying Kim” hahaha.

    1. WoodswomanWrites*

      Exactly! Unless someone works in a field such as law where billable hours need to be tracked, what is the point of all this? I would feel that management didn’t trust me to get my work done. This sounds like the perfect way to ensure that your employees look for another job.

      1. NotAnotherManager!*

        Sometimes, it’s not your manager but the people above them. I have a team that is hybrid – they bill their time to both customers and work on important internal projects – and my other team is as 100% customer billable as we can have them be. I was running into problems where the hybrid team, who is highly specialized and compensated accordingly, was getting dinged by upper management for not billing as many customer hours. I explained it to them for years (positive business outcomes, success stories, my own calculations), but they live in the billable time world and also don’t really understand what my hybrid team actually does. Since the team was already doing partial time billing for customer projects, we just set them up with project codes for the internal work they did and had them record all time so the grumpy people twice removed (but making decisions about hiring and comp) could see the info in a format they understood. As a side benefit, it also settled a long-running dispute over how much they were being asked to do work another team really should have been once I could quantify the time.

        My spouse also works for a unit of the federal government that uses project time tracking to charge their agency’s business units for their time. It’s not client-billable like legal or consulting, but they use that to allocate the FTE costs based on who uses their services the most. Our PMO does something similar for project tracking but without the chargeback aspect.

        1. Mockingjay*

          “so the grumpy people twice removed (but making decisions about hiring and comp) could see the info in a format they understood.”

          Yep. I bill to a contract and we have to track and report ad infinitum. I group hours by two items mentioned above: 1) fold bio and coffee breaks into “Task Time,” and 2) lump stuff into “Desk Time,” labeled as “Various admin: email review, task closeout.” (Desk Time is usually reading AAM.)

          We’re overstaffed, so of course The Powers That Be used our metrics to hire another person. Now we’re poaching work from each other because we have too much downtime. (There was a recent letter on this very subject.)

      2. NeedRain47*

        The point is to see how much is getting done and how long it takes. There are lots of reasons to do a time study besides billable hours or to crack down on employees. The best way to know how long it “should” take to do a task is to see how long it actually takes people to do it. You don’t track it every day forever, you do it for a couple weeks or a month to get an idea what the average is.
        When I’ve participated in time studies no one expected us to be accounting for every minute of every day, just time spent on specific tasks.

        1. Software Dev (she/her)*

          I feel like these kind of studies only work for teams where people are actually working on one task at a time, though which is generally not the teams who need the studies.

          Consider this workflow:
          I begin my day checking and answering emails, then move to working on designing a teapot
          A colleague interrupts me with an urgent teapot issue and I spend 20 minutes walking them through it
          A client calls and I have a 15 minute chat with them about when their teapot will be ready.
          I go back to designing my teapot until an urgent client email arrives demanding I call them about a teapot issue. I spend 20 minutes researching the issue and then another 30 minutes convincing them everything is okay.

          Unless I am actually a robot, I probably haven’t remembered to change whatever time tracking software I’m using for every one of these disruptions. I’m either going to go back and fudge the numbers or its going to look like I spent more time on just making the teapot than I did. Also, and this is anecdotal, it has been my experience that teams that are like this generally know that the issue is they don’t have dedicated time to do their work and so things take longer, but management insists on timetracking studies anyway.

            1. Gatomon*

              This is my life in telecom! We’ve recently been asked to track time to projects better and I feel I’m doing a pretty good job, but still 4/8 hours a day to projects is my high mark. I probably average 3 hours a day. Partially this is because there is still some work uncaptured, but mainly it’s the frequent interruptions for other pressing issues because we’re short staffed.

          1. Gumby*

            I keep a small pad of paper right by my computer on which I log the time when I switch projects. It is way faster than any software-based solution would be. At the end of the day I put the times into a spreadsheet so I can tally up time spent on each project.

            I am in the habit so very seldom forget to mark down a change. Bathroom breaks get assigned to whatever project work they fall in the middle of (or end of). Conversations that are super short – like 2 minutes – also don’t get tracked separately. Longer conversations get logged and charged to either a particular project or overhead depending on the conversation topic.

            We only have to report in 15-minute chunks though, so if the teapot spout project happens to have a 5 minute bathroom break included today – eh, it will balance out when, next week, I work on it for 20 minutes total for the day and round that down to .25 hours.

            But we have to do this so that our time can be charged to the right contract. Very few people here have the luxury of working on just one contract and I definitely don’t. It’s not any sort of productivity study or anything.

          2. doreen*

            It’s ridiculous to expect that someone will be working every minute of every day in most environments – but it can sometimes be useful to know how long a particular task or project takes. I had an employee once who objected to some new tasks (about 5 hours a week) that were being added to her job. She said she didn’t have time to add them to her existing assignment but absolutely refused to give me an estimate of how much time she spent on each case she was assigned ( receiving applications , screening the application for eligibility, interviewing the eligible applicants, sending three form letters to ask for recommendations and then writing a report) claiming it was impossible. I then asked her to keep track of how long she spent on each task. I wasn’t asking her to use time-tracking software or demanding precise times – thirty minutes screening five applications or an hour sending the three letters on each of five applications would have been enough for me. She didn’t do that either. So finally, I had to sit down with her and go through it step by step. Everything seemed to be taking longer than it should have – but then we got to the “sending the letter” She claimed it took her three weeks for that step, because she had to allow three weeks to receive the responses. Which was true, but it didn’t mean she couldn’t be assigned any other tasks while she was waiting for the responses. To this day, I wonder if she really thought she was entitled to do no work while she waited for the responses, or if she just realized that that was the only way she could turn seven or so hours a week of work into thirty-five. ( I didn’t go into it knowing that she spent that little time working – I was pretty sure she had time to perform the additional tasks , but I didn’t realize that she had that little work, probably because it didn’t occur to me that someone with much free time would call attention to themself) .

          3. hbc*

            Really late to this, but there are some really good ways to assess stuff like interruptions. Our assemblers were constantly being interrupted and not building things, and getting compliance on time-tracking was going to be impossible even if it was worth spending more time on non-building tasks. So we created a simple chart with common reasons for being interrupted and then had them make a tick mark every time it happened. After a couple of weeks, we reviewed the results and then picked the most frequent and/or most easily addressed things and started working on reducing their impact.

            I would also only track something like “number of things designed per engineer per week” to look for trends. Self-reported “X hours per project” doesn’t get you good data.

          4. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is the kind of world that I work in, too. We recently got a new tool that can be turned on (or off or selectively on) in the timekeeping system to monitor the time you spend in productivity applications, which you can then click on and assign a project ID and turn into a time entry very quickly. It’s voluntary, and, even as upper management, I cannot see the capture info for anyone except me. (I don’t want to, but I asked the system owner to confirm it was not technically possible in case anyone on my team asked. I have zero interest in seeing that level of information for one, much less 50 people.)

            The timekeepers love it because their days are rarely solid blocks of time, and this makes an admin task simple and accurate. Our system also has timers, time description templates, and other efficiency builders so that people don’t have to spend tons of time writing their time down in minute detail and then having to translate it into project time entries.

      3. SeluciaMD*

        But even when you have billable hours this doesn’t have to be the norm! I used to be a paralegal in a big DC firm and depending on your role (I also functioned as our practice group’s administrator as we did kind of niche work so I also had non-billable tasks as part of my job) the firm would basically set a benchmark for you on billable hours during a week or month, or on a certain client or project depending on your work.

        Often times, you’d meet that threshold and then some because you were working on a big case or juggling a bunch of client stuff and so clocking a lot of overtime. But if you weren’t, and it was just a normal week, there was an understanding that there are always parts of a job – even one with billables – that you can’t easily bill to anyone. Checking email. Updating your time-clock entries for the stuff that IS billable. HR-related stuff. Sending files offsite. Retrieving files from offsite. Having a conversation with a colleague. Staying current on things related to your field (like reading up on a recent court decision or policy change for a government agency related to your work). Weekly in-house staff or team meetings. Not to mention the personal bits of being a human like going to the bathroom or getting a drink or reading AAM for five minutes so you don’t lose your mind.

        This VP has some very odd ideas about how people should spend their time. I hope the OP is able to push back because that is bananacrackers.

        1. Lizziana*

          I used to work in a firm, and it was understood that only a certain percentage of my time would be billable. It varied by weeks, and my supervisor would check in if it seemed like my billable hours were low, but it wasn’t an accusatory thing, it was more just making sure that I had enough work and confirming I was working on the firm’s priorities. (I was a law clerk/student, so my time was much cheaper than the attorneys and even the paralegal, so I ended up doing a higher level of overhead work, but he wanted to track that and make sure the attorneys were assigning me meaningful work and not just dumping the admin work they didn’t want to deal with but really should be doing themselves).

      4. Aphrodite*

        I once worked in a grant-funded department at the college. One day my supervisor told me I to account for every single minute of my time for the past week. Uh, past week? I am not sure I would be able to remember what I worked on that morning, let along how much. time was spent on tasks for different grants. Only piece of fiction I have ever written.

        1. Salymander*

          I had to do that when the medical office I was working at joined a brand new, larger organization. The supervisor at the larger org came in to our office to look us over, and asked that we write down everything we had done for the past 2 weeks, including times the tasks were done and how long they took. I just gave an approximate schedule and they never mentioned it again. I think some higher up decided it was a good idea, but never had anyone follow through with using all the data.

        1. Not One of the Bronte Sisters*

          That is absolutely true. When I was in private practice, we were told that the goal was to work 10 hours a day and bill 8 of them. That was pretty good. Many times I billed more hours than that, because I was very busy on time-intensive matters. I also remember that when I had started working there, and was getting all the work done to be admitted to practice, that was non-billable time, but the firm certainly wanted me to do it! Finally, as a real estate associate, part of my job was to do personal real estate deals for the partners. They never got billed but for me it counted as billable time. Very sensible all around.

      5. HelloHello*

        Even with law I guarantee you the majority of lawyers are not timing their bathroom breaks and deducting them from billable hours.

      6. TheWriter*

        We track our time at work – not for pay since we are salaried, and not for billable hours – it’s mainly so the managers know what projects we are working on so they can prepare/budget for the future within their departments. It’s not too big of a deal. Most of my time is bucketed in various “documentation” projects, “internal training” for those projects when I am doing research, “internal meetings” when we have meetings, and “administrative” for everything else (filling out time sheets, breaks, computer or hardware issues that pop up, etc.)

    2. kk123*

      Also does the VP not have enough to do that they are monitoring their employees this closely? So long as my team gets their work done well and on time, I don’t care how long it takes them or when they do it.

      1. merope*

        And to that end: where is the VP billing the time she spends thinking about how her subordinates are billing their time?

    3. Jora Malli*

      At my workplace, we’re all supposed to submit a weekly report to our supervisors. It doesn’t have to be nearly as detailed as OP is describing, just 3-5 bullet points of activities we did each day. I hate it both from the supervisor end and from the contributor end. There are so many more things I could accomplish if I wasn’t A) reviewing itemized lists of how my direct reports spent their time last week and/or B) completing my own itemized list for my supervisor, which must include a summary of my staff’s lists.

      What if we just trusted that our staff were doing good work until they give us reason to believe they’re not?

      1. More Than an Admin*

        Precisely! “What if we just trusted that our staff were doing good work until they give us reason to believe they’re not?”

    4. Kali*

      Same, and I have a lot of work on my desk! But, for instance, I spent about 2 hours (spread out in little bits and pieces) dealing with an internal issue last week. It was mostly me walking around and talking to the different people who apparently can’t just talk to each other. I played the role of the unnecessary intermediary. Of course that counts as work, but it wasn’t exactly *efficient*, so how would that play out in this system? It makes me annoyed all over thinking about it!

      (I’m typing about work – does this count as work time? Lol.)

      1. Salymander*

        Sounds like Galaxy Quest, where Sigourney Weaver’s character’s whole job was repeating everything the computer said to the crew. It seems very inefficient and it must have been tremendously annoying to you.

    5. Cat Tree*

      Yeah, I’ve seen this kind of thing at work and it can be done well or poorly. Most importantly it should be set up to be temporary or periodic from the beginning. Get your data and then use it and stop collecting it. But also, it usually works best to break the work into big buckets of half hours, hours, or even days depending on the type of work.

    6. iglwif*

      It IS exhausting to think about. I used to have a job where we billed time to clients each month–but only time spent on certain types of tasks–and we started out tracking all our on-task time because hey, we had this cool new tool to do it with … and after the first month we switched to tracking ONLY the time spent on billable tasks, because tracking everything else had become ridiculous.

      I’m happy to say however that tracking break time was too ridiculous to even be considered.

  2. MB*

    I’m not sure how sophisticated the time tracking software you’re using is, but when I had to use very manual time tracking I would label that extra time as “admin”.

    1. Person from the Resume*

      I was going to say that my office had the category of admin time for that kind of thing including computer issues that crop up and time spent entering time into the tracking software.

      1. quill*

        Yes! Emails, writing up your to-do list, making follow up notes, spending 15 minutes trying to parse the updates to the time off request process, having to google “how to set up a word template” because you don’t remember… all of that is admin. As is tending to the employee.

      2. NotAnotherManager!*

        I did an analysis of non-client time for a peer in another department (because I have time analysis experience and they do not, and I also had a fun new linguistic analysis tool I wanted to test drive), and one of my recommendations to them was to have a category for computer issue-related delays, given how frequently they appeared in her team’s “other/misc.” time category. (As an aside, never have an “other/misc.” time category or guess where everything will end up. Nearly everything can be rolled into a project, professional development, project/personnel supervision, or business communications.)

    2. Leilah*

      Yeah, for professions that have to bill clients based off of hours worked the normal way to handle it is to put down any time that isn’t billable to a client as “admin” (and possibly even more specific categories if that makes sense for the business/role).

      It is not normal to track this in my job, but when we had a new manager she asked us to log our time for a few weeks so she could get an idea of where we spend our time. However! She had us do it in 15 or 30 minute blocks, whatever made the most sense. Since it wasn’t about billing anyone but instead just to get an idea of how much time various tasks were taking up, I had no problem just throwing an hour on this project or 15 minutes on that item even when 5-10 minutes of that time was technically getting coffee or chatting with my co-worker about her new dog before we got down to business on our call. I really think it’s bizarre if your boss is asking to track your time to the minute for a general “get to know what is taking up your work time” assignment.

      1. Antilles*

        The other normal way to do it is just not being that detailed deep into tracking in your time sheets. I work in an industry where we bill clients by the hour and nobody tracks their time to the 2-minute increment or even 5-minutes. Nobody. The usual standard is either 0.25 hours, with many (most?) using 0.5 hours as their minimum increment.
        If you’re working on a report from 2:30 to 2:55, then go to the bathroom or grab a coffee or someone walks in your office to chit-chat about the ballgame, you don’t write it up as “25 minutes on Project 123, 5 minutes of admin”, you just say “0.5 hours of Project 123” and leave it at that.

        1. Antilles*

          (To be fair, this does vary by the industry – I’ve heard BigLaw really does break it down to like a tenth of an hour or something, but a lot of other industries don’t, so your 5 minute bathroom break just gets rolled into your 0.5 hours or whatever)

          1. Zelda*

            Yep, I would tend to include “update my list of tasks and decide that now is the time to work on Task B” as part of Task B, unless given a specific category for “administration and resource allocation” or similar.

          2. Princess Trachea-Aurelia Belaroth*

            I was a paralegal once, and I would track my time by the minute while I was doing it. But then when I entered it at the end of the day, the software only accepted time in decimal numbers, not minutes, so yes, it was rounded to the nearest tenth of an hour. This was a small local firm.

            This was probably unethical, but I did as Allison advises this person–I included bathroom breaks and task switching in my billing for the task it coincided with. My boss would ask what was going on if I didn’t log around 8 hours every day, even in my second week, when I literally didn’t have anything in my inbox to do (I spent a lot of time reviewing old documents in the server to train myself, which I couldn’t bill anyone for).

            With the rounding, I often ended up with a bit over 8 hours billed every day, even though I made sure to leave on time, and I did take a couple breaks.

            1. Never Boring*

              I am a paralegal, too, and that’s pretty much how I record my time. But many of the projects I work on are flat-fee, so it’s not like every minute I bill gets passed along to the client. And I tend not to bill time to clients for reading most emails unless I wrap it into another task I am doing that day for that client, unless the email is very long or involved, so it pretty much evens out by the end of the case.

        2. A Wall*

          This is how did it when I worked in a field that required time tracked in 15 minute increments with as much billable as possible. We had a category for non-billable admin time, which is where something like 10 minutes of going over a bunch of various emails would go. But if I was working on something billable to xyz project and during that time got coffee or went to the bathroom, that’s still in xyz’s block of time. I wouldn’t call it out separately, that would be unnecessary and also not wanted.

          Now how many minutes can get rolled into billable time is going to vary a lot by industry and specific billable entity and etc, but since this is literally just time tracking to see which areas take up the most time, it’s even less important to clip out the 2 minutes deciding what to do next or whatever.

      2. Beth*

        At my horribly toxic former job, my horribly toxic bosses decided one week that we needed to do detailed time tracking. This was just one item in a long list of stupid ideas they came up with, most of which undermined morale while sucking away the time we needed to do our jobs in a desperately understaffed office.

        I didn’t trust them to use the information for any purpose other than feeling that they were Managing Like Bosses, so I massaged my numbers to eliminate any mention of breaks, pauses, admin, etc. I figured I’d rather get a reprimand for not providing enough detail, instead of getting a reprimand based on them weaponizing whatever details I gave them.

        One of my co-workers — the one who was the most overworked and undersupported — was rigorously honest in her tracking, and got reprimanded because her numbers showed that she had more work than could be done in a 40-hour work week. Well, duuuuh. She did. She gave them numbers illustrating that she was being given more work than she could do, and they came back with a reprimand.

        I am not a fan of time tracking.

    3. Momma Bear*

      I was thinking same – some kind of administrivia or overhead number for the stuff you do that’s not quite anywhere, or just call that coffee break/chat with coworker part of x project. If the chat at all pertains to the task, put it in the same bucket.

    4. JoleneCarlDean*

      If it’s not billables to client, and just internal tracking, I would do as others suggested – it’s not 0.4 project, 0.1 bathroom….it’s 0.5 project.

    5. MsM*

      We had a “strategic planning” category I found extremely useful for “I need to think about how to approach this thing, and I’m going to go take a walk while I do that.”

    6. MCMonkeyBean*

      Yeah, even if the boss is unreasonable, if this is a software used by lots of companies they almost certainly have something built in for tracking these types of things right?

      And if you are the only one the VP is questioning on this then it is almost certain other people are using something like that. I would definitely ask a couple coworkers how they’ve been handling it.

    7. Beth*

      Yep, this is what I came here to say. This is all work time–it’s just not easily attributable to a particular client or project, or is in small enough chunks of time that time tracking systems can’t easily capture it. (When I’ve worked in roles that asked me to fill out time tracking, the smallest increments were usually .25 hours, not 2 minutes!) Just sum it all up in ‘admin’ or whatever similar category is available in your system. I bet your coworkers are doing so already.

    8. münchner kindl*

      I wonder about that, too – when I worked in companies where hours were billed to individual clients or projects,

      1. shortest time was 15 minute increment, because smaller than that was absurd, it would take more time to enter than it was worth

      2. There was a general account for “admin” stuff, like writing documentation, making coffee – or filling out the time sheet.

    9. Quinalla*

      Yeah, typically this goes into admin or general overhead. I’m a consulting engineers so like lawyers we track our time, but only down to 15 minute increments, so little stuff like coffee/bathroom/etc. is going to just get rolled into other tasks. When I take my lunch break or if I have to run a personal errand or take a break that is 15m or longer – yeah that goes to overhead.

      I also have overhead meetings, etc. too – don’t you have any other non-project but definitely work time?

      Also it is super weird for them to expect you to be 100% utilized, we don’t even expect our co-ops/interns to be that, we ask them to aim for 90-95% utilized – not including lunch/break time and general employees aim to be 70-80% utilized, some more or less depending on role. Very weird expectations!

    10. Snowball*

      I work at a big 4 accounting firm and hours I’m working but no client chargeable is definitely admin. This includes doing my timesheets but also…chitchat

    11. Oakenfield*

      Yes, I came to the comments to say this same thing. Admin was used as a catch-all when I was working billable hours. Also, round things up. 26.8 minutes = 30.

    12. SleepyKitten*

      Yeah at my last job we similarly had to have at least 7.5 hours of tracked time, but it was clear that breaks (tea, smoking, toilet, screen, office cricket) were to go under Admin: General Admin, and so long as your admin didn’t take up more than an hour a day on average you were fine. Our software used to lose time as well so it was just standard to add on enough admin to bring you up to minimum at the end of the day.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Even the office Roomba needs to stop to get cleaned and recharge once in a while.

    2. Koalafied*

      Not long after I began managing someone who does a completely different type of work than I do, I did have her track her time for a while so that I could get a better handle on how her time was being spent overall. But I stressed to her that I was not worried about her productivity overall, and I didn’t need her to account for every minute of the day. My primary interest was in seeing how her weekly hours were distributed across different kinds of work and determining whether she was spending her time on the most valuable tasks or getting bogged down in less important stuff. I gave her a time-tracking template she could use for 2 weeks, but told her that it was a tool for her to use and that all I needed back from her was something along the lines of, “In the last two weeks, I spent X% of my hours in meetings, X% grooming and styling our llamas, X% helping people on other teams improve the styling for their llamas, X% cleaning up the llama boarding rooms, X% emailing behavior report cards to the llama owners, and X% answering emails internally.”

      1. Dinwar*

        I had someone do that to me once. It was specifically to point out (to me and the management team) that one person wasn’t enough. I was constantly worried about saying “No” or “We don’t have the staff”, so was allowing myself to be steamrolled. Once we put it on paper it became obvious that things were really, really bad. And I only really did it for a week, not as a constant thing.

  3. Yeeeeeesh*

    I would love to see this VP’s hourly productivity reports! I’m sure they are at 100% from the moment they walk in the door, right?

    1. Nanani*

      I know you’re joking but any time you see a puff piece about how some too-rich person is SOOO PRODUCTIVE (hence justifying their wealth) it usually does include things like workouts and personal grooming as work (because their ~image~ is work when you’re that rich I guess) as well as eliding all the assistants and staff who get them coffees and whatnot that the rest of us need to do ourselves.

      1. Scriveaaa*

        Can’t like this comment enough. I feel a lot of pressure to constantly maximize my productivity, whether that’s at work or even for personal life goals. It’s so important to read between the lines on those recommendations and see what these famous people AREN’T including time for( things like meal prep for the week, doing laundry, random office tasks that get delegated to you, etc.)

        I’m reading a book right now called Four Thousand Weeks: Time Management for Mortals that has been incredibly enlightening about this kind of thing.

        1. Elsie*

          Along these lines, so many time management and productivity wisdom revolves around delegating. While delegating is an important skills for senior folks, it’s pretty useless advice to someone in a more junior position. But there’s this weird assumption that everyone just has an army of staff under them to delegate their work to lol

          1. Nanani*

            VP doubtless has someone below them, maybe a dedicated assistant, that filter calls so only important things get through, that gets their coffee and runs to the printer or mail room, that schedules things for them and handles phone-tag situations, that gets other people to come to meetings with VP rather than VP needing to drop by and hope for the best, and so on.
            Plus a VP can doubtless put down random casual chitchat as “impromptu meeting” or something along those lines without needing to justify it as a specific work task.

          2. Ina Lummick*

            Oh that reminds me of this useless time management course (it was the only non-lab and non-managerial HR course I could be sent on – so I did that) the whole afternoon was avoiding distractions.

            I was in the customer service team at the time – you are meant to be interupted!! (And I definitely can’t delegate to anyone!)

        2. Marion Ravenwood*

          This. I see the phrase “You have the same 24 hours in the day as Beyoncé” bandied about a lot in relation to productivity. Sure, but Beyoncé has people to buy her groceries, cook her meals, clean her house, do her laundry, reply to her emails, book her transport/accommodation when she travels, run her errands etc, in a way that most regular people don’t – maybe some of those things, but almost certainly not all of them – and that takes a lot longer than perhaps you might think.

          (This is not a dig at Beyoncé specifically by the way, but more that she is the person I see cited most often in these examples. You could quite easily replace Beyoncé with Taylor Swift or Sheryl Sandberg or Bill Gates or whoever.)

          1. Lucretia*

            Lol, I worked for a place that was ridiculously demanding, inhumane place, in which the VP decided we all needed to approach our work inspired by the accomplishment of Lance Armstrong. The time tracking to achieve “efficiency “ was mathematically impossible to meet expectations. And so, a great many people at that place wound up doing what we would find out Lance was doing. Cheating. While the more honest staff were belittled, demeaned, and gaslit.

      2. SenseOrSensibility*

        Right, turns out there are a lot more hours for ~productivity~ in the day when you have someone to cook for you, clean for you, and do your laundry.

  4. Wats*

    I worked at a company that had a general “Admin” task that you could log for stuff like this. I’d put in all my hours correlated to the work and then anything extra would go into this task that was used to cover general administrative type work. They made it clear that 5 min chats with colleagues, getting coffee, stretching your legs, etc could fit into this bucket. Maybe your company needs something like this.

    1. over-utilized*

      My company has this. “Admin” is for meetings, emails not associated with projects, etc etc. My boss would have a heart-attack if I recorded time on this for getting coffee or going pee, as much as I’d love to submit it that way!

      1. over-utilized*

        (to be clear, everything submitted under “admin” has to have notes of exactly how that time was spent, and those notes are reviewed and approved/rejected by not only our team lead, but our department manager)

          1. Wisteria*

            People management is actual work, and part of people management is knowing what people are working on.

              1. OfOtherWorlds*

                If they’re smart they’re rubber stamping the time-sheet without looking at it unless someone has verbally pointed out a discrepancy.

    2. The New Wanderer*

      At my last job when we had to account for work hours and could technically do so in as little as 6 minute increments, there was an official rule that anything you did that was under half an hour in duration could be coded to the project code you felt was most appropriate. It only gave a general idea of how much time was spent to each project, but the general part also covered the “overhead” that any given project has which makes it more realistic to how people were spending their time than a hardcore “active task only” approach gives. I mean, if strict timekeeping methods show 4 hours for Project X and someone uses those results to plan future Project X work, Project X is always going to take longer in real terms and end up running behind schedule.

      In any case I think it’s highly likely that either the LW doesn’t know about the “admin” code that others are probably using, or is subscribing to a strict “sitting at desk actively performing task” assignment of time where others are more likely saying “this hour is X project, that hour is Y project” without a minute-to-minute breakout.

  5. over-utilized*

    As someone who is considered a “billable” resource and have my time broken up in 15 minute chunks, and is judged on “utilization” and “time on task”, I feel your pain. It’s utterly ridiculous to be expected to work every minute of the day. If that were the case, our workdays would be an hour or two longer. We strive for 80% utilization, which is 32 hours of a 40 hour work week. Ideally they’d like us to be at 90%, which is ridiculous, because that’s supposed to be all time that is billed to customers, which doesn’t then include internal meetings, documentation updates, system downtime, all the time we spend tracking our time, updating statuses, supporting closed projects, general troubleshooting and responding to emails, etc etc etc. That doesn’t ever account for the time spent going to the bathroom, getting coffee, chatting with a coworker, etc.

    But after multiple years of doing it, I’ve learned how to game the system, as have most of my coworkers. I guarantee your coworkers aren’t productive every minute of the day, so if you’re the only one that’s an hour short each day, find out how they are tracking that’s different than how you are tracking.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      There are many reasons I am happy I switched from defense to plaintiff’s side. On the personal quality of life front, it is that I *don’t* have to track billable hours. I will never go back to that.

    2. Abogado Avocado*

      OMG, yes, this!

      What you need are some phrases that you can input into your timekeeping program, like “Administrative review and assessment” or “strategic assessment of administrative tasks” or “Functional review of workload priorities”.

    3. Utilization goals*

      YES! As someone who works in the consulting world, all time spent at work is billed to a specific project. Any extra time, such as going to the bathroom, getting coffee, chatting with coworkers is technically not billable work. My utilization rate is 96%, meaning I can charge around 1.5 hours A WEEK to overhead or the “admin” task. This isn’t even enough time to read through and organize my inbox. The norm is to work longer days if you’re unproductive. For example, if I end up taking an extra hour to talk with coworkers one day, I either make up that time by staying later in the office that day, or making work a bit through lunch on a few days the rest of the week.
      It’s tough because individual raises and bonuses, and the overall group’s performance are partially based on how well you meet or exceed your utilization goal. As a small part of a much larger company, the higher ups just care about the numbers. You get used to the system over time, but the stress of reaching that goal never really goes away.

      1. Software Dev (she/her)*

        I—really wonder, do people not just—lie on these? Say they were working on project X when they were chatting with coworkers?

      2. Kes*

        Our expectation is, you bill 8 hours a day every working day to the project you’re on. I only break things out if I was in a half- or full-day course or workshop, say – otherwise I’ll just put 8 hours even if I was in an internal meeting, read AAM for a few minutes, chatted with coworkers etc. I actually got in trouble at one point when I was dealing with a personal emergency outside of work that was pulling me away at times for not billing 8 hours to the project (because I felt bad that I knew I wasn’t present and working all day, I put a bit of vacation hours each day) – they told me for less than a half day, just make up the time.
        At my old job we also had to track our time but had multiple projects – that was more of a pain, especially if you don’t always remember exactly what you spent all of your time on (I would fill it out at end of week). I eventually would just fill it in based on a rough breakdown of, say, 25% of the day on project A and 75% on project B.
        At one point they upped the expected hours “because we see most people are doing this already” – got a little pushback but went ahead with it anyway. At that point I kind of figured whatever, I’m not going to work more time but if they really want I will now consider lunch time part of the day and just break down whatever hours they want by percent of time spent on different projects

    4. L.H. Puttgrass*

      Fifteen-minute chunks? Ooooh, how luxurious!

      The BigLaw standard is to track time in tenths of an hour. Yes, that’s six-minute increments. It’s part of why billable hours targets that seem reasonable on first inspection really aren’t.

      There’s a really good article summary of this called “The Truth About the Billable Hour” (to avoid the moderation queue, I won’t post the link, but a search for “Yale The Truth About the Billable Hour” should bring it up), which estimates that to bill a typical target of 2,200 hours in a year (which, you’ll note, is already more than 40 hours/week), a lawyer would actually need to work over 3,050 hours. That’s over 58 hours per week, which is actually less than most BigLaw associates work, so the actual number of work hours needed is probably higher. And part of the reason for that is that “billable hours” are measures in six-minute increments that need to be justifiable as actual, productive work.

    5. Anonosaurus*

      Yeah, this. I have spent the last fifteen years tracking my work time in six minute increments and I am pretty used to it now. I don’t work in BigLaw from choice and one of the reasons for that is expectations about utilization rates. Nobody charges 8 hours work a day unless they’re in a trial and I personally can’t do back to back trials and remain functional. I did once work in a firm which had reasonable utilization targets but which was obsessed with time tracking and there are ways to maximize this without committing billing fraud which is obviously unacceptable. Find yourself a friendly attorney and get them to tell you their secrets!

    6. Letter OP*

      The hilarity of this whole thing is that my coworkers (including my boss!) routinely only track 3-4 hours per day because they aren’t using the software as much as I am; we’re still in implementation/training mode, so most people aren’t using it as much as I do.

      Once other people are actually using it more, then I can kind of figure out what the best approach is, but right now I’m the only one tracking anywhere near my full hours, which makes it kind of funny (and sad) that I’m getting complaints about not using all my time.

      1. Boof*

        I actually think it’s pretty cool to get a solid bead on how much time is actually spent working – but only to get a view of what’s normal not as a flail to try to wring revenue generating work out every last second of paid time
        That said if someone seemed less productive this kind of audit can help identify if they are undercounting sine effort vs spending too much time on something that isn’t important or needs to be cut (like if the most difficult client eats up so much time they need to hsve their rates increase). Etc

    7. Bethany*

      We also target 80% billability, but if I’m working for 4 hours on a project and in the middle of that I use the bathroom and make a cup of tea, I just roll that into the 4 hours.

      Our 20% non-billability is for staff meetings, proposals, ongoing training etc.

      1. Boof*

        If i am actually billing for time i don’t count bathroom breaks etc; but these are high rates for things that take 3-5 hrs –

    8. Office Rat*

      I’m also billable, and we have 5 hours a month for admin, and the rest? It creates a scenario where you have to figure out how to game the system to a degree. I’m one of the faster workers, but I never charge less than a half hour to any task. I just start in the morning, keep a sticky of my time, and my logged hours, often show a time later in the day, than the actual time. It’s the only way. You cannot be 100% on task all day.

      Even worse, at my job, there is not training time, so as a trainer, I have to figure out where to put training hours. These are often logged to the client because we are technically working on their projects. We all do it. The system of billable hours is not perfect, but I am also not sure what they would do otherwise.

  6. Ozzie*

    I’ve gone through this as well, to find which tasks were the real time sinks in people’s days (with the idea of finding ways to then streamline these tasks). My specific job at the time was a LOT of “hurry up and wait”, which meant a lot of this kind of… ambiguous time where I was ready and willing to work, but there simply wasn’t work for me to be doing, so I used it to run to the bathroom, have impromptu meetings, etc. Having come from a very toxic workplace, I still felt the need to make this look like working hours, so I definitely just did large blocs of time that included this waiting period so that it looked like I was fully occupied. (this particular task wasn’t one that could be streamlined without some restructuring, which we were not able to do at the time)

    Basically, while the idea for this kind of thing is good in theory, the way to VP is looking at it is exactly how you encourage your employees to lie and make themselves look productive than they actually are – for fear of literally this. It also will just make tasks take longer because they’re filling time.

    The VP is absolutely being unreasonable. Push back!

  7. Dax*

    I once had a manager (who was the VP of HR for our company) who told me he was happy if people put in a solid 6 hours of work per 8 hour day. That always stuck with me, and I reflect on it when I’m having a crappy day and not getting much done.

    Also, I could not deal with this level of micromanagement long-term. A time study for a couple of weeks? Ok, but I still don’t like it. But logging every minute for the rest of my career? No thanks, I’ll work somewhere else.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Yep I agree with that standard. It may even be high in some cases – like I’d consider that a *good* day so if it averaged out to less than that between less than good days and amazing high achieving days, I probably wouldn’t blink at a 5.3-5.7 over a substantial period of time. Maybe a little less with pandemic stress.

    2. Sakuko*

      I’m a programmer and 5-6 hours is how we calculate our regular output per workday. I think that is a pretty usual figure to use in that context.

  8. Magenta Sky*

    6 to 6.5 hours of actual work during an 8 hour day isn’t normal. It’s unusually productive. The average in the US is more like 4.

    Your manager is not connected to the reality of the work world.

    1. Two Dog Night*

      Can I ask where you got that 4 hour figure? That’s… definitely not my experience. Maybe it varies by industry, but I’d say people are generally working productively at least 75% of their scheduled time.

      1. Marie*

        Depending on which study you look at, research suggests that people are only typically productive three to five hours out of any given workday (that doesn’t include meeting times I think).

        1. Don*

          and as I recall this was reflecting just basic human nature re: focus. Maybe there were some people who were actually staring at that spreadsheet for 6 hours. But actually /accomplishing/ thing? Most folks have a quality attention span of about 50 minutes. If you’re trying to grind extended intervals on a regular basis you’re probably not at your peak.

        2. Two Dog Night*

          If it doesn’t include meeting times, that makes more sense to me–I easily spend an hour or two in meetings every day. Ugh. But I work for a consulting firm, and if meetings relate to a client project, they’re billable. I usually don’t have trouble getting 7 hours of actual work recorded, and that mostly seems like productive time to me, so I’m really curious about differences between industries.

      2. Magenta Sky*

        I suspect it varies considerably by industry. Somebody working on an assembly line is going to be pretty close to 8 hours a day. Office work, not so much. The numbers Marie mentions have been coming up in research for decades. I haven’t seen one recently, but it’s been pretty consistent.

        (And Americans are, hands down, more productive than any other country, according to some studies. Largely, I suspect, because of the high degree of automation and hi-tech we use.)

      3. DataSci*

        I think a lot depends on how much time you spend in meetings, and whether you consider time in meetings to be “working productively”. I spend 2-3 hours in meetings a day and definitely do not consider that to be “productive”.

      4. kiki*

        I guess I feel like in my work, even if I spend 6-7 hours of the day working, I know that in a pinch I could do the same amount of work in 4. But that would be me in the absolute ZONE, kind of frantic, and it’s absolutely exhausting, so I wouldn’t be able to work at that pace every day. There are also some days where I am coding for 6-7 hours, but then the next day I look back on that code and realize there was a much simpler way to go about it and completely scrap that work. Is that productive? Yes and no, but it’s just the way coding jobs go sometimes. So I can completely buy that the average is 4 for my job. Also, just all the time being like, “Why isn’t this working????? Oh, silly reason that should have been obvious.”

    2. A Poster Has No Name*

      6 hours is the assumption of a full days of productive work for estimating purposes for Agile projects. At my company, at least, so I’m not sure if that is standard for Agile or just my company, but 6 hours seems reasonable for most jobs.

      4 hours seems low, unless you’ve just got a bit of a lull in work or something like that.

      1. TechWorker*

        We used to use 6 (with 1.5 hrs/day attributable to meetings/email, with project leads or mgrs with more overhead) but then had to move to a non configurable version of the software that uses 8 hr days… it’s fine, we just treat 4 hours as ‘roughly half a day’ and scale accordingly, but it is a bit of a faff! (And this reminds me I should make it very clear to the newbies we’re not actually expecting 8 hours of productive work a day…)

    3. SenseOrSensibility*

      Oh good, I feel better now. I was like… uhhhh… six entire productive hours? A day??? I truly think I could get the same amount done in 4 hours a day that I do in 8.

      I just can’t sit behind a desk and focus for that long without having to take a break, walk around, talk to coworkers, get some coffee, etc.

  9. sacados*

    If the VP and OP’s manager are not the same person, I also wonder if this might not be the manager pulling a bit of a Guacamole Bob situation.
    Like — VP, as stated, wants to be able to track what clients/projects are taking up the most time. VP also understands that this does not mean people will be reporting exactly 35 hours of tracked “productive” time. Meanwhile, OP’s manager is either genuinely misunderstanding the VP’s intentions or possibly feels like they can use this as a chance to show off how productive their team is and thus is going a bit rogue. VP might be honestly surprised to find out that one of the managers is putting this kind of pressure on their team!

    1. Reluctant Manager*

      This–if they’re smart, VP might be looking for “this organization is spending 100 man-hours power week submitting expenses, so spending $10k/year on a system that saves 15 min per expense is smart.” Or upgrading your internet speeds could save tons of time. Or we’re wasting a ton of time on meetings. A smart VP would know that using this to gauge overall hours will be prime to error from employees trying to get to 35 or 40 or 80 to make a point.

    2. Green great dragon*

      Yes! I read it differently to Alison – if VP and manager are different, VP may genuinely just want to see who’s taking up the most time, and it’s manager who is concerned about the missing minutes, presumably worried it makes her look bad to the VP if her team aren’t working every second?

      Definitely makes sense to think about logging these things as part of the work, which they are, but maybe it’s a problem of communication between VP and manager (and VP and everyone) rather than VP having daft expectations.

      1. Letter OP*

        You’ve got it correct – so far, VP (my grand-boss) hasn’t raised any concerns about people tracking less than 7 hours per day, it’s coming from my direct manager.

        I do think there’s a bit of the “I want to make sure people are being productive” and micromanaging coming from the VP here, that she’s cloaking in “oh no, it’s about seeing where our time is going.” But it hasn’t been explicitly stated, and I think she’s trying to avoid coming across as micromanaging.

        My boss – not the VP – is the one who is concerned that I don’t have 7 hours of trackable work per day. And of course I’m the only person who reports to her who is currently on this software, so I think she’s “picking on” me because she doesn’t have any one else to compare to. (Especially since nobody else using the software is actually tracking more than a handful of hours at this point.)

      2. Letter OP*

        You’ve got it correct – so far, VP (my grand-boss) hasn’t raised any concerns about people tracking less than 7 hours per day, it’s coming from my direct manager.

        I do think there’s a bit of the “I want to make sure people are being productive” and micromanaging coming from the VP here, that she’s cloaking in “oh no, it’s about seeing where our time is going.” But it hasn’t been explicitly stated, and I think she’s trying to avoid coming across as a micromanager.

        My boss – not the VP – is the one who is concerned that I don’t have 7 hours of trackable work per day. And of course I’m the only person who reports to her who is currently on this software, so I think she’s “picking on” me because she doesn’t have any one else to compare to. (Especially since nobody else using the software is actually tracking more than a handful of hours at this point.)

        1. LTR,FTP*

          I had a somewhat similar situation. I’ve tracked my time for years, as I work in a billable profession. All the little stuff goes under “Admin” and it’s never been an issue. I started a new role last year, though, and there’s a different person reviewing timesheets (this person is my peer fwiw, we are both senior level managers).

          She pinged me about having an average of half an hour per day of “admin” time on my timesheet. I was nonplussed, to say the least. I ultimately told her that when we have three :50 long zoom meetings scheduled back to back, the :10 out of each hour was not going to be spent doing anything productive. She was all “well if you can detail where that time is going it would be helpful to me” and I was basically “suggestion noted” and left it at that.

          Maybe that’s not the best way to handle the issue but she hasn’t come after me about it again and my boss clearly doesn’t care.

            1. Green great dragon*

              [Resolves to create a category ‘responding to managerial enquiries’ if ever asked to track time]

    3. Ama*

      Yes, I did wonder if maybe the instructions for tracking were just not communicated clearly, given that the OP and their manager seem to have different ideas of what the end result should be.

  10. Eliza C*

    To reiterate Alison’s last few points, your coworkers probably aren’t being as accurate in their time entry/tracking as you are. We have a similar system in my office that uses 15 minute increments for our productive time, which helps give some leeway for other tasks and small breaks. I would consider instituting a personal rounding policy for your entries that you’re comfortable with. In addition, I would also consider tracking time per project instead of per activity, as suggested. Otherwise, I find I personally get bogged down with trying to figure out where all of my odd minutes and moments go.

  11. Important Moi*

    I just have thoughts.

    Is this person new to management? Did they come from an industry where logging in your time if in 7 or 15 minute increments is the norm?

    Alison’s proposed questions are very polite. I had all the same thoughts, but my language was very different.

    What if they have a timeframes they consider appropriate for using the bathroom, getting a cup of coffee, speaking to colleagues, and figuring out priorities and what to tackle next? I think Alison should have provided a script for that as well.

    I would like an update if possible.

    1. pancakes*

      Those of us in industries where we log our time in increments that small don’t pretend to never do these things; what we do is bill them to Admin rather than to a client.

  12. Louise*

    This sounds like a billable hours model like law or public accounting and those are very rough – it’s mentally taxing to always be worrying about client budgets and utilization percentages and watching the clock waiting for coffee to brew because every minute is a hit against your utilization. Good luck pushing back!

    1. Massive Dynamic*

      Public accountant here. We do what Alison says – roll up your bathroom break and 5min breather into the task you just finished or the next task on your list. As long as it’s spread fairly among clients as you work on them, it’s fair and reasonable to do.

      Also, we account at 15-minute increments so there’s a natural rounding up/down happening all the time. If I chat with a coworker for 9 minutes about a client then the client’s getting billed 15 for our time connecting on their work. Same if we chat for 20.

    2. Letter OP*

      To be clear, we don’t actually have “billable” hours – we’re an internal service department in a larger company, serving internal clients within the same company. My profession doesn’t generally work on a billable hours model except when working as external consultants.

      This whole time tracking thing is new and not a technical requirement of the work, just something our VP wants to do – supposedly so we better understand which clients/tasks take up the most time, but likely in part so she can monitor productivity.

  13. Anya Last Nerve*

    Having worked at places where my time was billed or they did trackers like this one, I think trying to justify only “working” 6 hours a day will be a losing battle. Instead my view is: I’m working on project A. During the hour I work on it, I used the bathroom and run into a coworker and chat for 15 minutes. I still allot 1 hour to the project work and don’t deduct that time.

    1. over-utilized*

      This is what I do too. I also have the advantage that my clients are not charged for my time, I just have to report it – so if I’m given 15 hours on a project I’ll usually only use 10, but I’m going to record all 15 to make up for those extra minutes not spent actually being productive.

      And what is being productive anyway? Are you thinking about how to do the project/what to say to the customer when you’re peeing? Are you chatting with a coworker who also works on the project? There’s a lot of gray area of what “productive” actually means.

      1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

        This is what I do too. I also have the advantage that my clients are not charged for my time, I just have to report it – so if I’m given 15 hours on a project I’ll usually only use 10, but I’m going to record all 15 to make up for those extra minutes not spent actually being productive.

        I had a job like that, where my time on nonstandard tasks got billed back to the client. (E.g. you got the teapot for a fixed price, but if you wanted it filled with treats, it’d be an hourly rate for pain au chocolat, glazed scones, etc, and every treat should take a different amount of time). Which worked… until I reengineered the process to do passively what we used to do manually.

        We ended up with a cheat sheet in Excel showing us how much time to book for a given add-on task, since the truth would be booking ~90 seconds per multi-day order on it.

    2. Charlotte Lucas*

      That’s how I see it. Usually I’m thinking about the task even when I’m not actively “doing” it. But I do communications work, & a lot of time I need to walk away to sort out what I’m doing. (Writing isn’t just putting words on a page but all the stuff you do beforehand to get there & afterward to make it better.)

  14. Llellayena*

    I have a similar issue though no one has objected to how I’ve decided to log it. I toss a half hour of time under “Admin” every day that covers these random, non-billable bits and fudge the rest of the non-billable time into billable projects. I might be the only one in the office to do this, but I’ve run it past my boss and he’s fine with it so *shrug?

    1. Hlao-roo*

      At two different jobs I’ve been told to fudge all those little bits of time into the available project buckets. One job had an admin bucket, but engineers were only supposed to use ~1 hr of admin time per week (for our weekly group meeting) and all the other bathroom/chatting with coworkers/checking emails all was coded as project time. The other job did not have an admin bucket, so I put my 40 hrs every week under the various projects I was working on that week. I think this is a very common way of tracking time.

  15. Richard Hershberger*

    “talking to a coworker” a/k/a “spontaneous collaboration.” We are assured that this is so important that it justifies forcing people to spend many hours a week driving to the office, so surely no one would complain that it is not a productive use of time…

    1. Momma Bear*

      Exactly. So if my coworker comes by, asks about a teapot, then we spend a couple of minutes talking about our kids/weekend, I still tack it on to the teapot project because that’s what it was mostly about and it’s kind of team building for that project. Few people want to be seen as robots. (If I know his kid still isn’t sleeping through the night, I also won’t schedule really early meetings.)

    2. Irish Teacher.*

      One year my colleagues and I had a habit of having what I termed “unofficial department meetings” every Friday afternoon. I guess there were no English classes on at that time, since all the English department seemed to be free and we would usually get chatting and it would often turn into a “hey, you’re doing such a novel this year, aren’t you? I am thinking of using that with my class. What do they think of it?” or “my students are having a really difficult time with such a topic. Has anybody got any suggestions?”

      It was technically free time (and actually I was finished for the day at that point and could have left if I wanted but I usually stuck around for it because it was a good time to both get some planning done and just to have a chat) but we probably got more decisions made then and more collaboration than in official department meetings, which are often driven by an agenda imposed from above and not from the actual current concerns.

    3. Sparkles McFadden*

      Not to mention that we were all forced into open floor plans in order to facilitate spontaneous collaboration.

  16. KylieHR*

    I had a VP like this once. She demanded that since she was working 100 hours a week, everyone else could at least work every minute of their 40 hours. She used to literally sneak up behind you to try to catch you doing something that wasn’t work. This is the VP of a large multi-state company. Like if this is what you’re spending a bunch of time each day doing, no wonder you’re working extra hours. I hated this old witch so much. This place used to asset tag individual Bic pens. I couldn’t afford to quit, but I was so relieved when I was “asked to resign”.

      1. Lead Balloon*

        Apart from the fact that obviously no one at all that office has heard of the accounting concept of materiality, surely the resources needed to tag a cheap ballpoint pen and track its disposal at end of life must be greater than the value of the pen.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      She used to literally sneak up behind you to try to catch you doing something that wasn’t work.

      I bet she counted her time spent walking around the office and sneaking up on people from behind as valid work.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        I was thinking the same thing – how much of her “100 hours a week” was spent on this?

        The people I know who work 60 hours a week don’t even feel like they have time to spend worrying about other people checking their phones occassionally.

        1. Green great dragon*

          A certain UK senior politician currently sees it as a good use of time to wander round his department leaving passive-aggressive notes for people who are not at their desks and whom he therefore assumes are working from home. He doesn’t seem to have a reason for them needing to be in the office other than ‘we have paid for these offices’.

          He’s a 19th century escapee in other ways too.

        2. Just a different redhead*

          Yeah fortunately I don’t usually get up that high in weekly hours but when I do, I most assuredly don’t have any darn clue what anybody else was doing unless they specifically told me, and probably don’t even know what I was doing when, except by what I can subsequently tell from commits and logs… I’m sure I ate food during the work days, but couldn’t tell you when.

  17. Sunny*

    Are there specific projects and/or clients that the VP is actually interested in, or concerned about? Maybe another approach is to suggest people only track time for those items, which will give the VP a realistic data set to work with, without making everyone feel micromanaged.

    We’ve done this on my team sometimes, when we’re worried about the time suck of a specific project, or want to be able to explain to a stakeholder what the human cost is of something. We use it to assess future requests – like, if another department wants us to create a specific type of end product for them, we can tell them (or just our boss!) it take X hours from our team, and determine if it’s worth it.

    That might help redirect your VP, and get at what they’re really trying to find out. Assuming they’re an otherwise reasonable person, of course!

  18. MishenNikara*

    “I suspect she hasn’t thought realistically about how this stuff adds up”

    Her and every last retail/food service manager in existence quite sadly

    1. cubone*

      I had a boss who insisted my team did this. We were all very productive but it was a crappy business and there was just more work than is humanly possible to do. But god forbid he actually accept and acknowledge that, it’s much easier to put the onus back on workers.

      Anyways he made us track all this time and then had multiple meetings with each person to go through it in detail and basically accused everyone of lying/exaggerating. My meetings were just “how does an email take 10 min a day?” (Which is a conservative estimate) and I had to explain that THINKING is part of the process of DOING.

      My colleague and I calculated how much each team member likely spent on the tracking and the meetings with him to justify their own reporting of tracking and it was easily 50+ hours. Lol.

      1. kiki*

        I had to explain that THINKING is part of the process of DOING.
        This is such an important point! One challenge I’ve had in explaining this, though, is that some people don’t really think much before they do, so they don’t understand what other people are “wasting their time on.” The thinking is what makes my emails concise and comprehensible while your lack thereof is what makes your emails need 16 follow-up questions.

  19. I'm Just Here for the Cake*

    My manager started doing this when we started working from home in 2020, and I hate it. She presented it as allowing us to have better conversations about what we are working on during our one-on-ones and have documentation of what we have accomplished during end of the year reviews, but we all know its because she doesn’t trust that we will be working the whole day and she wants to micromanage our time. If feel your pain, LW!

  20. JHC*

    When my previous job did company-wide time tracking exercises (a month at a time once a year or so), we encouraged people to track this kind of “lost time” into the project they were decompressing from. That way, we got a picture of a “full” day while allowing for people’s humanity. (That said, we were not billing on the basis of time, which would make this approach untenable.) Some of us loved time tracking as a self-management tool and did it even when it wasn’t required, and other folks dropped it like a hot coal outside of the company-wide tracking periods. We still got the data we needed – and crucially, the purpose of collecting the data was to analyze company-wide time sucks in our service offerings and operational needs, not to monitor individual employees.

    1. L'étrangere*

      This is literally the only example of sane use of time tracking I have ever heard of. I’m sorry you’re already past that job JHC

      1. cubone*

        I had a former boss who occasionally suggested brief, limited bouts of time tracking (like for new employees, pre/post promotion, struggling employees etc). One of the things she would do was look for anything equaling 100% of your time as something to be fixed. She said you need to aim for 80% of your time to be filled because you will always need space for unexpected bits that come up and fill the remaining 20%.

        Best boss (and most productive AND happiest team) I’ve ever had by a landslide

        1. Ama*

          That’s such a good way to think of it! I’ve been trying to explain that basic idea to my newish team members, as they have been struggling with leaving space for the frequent, unpredictable things that pop up in our day to day but this is a much better way of articulating it than I’ve come up with so far.

  21. Another person here*

    I had two jobs (at different places!) that tracked time this way and I left both of them. Not client billing based jobs; I could not see how making me spend time tracking time brought any value to either org.

    We had an admin category in both jobs for things like breaks, phone calls and emails unrelated to projects, and the time we spent on timesheets. I learned to pad my time at the first job when my boss told me it was unacceptable to put more than 10% into admin time (which included 2 15 minute breaks). She didn’t notice when I just tacked idle time on to projects instead so I did that.

    The second job, same spiel, with the added bonus that I would get dinged on my annual performance rating if I either spent more than the allotted percentages on admin OR went over budgeted hours in my projects. I left that job a lot faster. Now I have a job where I am treated like a professional. It’s much better.

    1. Despachito*

      It seems you and I worked at one of those places together.

      The same billing to client projects or admin time, the same raised brows if there was too much admin time.

      1. Another person here*

        Maybe! Or there are too many of these places to count, which is even more sad.
        The kicker for me was, my “clients” were other internal departments and no actual money was being billed.

        The best part was – that time sheet wasn’t even the one used for payroll! There was a second time sheet for that, which just tracked daily hours worked (in an exempt job.) And if the two time sheets didn’t add up to the same amount my manager had to get involved.

        1. Despachito*

          That was a really smart move, must have “saved” a lot of time to have people fill them in twice and be careful that they match.

          Some people…

  22. Despachito*

    Does the tracking app really track you typing/doing things, or is it up to you to fill it in? If the latter, I’d be inclined to think that OF COURSE it is meant for you to include the natural breaks. I assume as no normal manager would micromanage your bathroom time and deduct that from your worked hours.

    I once worked for a company requiring us to fill in timesheets by 6-minute slots. But we considered it natural to include our bathroom/coffee breaks into that – if the working hours are 9-5, it is natural that people sometimes have to go to the bathroom/have a cup of coffee or a few words with a coworker. Nobody wants them to work overtime to make up for that, and nobody in their sound mind would expect that anyone would work from 9 to 5 without a single interruption let alone stay concentrated during all that time.

  23. mkl17*

    If she won’t be reasonable and give you an “Administrative” category, assign your admin/overhead time reasonably between your projects. The decompress time after a crappy meeting- billed to the crappy project. The 15 minute hallway chat to figure out which project is a bigger priority? Billed to the big priority.

    And encourage her to treat this like a once a year time study, rather than a permanent way of life. Talk about how important is is to treat this information like actionable data and to set aside time to evaluate the results. And what a morale drag it can become if it’s used as a permanent system. Especially in this day and age of high turnover and long recruiting cycles, don’t let your team make unforced errors and leave this this on permanently.

  24. Rocket Woman*

    I work in the private sector as a government contract, and have to keep track of my time in 6 minute increments. When I first started here I would get severe anxiety when I would spend more than 6 minutes in the bathroom, or talking to a coworker, and would deduct that from my day. Then I learned my coworkers charge all of that anyway. The only exception is actual lunch breaks or something, but someone told me “any short, normal task you need to do to stay alive and sane during the work day is chargeable time.” Still, though, when I’m working on multiple projects, tracking time to that extent is a pain.

    1. Katie Impact*

      I used to be the same way as a freelancer: I’d pause my time-tracking clock whenever I wasn’t physically at my computer and working, no matter for how short a time. Eventually I realized that no client actually cared if I took a couple of minutes to pee or grab a Diet Coke from the fridge on the clock, as long as the end result was good and the overall time billed was reasonable. Nowadays I count billable time on a project as the time during which I’m mentally in “work mode”, and I think it’s made me less stressed and more productive overall.

  25. Shiba Dad*

    At an old job I my time was billable and any non-billable time was considered “overhead”. I dealt with a lot of magical thinking from management about overhead.

    This was a small company. We had a full time IT person. When he left, I absorbed the IT duties. There was one month in particular that I had several things do deal with: setting up new laptops, replacing a router, etc. Overhead was 11% of my time that month.

    I received a nastygram about 11% of my time being overhead. Then all the billable staff received an email stating that the only overhead that we should have was filling out our timesheets. This ignored the weekly meeting that we had and other realities.

    1. Mallory Janis Ian*

      Ha I worked a job once where I was the office manager and everyone else was a designer — so their hours were billable, and *I* was the overhead.

  26. Not A Real Manager*

    From my view, if you’re salaried (and in some cases, even if you’re not) it’s weird to be concerned about what employees are doing with every minute of their time. Part of what you’re being paid for is “holding time” because in most office jobs, it won’t really take 8 hours of head’s down productivity to get stuff done. If someone is getting their work done well and on schedule, who cares how and when they got there (barring illegal and/or unpleasant activity, of course)?

    I guess there’s an argument to be made for “we want to know so we can assign you more work”, but that can be a morale killer and a needle that needs to be carefully threaded.

  27. L'étrangere*

    If you’re being flagged as the person who’s not working 100% of the time, its because everyone else has figured out your VP is a freak and wants to see this kind of lie. Don’t disappoint them. Whether you don’t declare something done till you start the next thing, or start the next right as you finish the last, there’s nothing to be gained here by excessive honesty and this is not the hill for you to die on. You are not billing clients, the point is only some kind of internal power struggle you should stay as far removed from as possible.

  28. LadyByTheLake*

    Attorney here — everyone knows that not every minute is “billable.” At my last firm was considered an unusually high producer in my firm because I could routinely get 6.5 billable hours into a nine hour workday. It took a lot to be able to do that! Plus, aren’t those impromptu conversations with people why the bosses want workers in the office?

    1. Glomarization, Esq.*

      Also a lawyer and can confirm that 6.5 hours is on the high end of what I’d be billing in an ordinary day. Easier to get there if I’m in court on on a settlement conference all day, but harder if I have a million little phone calls to make and e-mails to return.

      The LW’s boss wants 35 hours billed every week? They should know that that’s unrealistic.

    2. Elysian*

      Agree! Getting 75% of my time to be billable is a pretty good rate, and I bill in 6 min increments. Since it doesn’t even sound like the OP is actually billing this time to a client, just tracking it for her boss, she probably needs to figure out how to loop bathroom breaks, etc, into her time tracking.

  29. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

    We had a VP who approached time tracking in this manner. We (FTEs, not hourly, did not bill for our time etc) were allowed to log up to 10% of our time to admin. That’s 48 minutes per day. 11% and you got a warning email. The rest of your hours had to be logged to specific tasks, with a task number. If your hours didn’t add to 40 at the end of the week, you got an email. We had a PM who dedicated a good chunk of her time to running the reports on everyone and sending out the warning emails. The management (including the VP who set these rules) was not required to track their time in that way.

    The outcome was the opposite of what I assume was expected. Everyone got really good at padding and tweaking their time reports, to the point where there was no way to get an accurate picture of who worked on what for how long. My favorite trick was to do easy tasks like code reviews, smaller tasks etc, while on a staff meeting. (We were a distributed org and our staff meetings had to be over the phone.) Then log this time twice, as staff meeting and as the easy tasks/reviews, and bingo, an extra hour.

    People also became real sticklers for logging off and leaving the office as soon as their 40 hours were in. Where before I could stay late on, say, Wednesday and then work the normal 8-hour day Friday, under these policies, it became “I logged 10 hours on Wednesday, and I have already logged 6 hours today, that’s a total of 16, so I’m out of here, have a great weekend all.”

    After the VP and the PM were laid off, we asked the management if the time tracking policies would stay – that was when we found out that the VP’s boss had no idea that this was even happening. We explained the 10% admin limit, the warning emails, etc to him and he was horrified. 1/10 do not recommend this type of micromanaging time tracking to any org. It does not serve any purpose and does not produce any reliable time reports that can be used for business and planning in any way.

    1. anonymous73*

      Your third paragraph is what I always say will happen with micromanagers. If you clock watch and can’t trust me to get my job done without a bunch of justifications and “proof”, then you will get the bare minimum required from me every single day/week. If you treat me like an adult and trust that I will get my job done without checking on me constantly, I will go the extra mile when needed (within reason of course).

  30. TimeGuru*

    From someone who has been dealing with ridiculous expectations around client billable hours their entire career, here is how I’ve been taught (by industry professionals) to handle it:
    1. Set an minimum increment of time for each entry on your timesheet. I’ve talked to lawyers & accountants who use 6 minute increments (their billable rates are very high) but most other people I’ve talked to use 15 minutes/quarter-hour.
    2. Round up for anything you’re spending less than the minimum increment of time on.
    3. Make sure you’re entering at least 15 minutes a day for time spent tracking your time (even though it is spread out – you’re spending at least this much time).

  31. TG*

    I’d bucket it as Administration and lump in emails/planning/prioritizing etc. everyone needs at least an hour a day for this type of thing.

  32. BrainFog*

    Ugh… This is what I hated about billable hours. I got around it by including those “refresh” moments as part of the project. Without them, my brain wouldn’t function and then the project wouldn’t be completed.

  33. Wisteria*

    Welcome to life in the defense industry! If I don’t have 9 billable hours at the end of a 9 hour day, I have to work until I do have 9 billable hours (or at any rate, 80 billable hours over 2 weeks).

    I don’t know if your tracking software allows this, but you have to learn what you can roll into tasking.

    Generally reading email gets distributed among everything I worked on that day since all my work email is work related. Spending a few minutes chitchatting, if it’s less than 6 min, gets rolled into whatever I am working on. More than 6 min (our minimum billable unit) means I get to stay that much longer at work that day.

    Cups of coffee and using the bathroom, likewise. We are assumed to have a work day that is 9.5 hours long, so bio breaks fall into the half hour that is not billable. If those breaks go over the allowed break time, the options are to keep them short enough to roll up or stay longer.

    To be honest, retail workers, manufacturing floor workers, and lots of manual laborers manage to keep all their personal stuff to their designated breaks, so I feel like salaried office workers can figure it out, too.

    1. Jora Malli*

      Absolutely not. If the goal is for retail and manufacturing work to be more equitable with office work, the solution is not to tell office workers they’re only allowed to pee during their scheduled breaks. The solution is that retail and manufacturing workers should have more flexibility in their day and not be bound by tyrannical shift managers who won’t let them use the bathroom because they’ve already had their break.

      We need to treat employees like people and not like assets.

    2. ffs*

      There are reasons people choose office jobs over line jobs, the ability to have control over time/motion being a big one.

      1. quill*

        Also the breaks permitted in retail / food service / the line are a minimum concession to the fact that workers are humans, they’re not determined in any scientific way it was just what businesses bargained down to when it became obvious that there would end up being breaks required by law.

    3. Emmy Noether*

      Disagree. In most retail, there are busy and slow moments – when there are no customers, employees will absolutely chat, look out the window, walk around the store, in short: take some kind of mental break.

      In manufacturing it depends, but for example the stint I did operating a cutting machine, there were times when the machine was doing it’s thing and I would just zone out watching it (and I had the highest productivity on the floor because I would get and prepare the next batch while the machine cut, it still didn’t take up 100% of time).

      A lot of jobs are like that. Dead times, transition times, wait times, time walking somewhere… time not spent completely concentrated on a specific task are common.

    4. Alpacas Are Not Dairy Animals*

      I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the people you’re expecting us to figure out how to be like are now figuring out how to unionize in droves.

  34. Dinwar*

    Part of the question is, what kind of work do you do? If you’re supposed to be on an assembly line, yeah, it makes sense that you’re supposed to be there 7 hours out of 8. If you’re a knowledge worker, it doesn’t. The two don’t have the same requirements, at a fundamental level. I mean, what constitutes productive time? We’ve all had ideas in the shower that saved time/money/liability for the company. For that matter, I’ve had a few dreams that have helped me wrap my head around issues at work. If I’m expected to track every minute I work, logically I should be able to charge the time for that dream, since the company is the one that benefited from it. I would never seriously propose such a thing, but then my bosses never obsessed over time tracking to this extent either.

    Second, remember, thinking hard is as energy-intensive as exercise. The brain uses something like 20% of your calorie intake on average. If you do a lot of thinking, it can be higher. So brain breaks are just as important as physical breaks.

    Third, you have safety/ergonomic considerations. For example, there’s the 20/20/20 rule–every 20 minutes you’re on a computer look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds. By itself that’s not much, but when you add up the ergonomic issues to prevent occupational injuries (including eye strain, carpel tunnel syndrome, and the like), you’re talking about a reasonable chunk of time. Easily 30 minutes a day.

    Finally, as others say, who freaking cares? Sure, I’m typing this at work–I just got out of one meeting, waiting on another, and having a cup of coffee, and am having a sidebar conversation with two people on IM while I’m typing this. It’s not as productive as it could be, sure, but it’s shallow stuff, stuff easy to dip out of when the next issue comes up. Ten minutes of downtime isn’t going to break the project. And if it does, it means that the project is broken to begin with, as it can’t absorb reasonably-predictable inconveniences. Any well-run program or project can tolerate a bit of downtime!

  35. Architect*

    Billable professional – we don’t track in 15 minute increments like lawyers, but usually 30-60 minutes. If I worked on Project A all morning until mid afternoon, it gets 5-6 hours of time. That includes bathroom breaks and coffee breaks (I often think through my last conversation/email when I’m not chatting with coworkers I bump into) and misc small emails, etc. If I get distracted enough by emails or calls on another project in there, I’ll pull 30 minutes or so out of Project A and put it towards Project B. Miscellaneous coworker conversations and Ask a Manager time don’t get factored in, unless I really feel like I wasted more than standard amounts of time, and then I put in extra hours until I’m satisfied I’ve hit my 8 hours for the day.

    1. Retired reporter*

      Thumbs up on your self-assessing! i.e., when you may need to work a bit more to adjust for going off-project more than average on a given day ! I don’t know if it applies to the field of architecture, but journalists do a lot of solo work (even if their contribution is ultimately melded with the work of other people. I, too. could tell if my concentration had been broken a lot any particular day, resulting in less accomplished. I define “accomplishment” to include time spent thinking about and testing possible solutions/strategies.

  36. whistle*

    I have had days where I was productive a full 8 or 9 hours and they are EXHAUSTING. They are not the norm.

    I’m currently freelance on a billable hours model, and I’ve had to increase my rate because I’ve learned I can only do about 4-5 billable hours a day. I have lots of non-billable tasks to do each day as well, and, honestly, I just don’t have it in me to give my all to my clients after about 5 good hours.

    It sounds like OP is documenting how time is spent and not reporting billables, so I’d use Alison’s suggestion that Task A continues until the moment Task B begins regardless of any downtime in between.

    1. Retired reporter*

      I’ve done some teaching, too.

      But regardless of the industry, think of all the time you (we) spend off the clock mulling work assignments and making relevant decisions: when commuting, working out or walking solo, lying awake in bed!!

  37. Irish Teacher.*

    I’d even wonder CAN all work be tracked? I don’t know what your job is but as a teacher, there are many things I do that can’t really be timed as such – talking to coworkers can go back and forth between personal topics and discussions about teaching/students from one sentence to the next. Occasionally, we will be talking about an issue with a student and it will remind somebody of a story from their own schooldays for example or we will go to a year head to report a behavioural issue and while there start discussing something else. So how much of that time is working? I also OFTEN play videos on topics I am teaching a class to see if they would be useful to show the class while doing other things online. I need to watch the video to be sure it is suitable and sometimes need to watch two or three to decide which covers the topic best, but I don’t usually spend the whole…say two hours sitting right in front of each video. I usually have them playing in the background while doing other things. Is that work? Or I might get an idea for a class at 2am. Does that count?

    Even IN class, I will occasionally have times when a class group is late or a student I am taking for resource is absent and I am just waiting, time I’ve spent reading this website among other things if I don’t have planning or other stuff to do.

    It sounds like the same might be true for you. I imagine some of your talking to colleagues is work related and planning what task to do next definitely is. I find it hard to believe your tools are tracking every single thing you do that is work related as, at least in my job, a lot is hard to even recognise yourself. I once tried to figure out how many hours I worked in a week (actually worked, not just the 22 I stood in front of a class and got paid for) but I had to approximate because it was so hard to tell how much of my conversation with this person was work related and how much just chat. How much time did I ACTUALLY spend planning that class? Does the time I spent debating whether to report that student to his year head or if I should give him one last chance count?

  38. Formerly Tired Harvester*

    Hello! I worked in an office where we had to track every minute of our days like this (it was also a very toxic workplace overall, but that’s another story). To “deal” with the (very valid) issue that OP is raising, they told us we (drum roll please!) were only allowed up to fifteen minutes per day for those extra, non-working tasks, which they also made us track. Since the time trackers didn’t affect client billing, my personal solution to this was leaving my client trackers running when I was doing the non-working tasks.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      I assume that padding of one form or another is universal in these situations. The only possible exception is if the workers actually buy into the bosses’ claim that this is research so the company can better understand what is going on, and none of it will be thrown back in the workers’ faces. I suppose there might be companies like that somewhere.

  39. Nat*

    I had to do this in a previous job and it was soul-crushing. The spreadsheet didn’t, for instance, account for the time I had to spend filling in said spreadsheet.

    Also, neither my boss nor grandboss could get their heads around calendar months having different numbers of working hours. I was disciplined for having an “incorrect” number of hours on my timesheet, “forcing” my boss to forge my timesheet before submitting it to grandboss. No amount of explanation worked.

    1. Kayem*

      Every time I input task codes into my timesheet in the finicky, antiquated Oracle-based system we use, I wonder how I’m supposed to account for the half an hour it takes to fill in said timesheet. Because I am definitely going to make sure I get paid for that tedium.

  40. Melody*

    My employer pays me for all of the time spent on these non-work activities – restroom, coffee, etc.
    So I just passed the cost right along to the client and included the time with their project.
    Should it technically be overhead? Probably. But I didn’t want to have that conversation, so into the project it went.

  41. Kayem*

    LW, I have one of those jobs as well. We have software that we are to spend the majority of our tasks using. Management expects that for us to be productive, we spend 70-75% of our working hours using the software. The problem is, that doesn’t account for things like meetings, coaching, having to send emails, going to the bathroom, writing reports, conversing with colleagues, etc., all of which take up more than 25% of the day. That’s when payroll task codes come in.

    Each task we do is tied to a specific payroll task code, which means we have to track our time in 15 minute blocks so that it matches with what the software logs us doing. I made a planner with time tracking sheets that track hours in 15 minute increments. I used to be diligent about tracking each 15 minute block of time, but the nature of my job means I’ll be in the middle of one task and get a message or phone call or email I have to respond to, then go back to the task. Trying to keep it all straight was taking far more out of my day than it should (and there was no task code for tracking task codes).

    In the end, the only thing that worked was to estimate how much time each task took per day. For things like bathroom breaks, prepping new projects, and conversing with coworkers I decided ahead of time the closest category that fit. If I went to the bathroom in the middle of Task A, then it was calculated into Task A. If I responded to an email while working on Task B, then I calculated it into Task B.

    Though admittedly, that will depend on how your employer separates tasks. I only have about eight task codes to worry about.

  42. RB*

    I read the title and immediately came to the comments. I don’t think I’ve ever had a day in my long work history where I was productive every single minute. I don’t think that’s humanly possible. I mean, people’s minds wander, or you encounter people in the hallway and have a brief chat. This is crazy.

  43. Unhealthy Nonsense*

    *bitter laughter in former call-center worker*
    I has been nearly half a year since I stopped working in a Call Center and I’m still working to unlearn its bullshit attitudes about productivity. LW, you are completely fine and should in no way try to cut out those really necessary breaks. As you said, they serve all vital functions, they let you reassess, take a breather and give your brain the ability to come up with creative solutions. If you were to try to be non-stop productive your work output will drop, both in quality and over time in quantity too. Please follow Alison’s advice.

    1. Kayem*

      Ugh, also a former call center worker. I hated it so much. If someone called seconds before our break started, our break was shortened by however much time it took to end the call because everything was so rigidly structured. In my current job, I can take my full break and do it whenever I want to, but I still have pangs of anxiety if I go to break after everyone else is back.

  44. Salad Daisy*

    A million years ago I worked as a Time Study Engineer. I went out into the plant with a clipboard, a pen, and a stopwatch, and wrote down EVERYTHING the drill press operator, or the like, did when creating a part. Such as – Looked out the window, three seconds. Scratched butt, 5 seconds. Except I would say adjusted clothing or something like that. This data was used by the cost accountants so even three seconds was important.

    Lawyers, accountants, and other similar occupations usually track time in 15 minute increments. That makes more sense than a minute by minute log in this case. Perhaps a suggestion for the VP?

  45. dedicated1776*

    I used to feel very self conscious about not being productive every second of the working day until one of my bosses told me something SO illuminating. He had worked for a large (multi-state) home builder. He told me the CFO loved racing and spent most of his “work day” looking at websites about racing, reading magazines about it, etc. But when the crap hit the fan, the CFO always handled it and THAT was his value. I’m not saying you should not be working most of the day because companies (hopefully) design FTE roles to be well-utilized. However, I think your emphasis should be on the quality/timeliness of your output, not just “time logged in.”

  46. John Smith*

    This kind of behaviour from the VP is just ridiculous and counter productive. My manager asked me to account for my days working from home (but not when in the office which he never comes into). After he rejected a generalised account, I decided to go into every minute detail as I possibly could (and here, I’m talking about how many seconds it took to clean up after using the toilet). Of course, about an hour or so of each day was logged as “logging how much time it takes me to do things”. He’s never asked me again and I doubt he ever will.

    1. NeedRain47*

      We had to sign a work from home agreement that was very aggressively about making sure they could ban us from working at home at the first perceived violation. It said we are to give supervisors a weekly update. I only work from home one day a week, but I now make sure to write an overly detailed report of my Wednesday every week. (Not as detailed as yours though, LOL.)

    2. anonymous73*

      Good for you! A few jobs ago, my team had an opening for our manager. Before she started, a few of us had worked out some WFH days so we asked her how she felt about remote work in her interview. Of course she said she had no issue with it. We quickly learned she was of the “tell us what we wanted to hear” variety. When she started she made us fill out these forms for our WFH days. It wasn’t that detailed but it was all BS because she didn’t trust us. I always want to ask those people, unless you’re standing over my shoulder all day every day, how do you know what I’m doing? And if my work is getting done well and on time, why do you even care?

  47. irene adler*

    I got the time management ‘lecture’ regarding not getting enough lab work done in the 8 hour day allotted.

    Boss assigned someone who used to do my job to coach me on where I might improve on my time management. This coach spent several days with me. She was supposed to work with me on better ways to perform the job. I expected her to step in and impart instruction to me. In fact, after the first day I asked her to freely comment on what she thought. Please give me feedback! Got nothing.

    When boss checked-in with us, she was expecting the coach to rattle off a litany of areas where I might improve. Instead, coach’s comments were that she saw nothing wrong with my time management; very impressed at the amount of work I completed every shift. It was beyond the regular workload for the position.

    Turned out, someone on the prior shift had been regularly increasing my workload as a means of doing less work themselves. No one caught onto this-not even me.

    I write this to point out that your boss is operating under a flawed expectation. Defend yourself – find out what the others are doing productivity-wise. If their numbers are equal to yours, make sure boss is aware of this. If their numbers are higher, find out how they are achieving this.

  48. Lady_Lessa*

    Could you place the non-project time under time tracking? I did that some when I was working with someone who wanted the data.

  49. Velocipastor*

    My old job did this. They made us (salary, exempt) start tracking our hours down to the quarter-hour with hours “billed” to other internal departments. I think all it actually accomplished was making us realize how many hours a week we were essentially working for free since we didn’t get overtime and then, low-and-behold, a department that was once totally fine doing Whatever It Takes started capping their hours at 40 hours a week.

    But to address the question at hand, we had a “general” section where we tacked on things like this that didn’t fit into those other categories and a “corporate” section that was for projects that benefited the company as a whole. Mind you, we did this manually in excel so it was a lot easier than if it had been an actually tracking software

    1. Amber Rose*

      “Raise your hand if you have been personally victimized by billable or tracked time.”

      *Dozens of AAM readers wave their hands, sobbing.*

      My mail room job for the provincial government was tracked by half hour increments. It was the worst. I’d get lulled into a mindless daze by eight hours of scanning and forget to enter it and then I’d get written up.

      1. londonedit*

        Yep. I’ve only ever worked for one boss/company that made everyone track their time, and it was an utterly toxic place with a terrible micromanager as the boss. I was freelance, but I was being paid a day rate rather than an hourly one – yet I and everyone else, even all the full-time salaried employees, had to account for every half-hour of the day and assign it to a project. Of course, what would then happen would be that the boss – who would have told you on Monday to spend as much time as it takes working on Task A until it was finished, because Task A was super important, and who would inevitably then tell you on Tuesday to drop Task A and work on something else – would then haul you over the coals every week because you’d done too much work on one thing and not enough on another. She’d reject my invoices every month because she ‘didn’t believe’ I’d done the work I’d meticulously detailed on the invoice (as instructed). She’d also routinely patrol the office and look over people’s shoulders, and would snap ‘Why are you working on THAT? Stop doing that. You should be working on [whatever] instead’. Suffice to say morale was appalling because there’s nothing that makes you want to stop going to work quicker than a boss who clearly thinks you can’t be trusted and you can’t be left alone for five seconds or you’re going to be slacking off.

  50. Falling Diphthong*

    This week’s xkcd is about how if we just put numbers on stuff, then we can do math on the stuff. And if you’re doing math on stuff then it’s rigorous and objective, right? And more precision is more information is always valuable.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      This was the publishing model of 538, at least early on. They were all about crunching data, so if they wanted to publish a piece on something without any data to crunch they would put up a bogus internet poll, then use the data from that. I say “at least early on” because I stopped reading it long ago because of just this sort of nonsense.

  51. LMB*

    Consultants and lawyers who work on billable hours usually do not subtract time running to the bathroom or water cooler. I’ve worked in this type of context and also in regular non-billable hours contexts where I had to track and allocate time and I’ve always rounded to no less than 15 minute intervals. Some companies also allocate time based on percentage of the day. So if you work 7 hour days excluding lunch and work on two things that day roughly for half the day, 3.5 hours would go to each. In a context where you are not working on billable hours or allocating for cost accounting purposes it doesn’t seem like counting to the minute would be expected. If the boss is concerned about one person I have to assume other employees are accounting for time differently—if you spend 5 minutes chatting with a coworker, that co-worker would also have to account for that 5 minutes somehow!

    1. Anya Last Nerve*

      This is how it was handled at the place I worked that wanted time tracking but was not billable. You had the option to do hours or percentages.

  52. Elder Millennial*

    How does your boss want you to categorize the time you spend tracking your hours? That’s a few minutes a day and she can’t possibly say you shouldn’t be doing it, but it’s also clearly not part of any project you are working on.

    (There are more of those tasks, like answering here email, but I like the irony of the time tracking one.)

    1. BackOnTheMarket*

      My job is like the OP’s. We are to build the time taken to do the time entry into our project time.

      1. Letter OP*

        Yep, it’s this. We have categories for things like “task management,” which covers everything from inputting data into the time tracking tool, doing email, using our project management software, etc.

        It’s not even expected to be super exact, so I can just throw in a half-hour chunk for things like “checking email, managing calendar, etc.” Even then, though, I’m never adding up to the full 7 hours of my workday, because there’s always time that gets “lost” between tasks.

        1. All Het Up About It*

          always time that gets “lost” between tasks

          Round up. Time lost between tasks is part of task management. When we did this for a former boss as part of a justification to higher another team member, that was absolutely the expectation. It wasn’t supposed to be a burden. I understand from your comments that it might be a little different situation, but to get the heat off of you, just round up.

    2. Letter OP*

      Yes, we are expected to track the time we spend tracking our time ;)
      The system we use is honestly pretty flexible. I can track project time to actual projects, and also track other non-project based work time to more general categories.

      I just don’t bother trying to pad out that last hour of my day that gets lost to random stuff.

  53. Jessica Fletcher*

    Is the VP one of those “everyone must return to in-person so they can collaborate with coworkers face to face”? Tell her you’re doing all that collaboration she was so excited about.

    1. Letter OP*

      I’m sure she would love that, but thankfully HR instituted a hybrid work policy for the entire organization that nobody can opt out of unless they work in a laboratory, which our team has not.

  54. BackOnTheMarket*

    My job is like this. And that is why I am BackOnTheMarket. I am a veteran of BigLaw and spent years billing in 6 minute intervals. This is so much worse, really and truly.

  55. BongoFury*

    UGH. My work does this too. Supposedly it’s so we can track spending for government projects but I have worked for the government in contracting. And no. It’s all so they can track what we’re doing all day. If we have more than an hour a day of “general” time we get called on the carpet every month for being unproductive.
    I like my manager but hate his manager.

  56. anonymous73*

    What you describe is micromanaging at it’s WORST. If you have to bill clients for a certain amount of work, tracking that is necessary. I work for on a government contract so I have to track my time each day because I also work on another project that isn’t part of that contract. But having to account for every single minute of every single day is bullshit and I would die on that hill.

  57. Girasol*

    We had to do this and I had your problem. I was tracking 15 minute increments and ended up calling “overhead” any 15 minutes where I called Joe but he didn’t answer, read six emails about six projects, responded with one sentence to two of them, and pulled out the documents for project X. It was work but not attributable to any one effort. So I ended up doing 10 hour days to get 8 hours of work that I could count. A coworker told me that he estimated project time on a fraction of a day basis: about half the day spent on project X, and a quarter each on Y and Z, and he’d divide up 8 hours that way. That might not be appropriate for a lawyer’s billing, but with a “boss wants time tracking to get a feel of what projects are taking the most time” thing, I think he had the more sensible approach.

    1. Richard Hershberger*

      You’re not doing it right. If you track in 15 minute increments, and within one increment you read six emails from six different projects, you just got an hour and a half of work done! Am I joking? Somewhat. But consider if you were using six minute increments. Does reading an email and writing a brief reply seem legitimate for six minutes? I have seen this approach to billing called 0.1’ing.

  58. Janet*

    The most senior people at my company are usually in meetings all day, so it quite easy for them to feel they are working constantly and can account for almost every minute just by looking at a full calendar throughout the day. It is so different when your job is more about doing tasks. Not every second is easy to input and justify, even if you are generally quite busy. Maybe OP’s manager doesn’t quite understand how someone else’s work day unfolds and that it is harder to have to list every task and account for every minute?

  59. IndoorKitty*

    I was managing a team of software developers about a million years ago, and the Big Boss implemented time sheets, to my team’s great displeasure. They started putting in 5 minutes every hour with “Fill out timesheet” on them. It gave me joy to sign off on them and send them on up the line. The time sheets idea was quickly and quietly gotten rid of.

  60. Letter OP*

    Oh gosh, this is my letter. A brief point of clarification before I wade into the comments!

    The VP, so far, actually *hasn’t* raised any concerns about not tracking every single minute. It’s my manager who was concerned.

    My manager is one of those people who sometimes doesn’t fully think through these types of things. She has a tendency to jump to a conclusion based on her erroneous interpretation of something, and then insist that’s the way it must be. I’ve sometimes had to correct her on pretty simple policies and had her argue with me about them until I go to HR and get them to clarify that I am actually correct about the sick leave/vacation/break time/whatever.

    As a bit of an update, I did (gently) push back with my manager in an email, basically explaining that, no, I’m not going to have 7 hours of work time every day, it’s always going to be 6-6.5, and that I’m pretty sure that everyone is going to have similar results when they start using the tool more fully. Thankfully, when I explained it in a written email, she seemed to accept this. Hilariously, I’m the only one who is actually using the time-tracking tool most of the time. Since the tool is fairly new and people are still getting used to it, most other people are still only tracking a few hours of work per day, when they do so at all.

    To be honest, I don’t mind the time tracking in and of itself; I’ve got pretty bad ADHD, and I do find that the tracking helps keep me accountable and focused throughout the day.

  61. I'm Just Here For The Cats!*

    I would be hesitant to say anything about bathroom or coffee breaks. This person sounds like she may start cracking down and say that those things have to be designated to your actual break times and that you have to take time out of your breaks.

    I hate people with this thought that every second is owed to the company and you are slacking for anything less than 8 hours.

    OP please talk with your coworkers and see how they are tracking their time. And if the VP is not your boss please talk to your boss.

    I also think that there could be some sort of malicious compliance here. How many times does someone stop and chat with you, or does the VP stop and chat. You can remind her that idle chit chat is not a listed productivity item and you can’t stop working on project A to talk to her.

  62. IWishIHadAFancyUserName*

    Be sure you include a cost category for filling out your time-recording form. ;-)

  63. Blarg*

    How do you log the time spent on your time tracking? And talking about your time tracking with the VP? Surely that can’t be ‘charged’ to a client.

    Sigh. This sounds infuriating.

  64. Wendy Darling*

    I have worked in places where they expected 95%+ of our time to be billable and honestly my solution was to straight up fudge the numbers. They expected us to have 8 hours a day accounted for as “working” because we were all remote, completely ignoring that in the office you spend time talking to coworkers, walking to the kitchen to get some water, going to the bathroom, etc.

    I filed as much as I could under “admin” but if we had more than 5% admin time the finance folks came after us, so I just started spreading my time evenly between all my projects, because no one actually spends 95% of their time on billable stuff unless you’re counting your bathroom breaks and grabbing a snack as billable and I refuse to work 9+ hours a day so I can have the “right” number of billable hours.

  65. Lifelong student*

    When I had to do time tracking- both in law and accounting- I would always include any small breaks in a task in the amount charged to the client. If I had to make a phone call- it was an automatic 6 minutes- time to think about the call, get the file, make the call. put the file away. If the to call was answered- it was an automatic minimum 12 minutes. The billing partner always had the ability to edit any time charged before the bills went to the client. If I were in the middle of a task and stopped to talk to a cco-worker, that was still charged to the task.

    The other element in this sort of time tracking is that it does not differentiate between employees who are efficient. It punishes them for being able to do things faster.

  66. NotAnotherOne*

    My former job did something similar. They installed a monitoring software on our company computers to see our “needs” and to determine if we “need more staff”. Well, as you can imagine, it was not used for that but rather to watch us (we all work remote fulltime). If you were typing an email, the tracker would show you as inactive and you would have to explain what you were doing. If you went to the bathroom, you would be getting a ping from your manager asking where are you. If you dared to look at a nonwork related site, you would be getting a call from your manager asking why are you wasting time.

    I’m sorry, I don’t have advice for you. I just wanted to share my story to show this is what they do. They will track you but lie and say it’s for something else. They don’t care about your needs or how much time internal clients are taking up. They just want to make sure you are a good worker drone and not taking any additional time for bathroom breaks or to take a drink of water. After all, they’re not paying you to take 2 minutes to get a drink or a bite to eat, that’s what your breaks are for. /s

    The tracking software was one of the top 3 reasons why I quit. I understand getting another job may not be feasible for you, but if you’re able to, just look around and see what’s out there. Trust me, this tracking will not help your workload at all and will be yet another tool for the higher ups to make sure they’re squeezing every bit of work out of you.

    1. Letter OP*

      To an extent, I agree.

      Like, thankfully, our tracking software is self-reporting (i.e. I put in the time I use and I say what I’m using it for, and everyone assumes everyone else is being honest – it’s not automated or anything) and fairly flexible. We even have a category for “socializing,” with the assumption that, yes, we should be having conversations with our co-workers. And I do think one of the reasons we’re implementing it *is* for all the reasons the VP said …

      But I think there is also a certain amount of it being because we’re now allowed to work from home, and she wants to be able to see how productive people are being (without actually saying that that’s what she’s doing).

      I’d be much more annoyed with this whole thing if it was automated monitoring software, but thankfully it’s actually fairly flexible and I’m even finding it kind of useful in terms of organizing my day.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        “…she wants to be able to see how productive people are being…”


        This is the hallmark of bad management.

        I assume that you have deliverables that have some kind of deadline / timeline around them. She should be looking at the quality and timeliness of those, plus having *actual conversations* with her direct reports to be able to suss out who is engaged in their work by having meaningful conversations with them *about* their work.

  67. Avery*

    Reading the comments here has been eye-opening as a nonprofit admin who’s had to log time every hour of every day for vague “grant reasons” but has only had those time logs referenced a handful of times max. I ran into an issue early on in work when my “hurry up and wait” time was taking up as much time as my actual work time because my boss wasn’t regularly assigning me tasks, which is still an ongoing issue but not to the same extent; I really haven’t thought much about how absurd it is to do in general, though. How much time am I spending recording what I’m doing instead of just… doing it? A lot, I’d bet.
    (And yes, I am writing this on work time. But after logging several short phone calls as taking up minutes-long blocks of time, I have the time on paper to spare.)

  68. Usually Lurks*

    Many years ago my then-job instituted time tracking for projects as they were reassessing how things were scheduled, which is a good use of tracking IMO. My boss told us all that they didn’t expect us to be able to account for more than 80% of our week with projects; this was a niche industry with lots of non-defined non-project tasks to do, and huge variations in workload from day to day, so that made sense. Plus they stressed that yes, we are human, and chatting with coworkers and other cross-departmental niceties are beneficial, and if we reported that we spent 100% of our day on projects they’d just know that we fudging those numbers somewhere.

  69. Gnome*

    I have to record my hours for billing purposes. If I spend my day (or time block) on X project, that’s what gets billed even when I’m in the bathroom, asking a teammate if their kid is feeling better, or in a general staff meeting (assuming it doesn’t have its own bill code).

    I’m guessing that’s what they’re looking for.

  70. Mary the Paralegal*

    I used to be a paralegal at a law firm that treated support staff like crap, and we were criticized if we didn’t bill every single quarter-hour of our time to clients. We were allowed to bill maybe half an hour of admin tasks a week. But there was no acknowledgement that we might need to use the bathroom or whatever. (Which was in keeping with the fact that they didn’t appear to see us as actual human beings in general.) I remember a lot of “OK, this took 9 minutes so I have 6 minutes left of the billable quarter-hour to go pee…” on my part. Some of us would sneak into the office on weekends to actually *enter* our billable hours without clocking in, because it took so long and couldn’t be billed to a client and we didn’t want to get in trouble for having non-billable hours. Ugh. If only I had had this blog back then!

  71. JustMe*

    Reading through the comments made me laugh to myself. After working in customer service in a call center setting, this request wouldn’t seem at all unusual to me. For the last 10 years, every moment of every workday has been quantified with a number. For instance, I get 1.5% of my 8 hour day to go to the bathroom…that’s 7 min for anybody who isn’t good with math. I need to punch in for lunch at 30 min – not 29 or 31 min. When I first started working here I thought it was bat shit crazy but then I realized I worked with a workforce that has no idea how to watch their own time. As it is they can’t seem to get that a 15 min break is 15 min. That all said – we are the lowest people on the totem pole and really our wages can’t possibly make a huge dent in the bottom line. I always thought if they would get all the 6 figure workers to work at the same productivity our company would be doing a lot better. But I better go because right now I’m taking some of my 7 min to write this comment – lol!

    1. No Tribble At All*

      That’s terrifying. Only 7 minutes to go to the bathroom per 8 hour workday!?

  72. No longer temping*

    I worked in a call center and everything was tracked based on when you logged in to your phone. All time not ready to take calls had to be punched into the phone with a corresponding code—there was a code for meetings, if a supervisor pulled you aside for coaching, bathroom breaks, etc. All these were scrutinized by management, along with your average talk time and call scores. So I am used to a high degree of micro-scrutiny of time at work. It was frustrating when I would be, say, filling out a form (often necessary due to system not processing as it should) and get hassled to get back on the phone, meanwhile managers would have time to chat.

    But even in THAT environment, we did not drill down to this level of minute by minute accounting for time each day. I think part of the issue is the OP might be getting too far into the weeds with the level of detail. Is the manager demanding this, or is the OP volunteering this level of detail?

    The comment above talking about a workplace putting inventory tags on disposable pens is hilarious, though I’m sure it wasn’t funny to experience. I’m amazed they didn’t tag individual toilet paper squares.

  73. overcaffeinatedandqueer*

    Malicious compliance. Flood the tracking system. And get your coworkers to do it too!

    Record everything. “Dropped pen, went to pick it up.” “Got water from cooler.” “Drank water.” “Got PostIts.” “Used the bathroom because I am a human with a bladder.”

    They will drop the tracking.

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      As someone who has had to review more time entries than I care to remember, I would really appreciate the laugh in the short-term. Longer-term, it is unlikely that this sort of thing would get a tracking system dropped as opposed to reflecting poorly on the person entering that sort of thing into the timekeeping system.

      I also do not like calls from project owners about having to weed out this sort of thing from their time reports – I had a very unpleasant conversation with a supervising principal once about someone who’d release a time entry to their project that said something to the effect of, “Redid the project for the fifth time because the moron principal couldn’t make up his mind about the key points of the stupid presentation that’s not going to win the bid anyway.” The person obviously wrote it in an understandable fit of pique but failed to update it with a real description before letting it go into the billing system. (And thank goodness the principal caught it before it went to the customer.) There was also the person who called the customer lead an “unbelievable asshole” in a time description, which, unfortunately, was not caught by the project lead in charge of bills and time reports.

  74. Lord Peter Wimsey*

    I can understand wanting to keep track of which clients/tasks take up most of a team’s time (for example, so that you have data to prove that you need to add a new Teapot Analyst, or you need to switch someone to Teapot Analyst instead of Coffeepot Analyst, because you get more demand from the Teapot group). How my team does this is by just logging the time spent on relevant work (Teapot Projects, Coffeepot Projects, Water Pitcher Projects, etc.) into a shared system. That way we are tracking the time spent on those clients/tasks, but we all don’t have to account for every minute of every day.

  75. Ms.Vader*

    This is pretty normal in a lot of areas where they have to account for projects etc. Most have a code for “admin” work which includes the time spent to even do the time entry. That’s where I would code the “downtime”. Daily that, just code it to whatever you were doing in that time period (I.e. working with client X from 9:00-937, 5 minute bathroom, 10 mins chatting with Jane, etc equals to 9-10 for client x. This is assuming it’s not billable to the client and is just for time keeping.

  76. Faith the twilight slayer*

    Without giving too much away, I work with Federal grant money, so I’m constantly tracking multiple tasks, and 100% of my time has to be billable. If your boss doesn’t see the need for a general G&A category where you’re moving from one task to the other, etc., I recommend using the quarter-hour rule: if you spend the majority of a 15-minute period on one task, charge it to that task. If not, charge that quarter hour to the next task/project you’re working on.

  77. chewingle*

    Back when my company tracked time (citing financial reasons — essentially wanting to know if the time we spent on a client equalled what they estimated it would during the sale of a program) my bosses would have us mark anything outside of specific projects as “meetings,” “education,” “training,” etc. And if a certain project was a bigger pain in the ass than it should have been, occasionally we’d fudge the numbers to say, “You know what? Charge more for this program. The price point you sold at wasn’t worth my sanity.”

  78. A Feast of Fools*

    This thread is reminding me that I still have to fill out my timesheet for last week. :-)

    We’re a project-based department so we need to book our time to the various projects we may be assigned to at any given time. But our smallest unit of measure is a full hour. And we’ve been specifically told by our great-grand-boss that our time includes chitchat, bathroom breaks, standing and stretching, going for a walk, whatever. We’re knowledge workers and need mini decompression breaks to be able to operate effectively.

    There have been days when I have only gotten maaaaaybe 2-3 hours of trackable/verifiable work done (spreadsheets, reports, documentation, etc.) and when I tried to confess my “sins” to my manager because I felt guilty, he laughed me out of his office.

    Oh, and we only track our time so that we know how to budget for similar projects in the future. We have a finite number of working person-hours available to us in any given year so we don’t want to over- or under-schedule the team.

    The places I’ve worked where we’ve tracked our time in smaller increments and we *weren’t* project-based, the tracking was done purely as punitive “gotcha”.

    In one place (the world’s largest software company), we were required to fill out daily productivity sheets. Manually. The workday was non-stop chaos and fires, so we didn’t have time to stop and jot down how we’d just spent the past 15 minutes.

    I had a veterinarian’s appointment immediately after work one day and forgot to fill out my sheet until I was grabbing my keys to walk out the door. I wrote a note on the sheet apologizing and promising to fill it in first thing in the morning. I was put on a PIP. And not just for forgetting to fill out the sheet, but because my note proved to the manager that I thought time-tracking was a laughing manner. She decided that solely because I closed the note with “Sorry!!”

  79. merida*

    I’m glad someone asked this question! At my first job out of college my team was required to track time. I struggled too with how to code the miscellaneous things! (Though at the time I thought it was hard because I was a newbie and thought I just was not productive enough. Turns out this is a universal struggle, not a newbie thing.) I usually spent the first half hour of every work day doing email triage and writing out the day’s to do list. I didn’t know how to code that time so I asked my boss and she suggested we create an “admin” column for things like to do listing and prioritization. I also put conversations with coworkers in that category, because hallway small talk is how you form connections and how you learn things.

    Turns out everyone else on my team was thrilled about the new “admin” category too. Granted, I had a super reasonable boss who understood that not every moment is related to a specific task – hope your boss is too, OP!

  80. Time Tracked*

    We have to track our time at work. My co-worker that aggregates the time and provides the metrics to upper management reached out to me and another co-worker recently to confirm if we took any vacation in February because he felt the numbers were low. Neither of us had taken any time off. He sent us the report he gives to upper management. Our utilization rate was 92%. He was stressed out by 92%. In December, the utilization was 200%+. Planning on discussing with senior leadership during my next skip level. Surely they don’t expect us to consistently work at 100%+…

  81. Alex*

    Ugh there was a time my manager was into “tracking” this, too. The problem is, I don’t work like this! I don’t do task A, finish that, and then do task B., and then take a break. I do task A, receive an email about task B in the middle, respond to that email, send a Slack to someone to let them know something happened on task B, work on task A while waiting for them to respond, get an email about task C, decide that can wait for later, get an answer about task B and add task D to my to-do list….

    How do you track that?

    1. WillowSunstar*

      Keep a notepad at your desk and write down names of projects, start and end time. Include breaks on a separate line. Then add up in Excel at the end of the day.

      1. A Feast of Fools*

        I have tried this at multiple jobs that suddenly required that level of tracking. Writing things down and typing them into Excel took up a ton of time. REMEMBERING to write every last little thing down took up a ton of mental energy and made my work quality suffer.

        I prefer that companies hire professionals and then trust that they have done so.

        Give me a project / task and a deadline, and then step back while I get it done. If I don’t get it done, let’s have a talk. Until then? No. No, I will not be jotting things down all day long just so you (management) can feel comfortable that you’ve hired a professional by treating them like a recalcitrant latch-key teenager.

  82. Panda (she/her)*

    I work in consulting and have to fill out timesheets in 0.5h increments – and my hours have to add up to full time. I just add my “downtime” activities into my project time – so if I take a bathroom break while working on X project then I include the time in X project’s hours. Not sure if the tracking software allows you to do this, but I would say it’s not an unreasonable approach.

  83. WillowSunstar*

    They make us track our time as well and one if the categories is “questions”. We do get one hour free though, I guess they factored those breaks in.

    We have to put the number of items done in our tasks as well. I am concerned this is going to be used to determine who gets laid off down the road.

  84. Just my 4 cents*

    First I have to say, I would totally hate this. Since my job involves interacting with people across the whole organization, when I have a longer than usual conversation with someone, we call it “relationship building”!

  85. Edward Williams*

    Question for the boss’s introspection: Was Einstein “productive” during the numerous and lengthy intervals he spent seated comfortably in an armchair and “staring at the wall”? [yes]
    I work 2 jobs for two different bosses. Both, to their credit, are entirely undismayed when they walk by my office and see me “doing nothing.”

    1. quill*

      Unfortunately, the boss would probably point out that the theory of relativity has not increased their bottom line.

  86. Alto*

    This reminds me of a job where I was told that I went to the bathroom outside my legally mandated breaks, that the time in the bathroom should count against those breaks.

    So if I went to the bathroom for five minutes, my 15-minute break was now 10.

    Never heard of that before or since.

    1. merida*

      Yeah, that’s not a great system. That reminds of a (terrible) restaurant job I worked in college. We weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom unless we were on an unpaid break. And we didn’t get unpaid breaks everyday; we only got unpaid breaks by command if it was a slow day and management would say “go take a two hour unpaid break because it’s slow and we can’t pay you.” But most days it was busy so we just weren’t allowed to go to the bathroom. Us employees would cover for each other and lie because we have bladders, after all! (“Oh, Jack is… getting something from the back freezer, not in the bathroom.”) If anyone got “caught” using the bathroom (managers would go looking in the multi-stall bathrooms if they couldn’t find an employee for a more than a minute or so) they were written up. Three write-ups and you got a demotion in pay. We were making minimum wage anyway, so then you’d get paid less than the state minimum wage. (So much there was not legal.) It was awful. Most of us who worked there were teenagers or college students so I think the mistaken idea was that young people are inherently irresponsible and go to the bathroom to smoke weed or something (that never happened there as far as I knew, we just wanted to pee). Did they want us to pee on the floor in front of customers? Did they want us females to walk around with blood stains on our pants because we weren’t allowed to change our tampons for eight hours? One female employee had a screaming match with the male manager about how she had her period and needed to change her tampon. The manager repeatedly said no (he was blocking the hallway to the bathroom) but she shoved him and went anyway. She quit immediately after. If I was braver I would have too. I still get heated when I think about that job.

      Thankfully, I’ve never had an office job like that, but it still irks me that bad bathroom policies are still probably in place elsewhere.

  87. another Chris*

    I may have worked for this person…. After a few months I quit. They were obsessed with time keeping to the point where it took over an hour a day just to do the detailed time keeping, but that didn’t count as productive time to her. God forbid I actually talk with my interns about anything or ponder how to solve a problem.

  88. Productive-ish*

    I worked at a place where an upper-middle manager became obsessed with Lean Six Sigma and decided to make an ABC staffing model which meant a huge emphasis on tracking how many projects each employee took on in a day (it was a shift-based 24/7 operation where clients would send in work orders that we would process on our software, which logged who worked on what jobs automatically). In theory this could have been helpful because everyone on my team was on the honor system to claim new jobs as they became available which allowed for a lot of slacking from crappier coworkers, but it really just led to people finding more creative ways to slack off (like purposely only claiming jobs that they could tell were easy and therefore could be done more quickly), and for like 6 months they didn’t have the tech to track who was picking up the group customer service phone line so a lot of people flat out refused to answer the phone because it wouldn’t help their productivity score (which meant either the phone would ring off the hook leading to ticked off clients, or the good employees would have to answer a ton of calls, taking them away from the actual work).

    All this is to say, productivity tracking by making employees account for every second of their time is not effective and can actually backfire so hopefully OP’s company will ditch it before long.

  89. Queen Ruby*

    I’m surprised my employer hasn’t tried this yet! We’re expected to work “professional hours” (I’m the LW who asked about what that means a few weeks ago). I think I’ve figured out that that means ~10 hours a day. Most people don’t even take lunch or breaks. There’s not enough time in the day and it has become actually taboo, like you’re a slacker for taking a lunch break. We’re not allowed to eat in our offices, though that’s a rule that gets broken pretty frequently. The expectation is that we work every minute of every hour we’re here. We can’t work from home because the assumption is that we’re not working.
    If we had to track all of our time, the feedback would be something like this: “Well, you worked only 9.75 of the 10 hours you were physically here yesterday. So you have to make up that 15 minutes today, and if you can make up that 15 minutes, you can work an extra 30 minutes.” Basically, if you worked 10 hours yesterday, you should be able to work 11 hours the next. And if you can’t, you better have a damn good reason.
    I hate my job.

  90. mreasy*

    6 seems like a lot tbh. I feel like I’m 50/50 and I’m a super effective and productive exec lol!

    1. mreasy*

      Or maybe I’m not and I’ve just convinced people. But either way your boss is so wrong!

  91. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I had to do this for a job for internal billing (everything must be assigned to something) it was considered normal for 5-10 hours a week to be allocated to general overhead for things that didn’t fit neatly into a category. Reading emails, internal meetings, calling IT to get my computer fixed, etc.

    We pushed back a little – If I have 40 emails when I come in at 8 am I going to log 1 minute to 40 different projects and how then do I log the time spent logging?

    Finally we went to a simpler time sheet where we guesstimated at the end of the week in 5 hour increments. Less precise, but probably no less accurate.

  92. Goldenrod*

    I had a job where we had to log everything we did during the work day in 15-minute increments.

    I really enjoyed doing some job interviews during that time. Can’t remember how I logged it, but it made me happy. I left shortly afterwards.

  93. AdequateArchaeologist*

    I went from clock-in/clock-out jobs to my current position where we bill to specific tasks for specific projects in half hour increments. It’s nice but at the same time it’s very difficult to quantify sometimes. Like today, I worked on GPS uploads for 3 separate projects. How do you want me to quantify that?!? And I feel bad if I take too long in the bathroom, getting a drink, etc. Or just need a second to recover from “what fresh Tom foolery is this”. Ours is for a good reason (billing clients), but it has a similar outcome where I feel like I need to be 100% productive every minute of every day.

  94. SnappinTerrapin*

    One of the most effective managers I ever worked for told me that, on many occasions, the most useful thing a manager can do is to look out the window and think.

    Decades later, I have concluded that this is true for both good and bad managers, but for very different reasons. Well, maybe the bad managers should forgo the thinking, and just stare out the window.

  95. Evvie*

    My last job did this. It triggered legitimate, diagnosed PTSD I had from a former job that ALSO did this. Why do places think this is okay?

    It was immediately apparent this was to see who was working the most hours, not to see what’s actually happening. I was also actively encouraged to bill clients for time I spent not even working on them. If I had a passing thought of a company, I was supposed to bill them, rounding up to the nearest quarter hour…so I’d I thought the words “XYZ Company,” boom, 15 minutes charged. The good thing is it helps you get those hours up. The bad thing is it’s SO unethical. I felt so gross, especially since some of the clients were tiny family businesses.

    We were only allowed the equivalent of about 75 minutes of “unfocused” time each day–meaning bathroom breaks AND professional development, the latter of which was expected. It was INSANE. I legit gained 30 lbs because I was afraid to leave my desk.

    And they wonder why people leave in droves…

  96. Tee 3*

    I have asked this of some direct reports, but didn’t ask for the level of detail the OP seems to be expected to report. I did it for three reasons: 1) I wanted to have a good sense of what jobs were being done by which employees so we could better spread some things around (one employee has a long list of responsibilities so on paper it looks like she is crazy busy, but in reality many of the tasks come up only once every couple of months); 2) I had an employee who always came in late and left early and complained that she had too much on her plate, and this was going to serve as an opportunity for both of us to deal in reality, and 3) I have an employee who is such a loyal, dedicated worker that I suspect some higher-ups don’t value as much as I do, so I wanted the report I produced about my team to show how she shines.

    The one who came in late and left early all the time balked and put up all sorts of road blocks, and convinced my uber-reliable worker that I was being unreasonable and that I didn’t trust anyone. In reality, there was just one that I did not trust. Sadly – and I do mean that because she was very talented – we no longer employ that worker.

  97. Shauna*

    Just round up! It is not worth having this conversation and this tracking may be in part to decide if some jobs should be cut. If you really feel the need to be precise, ask how you should categorize “ongoing collaboration” but don’t say your coffee and bathroom breaks are taking an hour every day on top of your hour break times.

    1. anonforthis*

      Yeah, I would honestly just report in line with what others are reporting. It’s just one of those things you have to BS even though the task is dumb.

  98. Little*

    I had one company who micromanaged to this level. I didn’t last long at all. Neither did the boss who was getting pressure from the higher ups to micromanage the rest of us to the minute. This is insane, especially in an era of remote work and so many resignations. The VP will either have to change her mind on this or she will see her turnover rate go through the roof.

  99. anonforthis*

    Oh god…I sympathize. My last job did this. It was a job based entirely on project work, so it made no sense to measure time and output linearly, but that was my job. As someone with ADHD who has only two modes: constant distraction or SUPER INTENSE hyperfocus, I’m able to meet my deadlines but I don’t work uniformly up until that deadline.

  100. WOW!*

    This post was quite literally life changing. I’m 30. For the first 4 years of my career I quite literally worked 9 – 5 without breaks. I’d maybe take 20 minutes break max per week. I simply didn’t need more. Than my job started disrespecting my time, expecting me to do the jobs of 6 people and paying me pennies compared to both my industry and what was needed to survive in the area. I burnt out, bad. After rectifying that situation my current job is fine, but I can’t work straight through the day anymore. I thought this was a symptom of the burnout. Turns out everyone does the same. I had no idea and thought something was still wrong with me. Thank you, god bless.

  101. Megan Smith*

    My employer expects us to work every minute. However they have defined what the hourly rate for each task is & I have been doing them so long that I am a bit faster than that. thus allowing me time for little breaks . Sucks for the people slower than that. I try to help other people out when I can by sharing my knowledge shortcuts. I cannot change corporate culture.

  102. Keener*

    I am a consultant and am required to track my time since this is how our clients get invoiced. I treat any time winding down from a task or giving my brain a micro break (often done by leaving my desk to refill my tea or go pee) as part of the time to complete the task. Basically, I am still “working” on the task until my brain is ready to dive into something else. As I typically spend a minimum of 30 minutes but often a few hours on a task it is reasonable to lump in the drink refills and bathroom breaks as part of the task.

    When I worked for a municipality we had no time tracking. On one hand it was wonderful. On the other hand senior leadership had no idea how we actually spent our days and how much time was spent on ridiculous requests from the public, council or mayor. I actually wished we had a time tracking requirement so that we could push back on some of the direction to respond in such depth to public/council requests. That time would have been so much better spent on projects and tasks that would actually improve the municipality.

  103. David Levine*

    When I tracked my time at a large corporation, it was expected that at least 10% of one’s time would be overhead. Also, the 2 minute decompression periods would be part of the task, including getting a cup of coffee or whatever.

  104. Gray Lady*

    It’s just inarguable that people will be more productive over the course of a day if they can come up for air occasionally. This attitude is so self-defeating.

  105. Oxford*

    As a consultant who has been tracking her time for 10 years for client billings…just round it on up babe :)

  106. I spy with my nosey eye*

    LW, if you’re a WOC this could be micromanaging on the basis of skin color

    I’ve had this issue at several jobs in the private and non profit sectors and have consistently watched white professionals been given complete autonomy over their schedules. I would try to find out if there are other white colleagues facing the same directive. Or if it’s being applied with the same level of directness

  107. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

    Sounds like a call center where the goal is to squeeze every millisecond of profit out of each employee.

    They get so obsessed that they consider bathroom breaks as stealing from the company. Come back 1 minute late from a break and your written up. 3 write-ups and your disciplined, 3 write-ups and your terminated.

    1. Talula Does the Hula From Hawaii*

      My favourite was the call time “metrics”. If your one second over the company average you are “retrained” and if this continues you can be terminated. Explaining that its mathematically impossible for everyone to be below average as that would lower the average until its eventually zero which is impossible is met with disbelief and labelling you a problem employee.

      So people start getting snippy with slow customers (your calls are reviewed and tone can lead to disciplinary action) and arbitrary transfers (but not too many, thats another metric that will be held against you) or random hangups for no reason except that the employee needs to keep their call time down becasue their jobs are on the line.

      All this for minimum wage.

  108. Silverose*

    I worked – for about 2.5 months – for a company that worked its time sheets this way permanently. If it wasn’t a tracked task (to the exact minute), you didn’t get paid for it, and everything was categorized – client billable, prep for client sessions, training, administrative tasks, allowable drive time, etc. And on top of that, only billable hours were a decent pay rate; everything else was drastically lower. I couldn’t live like that. I’d taken the job because it was the first offered when I was unemployed, and kept job searching when I realized how asinine the pay structure was. Thankfully I found an exempt salary position pretty quickly.

  109. Anon for This*

    If the VP were to track their own time, I wonder how many hours they would find went “missing”.

  110. Hapax Legomenon*

    Late to the party, but there is an episode of Lower Decks titled “Temporal Edict” that OP (and others commiserating) might really appreciate. The temporal edict in question is a time-tracking program the captain requires everyone to use, and it goes…as well as most of you would expect.

  111. Medusa*

    I pee a lot. I don’t tend to spend that long in the bathroom, but I also go more than most people. According to the VP, should I be penalized for conscientiously staying hydrated?

    1. merida*

      Yes, lol. I’ve always wondered about this though. We all have bathroom needs of course, but still everyone is a bit different in how much time we need or how many trips we make. Much of that I’m sure is just normal variance between humans, and sometimes it’s due to a diagnosable medical condition. When management gets involved in tracking bathroom time that just seems well, terribly anal (pun not intended but I’ll leave it ;) and toxic, and also possibly bordering on not being inclusive to those with medical conditions. Can all managers just agree to trust that people are doing important things in the bathroom and leave it alone?

  112. dontusuallypost*

    This is insane. I also have to track my time and average between 4 hours and 5 hours of tracked work a day.

  113. MT*

    I’m probably only productive for 2/3 of my working day. I am not the type of person who can sit down to work and not be distracted. The thing is though, my output is solid. I maintain a good quantity and quality of work across a week because I am efficient and effective during the time I am productive, to the point where if I maintained that high level of productivity all day I’d be burnt out. One of the biggest benefits of the pandemic has been (some) companies learning to trust their employees ability to time and workload manage in a way that best suits, I hope it continues.

  114. Workfromhome*

    These type of things never end well. either the mangers dont understand the tool that are used to measure productivity or they are not transparent about what they are trying to accomplish. I experienced this to an extreme degree in a former job. They brought in Salesforce type CRM for the sales staff to track their leads number of contacts etc.
    I worked in a dept. that did knowledge based work professional services for many clients across the country. They immediately said oh you guys need to use the same CRM as sales does. Its “only” so we can show our clients how much effort we put into their account. You will just need to log some time for the “big” projects. We knes this was the begging of the end. Within a year we were being admonished for not recording every task over 15 minutes we did in a day. People would get yelled at weekly after managers looked at the weekly report X and y put 50 hours into the CRm you only put 40 what are you leaving out? There was a lot of travel involved and we ended up having to bargain over if the travel time we put in the system started when we left our house or got to the airport. If it ended when we got to the client or to the hotel.
    Then it got worse. All of a sudden it wasn’t just time but any interaction with clients phone,email in person had to have notes. Not just a sentence “Discussed project A with client decided to add feature gut paragraphs of who was in the room, all the details etc.

    It was taking so much time that one guy started adding an entery every day for 30 minutes or even an hours. “Time to enter and update notes in the system”. He was logging 5 to 8 hours a week of time TO enter his time into the system :-) It certainly helped make him look like he was a top hour performer.

    The notes thing got so annoying I questioned if anyone actually read them. So A few times I went to a website with some fiction stories (safe for work ones) and copied several paragraphs and pasted them in as notes. Then I waited. I was there for over a decade and no one ever mentioned it. I knew then no one was actually reading that stuff. I swear some days we spent more time documenting what we did than actually doing anything.

    It took me a few months at my current job to get used to not having to do it. I asked my boss “Am I supposed to be tracking my time” he got this weird look on his face and said “no why would you do that? I give you projects you do them they are all really high quality. Why would you waste time writing down what you did?”

    Id either start looking for an out or start looking at how you can game the system.

  115. Hamster Manager*

    Just pad your time, there’s a weird illogic to this sort of thing many managers have.

    I was once in a slow period at work (which my managers knew about) and since they had nothing for me, I spent my time reading professional blogs and watching webinars to up my skills. Months later they came to me like “you don’t have any billable time that then?!” and I’m like uh, no? You knew about that? And they were like “well you have to go back and put in what you did spend your time doing.” I told them I couldn’t possibly remember what I did each day months ago, and I’d just be making most of it up, but they asked me to do it anyway. I’ve wracked my brain and can’t think of a single reason why they would want this from me.

  116. ariel*

    Working at home for a year was a really rude and unwelcome awakening to how much those little interruptions add up – walking between buildings, making conversation, helping a coworker – AND how terrible working was without them! The VP needs a perspective shift and I hope they are able to find it (to give OP some peace!)

  117. Gary Patterson's Cat*

    I often take time in between tasks to think. Think about wording. Think about the organization or how I could do something, etc. Sometimes I do feel a bit guilty about this. But then I realize that I work in a creative area of marketing and I actually do get paid to think and create! Sometimes the thinking part needs to come first.

  118. Not a PM*

    I’m not a project manager by trade, but I can hum the tune (work closely with them; have an MBA; have an IT Masters with multiple project management units).

    It is a common hack in IT project management to assume that days are 6.5 or even only 6.0 hours long precisely to cover all of the many things that OP and commenters refer to.

    One of my IT mentors was also fond of saying “my creative people are doing their best work when their hands are off their keyboards and they are staring into space. The uninitiated may think they are goofing off but that thousand yard stare is when they are deeply productive; you can tell because it is always followed by a flurry of furious typing”.

    I’m not sure how best to convey this to OP’s VP.

  119. Fm*

    I had to do this at a job (also ostensibly to see how much time was taken up by various tasks, but in practice more of a micromanagement tool). I lumped that time either into other tasks (like if I took five minutes between two tasks, I’d add that to the beginning or end of one of them) or into a lump of time called “admin.”

    1. Fm*

      Oh, I also never counted anything as under 15 minutes. Sent an email? 15 minutes. But that was largely for myself to compensate for the many many times I did work without noticing/thinking about it outside of work hours.

  120. Fm*

    Oh, I also never counted anything as under 15 minutes. Sent an email? 15 minutes. But that was largely for myself to compensate for the many many times I did work without noticing/thinking about it outside of work hours.

  121. AnonymousReader*

    I wonder if the OP is being too exact? If a task takes me 52 minutes I would log it as 1hr. I also have to do a similar type of log but mine is based on 30 minute chunks (everyone hates it but it is what is is). I would say OP should round up / down to whatever they feel comfortable to.

  122. Tiger Snake*

    These tools tend to be pretty common in certain types of IT departments, where you’re working on lots of different projects and so the money comes from different sources. Its perfectly normal for the full 6.5 hours to be accounted for.

    The answer for the LW is genuinely just ’round up’.

    You stop to get coffee and go to the bathroom, but what were you doing before and after that? Split the majority of the break between those; that’s now your recharge/transition time FOR those projects.

    You spoke to a co-worker; there was an initial conversation point or question for a project or task that prompted it. The time goes against that task. The rest of the chat was you enforcing the goodwill that lets you ask the question this time/last time.

    For emails, you should have some sort of administration task. I think statistic showed admin takes up 20% of an IT worker’s day? Don’t quote me on that figure, it’s out of date, but you get the idea.

  123. Dragon Toad*

    Had a manager once who wanted us to log EVERY job we did, with a start and end time, on a little spreadsheet. This included logging our official 15 min paid/30 min unpaid breaks. He would send them back to us covered in notes about how “Your shift was 7hrs long with a 30min meal break, yet you have only 6hrs of actual work logged on here – EXPLAIN”. We had about 10 minutes leeway for going to the bathroom and such, but beyond that, we were expected to have EVERY SINGLE MINUTE of our shift accounted for.

    And no, “spending 2 minutes on a regular basis looking away from the screen to rest my eyes”, “answering questions from the new staff member constantly”, “standing up to get a coffee and stretch”, or “WASTING MY TIME FILLING OUT THIS DANG SPREADSHEET” were apparently not acceptable things to log. Got even more ridiculous when you would regularly start an email, then have to take a phone call, then finish the email later – had to make notes every time something happened and try and work out exactly how many minutes the interrupted task took. Spent the end of every shift adding things up and trying to adjust it so the total minutes were correct. Bleh.

  124. RebelwithMouseyHair*

    Yes! I find when producing a document, I need to do a draft one day and then read through it again the next day. A word that was escaping me on day one, mysteriously pops into my brain at the right time on day two.

  125. Frustrated worker*

    My boss requires us to fill out a worksheet describing what we did on the days we work from home (most of us work a hybrid schedule right now) for “accountability” because nobody is there to monitor us. It gives me so much anxiety. I called him out on it basically saying sitting at our desk in the office ≠ “working,” asked if he thought we got our work done/didn’t trust us. He got flustered and said to please do it because he is “old.” Basically it’s his security blanket that makes him feel better allowing people to work from home. I have ADHD and tried to explain that some days will be more productive than others. It didn’t seem to matter. Lately it’s been a relatively quiet period and I wouldn’t even know what to put besides checking email. It’s absurd and I wish I knew of a way around it.

  126. Lorraine*

    I track my time by quarter hour increments. What this means a lot of times is that if I compose an email for 10 min, I round up to 15. That rounding ends up covering bathroom breaks.

    I also have a category called “being an employee” which includes filing timesheets, dealing with our legal dept, employee surveys, SOP trainings, filing expenses, getting help from IT, FSA/health care admin, booking travel, catching up on management advice ;) etc. It and “off” are my two biggest categories – I’m currently at 7.4% of my time being used this way for this year – and I’m very good at my job.

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