Have you ever felt fatigued and found yourself telling others how much you are working or how a particular work responsibility is draining? Have you had a co-worker or key employee unexpectedly come to you and report sustainability concerns or burnout? Perhaps you’ve had a star performer unexpectedly quit due to long-term fatigue you were never aware of?
Working a sustainable pace is a key factor of predictable, healthy business performance. Sustainability is a positive influence on employee retention and engagement. Working sustainably also maintains a high-level of consistency and quality.
One of the reasons we track our time in detail at Atomic Object is because we believe measuring and radiating weekly hours worked is a primary leading indicator of sustainability.
This is the fourth in a series on the benefits of detailed time tracking:
- Atomic’s Approach to Time Tracking
- Time Tracking for Focus
- Time Tracking for Fairness
- Time Tracking for Sustainability
- Time Tracking for Growth (March)
Tracking and reviewing time helps me manage an overall sustainable pace and blend of work activities.
Overall Sustainable Pace
PunchIt is Atomic’s home-grown time tracking application. Its primary time-tracking interface shows my weekly and daily hours worked.
Atomic’s KPI radiator shows my average weekly hours over the current quarter.
Seeing my weekly and quarterly time data helps me manage my overall energy level with my time expectations and work responsibilities.
I tend to work at a sustainable pace of 45 hours per week. I can easily see the weeks when I work closer to 50 hours or when I’m averaging 45+ hours through the majority of a quarter.
If I’m feeling fatigued at some point and see I’m working above my sustainable pace, the data and information radiators help me feel that it’s personally and socially acceptable to take a few hours off on a Friday if there is an opportunity to do so. I encourage other Atoms to do the same. If I didn’t have the time data, I believe I would pull more work forward, work inefficiently, and increase my level of fatigue.
Sustainable Blend of Activities
All work hours are not equal when it comes to being sustainable. Hours fly by when I’m able to get into flow and focus a single problem without interruption. In contrast, having several days packed with client and internal meetings can feel taxing.
I’ve found the mental load of sales work doesn’t scale linearly with the hours worked and number of projects being considered. For example, during Atomic’s Pre-Project Consulting Phase for each new project, I will likely:
- Meet and interact with 2-5+ new people serving as project stakeholders.
- Quickly come up to speed on the client’s business and rationale for doing the project.
- Work with stakeholders to refine on their core problem or opportunity.
- Identify and bring order to external and internal complexities (e.g. competitive landscape, 3rd-party partners, internal processes, internal politics, etc.)
- Frame a solution and engagement structure from the perspectives of people, process, and technology.
When you consider the above the list, it’s easy to see that sales hours are like icebergs. A few sales hours on the surface indicate a lot of mental cycles below. Therefore, it’s important to balance my sales work between initial meetings for new projects and the deeper work of downstream work of engagement design. Having enough time for engagement design and proposal writing allows me to reduce the mental load of carrying too many disparate, complex problems to solve at once.
Tracking my sales hours has allowed me to correlate qualitative feelings of fatigue with quantitative hours data. I have been able to identify heuristics for healthy sales-load benchmarks and spread sales hours across a broader team.
Developing custom software products often takes many months of time. Predictability is highly valuable for managing long-running, complex projects.
Achieving project success through luck, heroic efforts of individuals, or team death marches is not a sustainable or scalable way to run a consultancy.
Hence, Atomic’s teams track individual and team-level time contributions to ensure consistent levels of effort over the course of a project. Time tracking at the team level provides a high degree of predictability and enables data-driven project management. Delivery Leads manage project time reporting and can appropriately manage the the project by:
- Seeing that everyone on the team is providing their expected level of effort.
- Using time worked, scope complete, and efficiency of work to manage team capacity and avoid schedule risk or a death march in the final weeks of a project.
- Delivering predictable and relatively consistent invoices to clients based on time spent on project.
- Predicting budget runway and timing for new agreements and budget allocation for future phases of work.
Tracking time at the company level allows us to run a sustainably profitable business.
We model and set expectations for hours worked and utilization targets for everyone in the company. Consequently, we know we are working sustainably and profitably when individuals are hitting their targets. As part of Atomic’s Open-Book Management approach, these targets help individuals know the rules and keep score.
Caring for People
Atomic expects individuals to be self-managing. We ask individuals to meet minimum hours targets but identify and manage their own sustainable pace. Yet working with high-performers still invites the risk of individuals taking on too much or putting in a heroic effort due to a sense of responsibility.
Displaying time data helps me course correct situations that could lead to individual burnout. Our KPI radiator allows me, along with everyone in the company, to see when any individual is working well beyond the company average. For instance, if I see someone is working an average of 48+ hours per week in a quarter and we are 8+ weeks into a quarter, I will talk with that individual and work to help relieve any stress that might exist.
Tracking and reviewing time for individuals and teams working in operational jobs allows managers at Atomic to see that critical business functions are being performed in a sustainable way.
Building on my points above about sales work, at the company and office levels, I can see that the sales load is being spread evenly amongst the sales team and that no one individual is at risk of burning out. With time data readily available, I can manage the size of the sales team and balance the blend of work sales team members are responsible for.
This post is part a series on the case for detailed time tracking and how time tracking supports healthy performance.
- Atomic’s Co-CEO Model, Part 1 – Rationale - October 8, 2020
- Keeping Sight of True North During a Crisis - May 4, 2020
- The case for detailed time tracking, part 5 – Growth - March 28, 2018
- The case for detailed time tracking, part 4 – Sustainability - February 9, 2018
- The case for detailed time tracking, part 3 – Fairness - December 20, 2017