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In the company where I work, I need to fill out a timesheet specifying how I spent my working hours for each project. I need to put the amount of time spent, and also a comment about how I spent that time.

At the beginning I was describing my activities in detail. This was very unproductive and hard to identify where I spent my time. To fix that, I started replacing my comments with tags like data processing, reporting, etc. Now I need to create a tag for the time I spend changing emails about minor details like issues, resource allocation, and so on.

What should this tag be?

  • Can you help me to understand how this is a practical problem in project management? – Mark C. Wallace Oct 8 '15 at 11:23
  • @MarkC.Wallace with this information I can better estimate the amount of time I will spend on projects. Usually I'm asked about how many hours I will need for a new project. – zeferino Oct 8 '15 at 16:57
  • Closely related: pm.stackexchange.com/q/16399/4271 – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 9 '15 at 0:27
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TL; DR

It's usually best for a team to agree on a standardized glossary and a well-defined level of granularity for tracking and estimating, rather than defining these things on an individual basis. However, if you must go it alone, then generalizing activities into broad categories can be a useful technique.

Use Broad (But Meaningful) Categories When Possible

[N]ow I need to create a tag for the time I spent changing emails about minor details like issues, resource allocation and so on.

I'm not sure what you mean by "changing" emails, but in general I would lump this type of activity under one or more of the following categories:

  • Project communications, because email is a form of communication.
  • Project planning, because issues and resources affect plans and schedules.
  • Issue tracking, because it sounds as if your team is using email as an issue tracker.
    (NB: Whether or not this is a good idea is totally beside the point.)

Build Team Consensus Around Categories and Granularity

Of course, it doesn't really matter what strangers on the Internet think. This is a case where there isn't an objectively correct answer. Instead, you should work with your team (and specifically with your managers) to determine:

  1. How they would like to see activities categorized.

    Agreed-upon definitions that are standardized for your project are always more useful than ad-hoc labels. Standard categories improve communications and make the data more useful to management and for building accurate estimates.

  2. What level of granularity they need in time tracking.

    As discussed in this answer and in other questions, answers, and comments on this site, reporting should be done at a level that is useful. It may turn out that your time-tracking categories can be much more high-level than you assume...or possibly not. Either way, you won't know unless you ask.

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Find a new company...

To directly answer your question, if there is not guidelines in place already then just make it up. Document in in a "legend" and create codes that are easy for you to understand.

If the company has not provided you with any kind of standard for how to log this time, then there is a good chance they are just grasping at an illusion of control. Don't let the act of tracking time take so much effort you are not being productive doing other work.

And going back to my opening comment, this is a classic danger sign of poor management. You may want to warm up your network, update your resume and see what's out there. Companies that track work at this level, for non-hourly employees are vanishingly small, typically infective and often not very far from being out of business.

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You can call for a meeting with your colleagues and manager where you discuss the common practices - how to others do it - and the purpose of the time sheet. Maybe the reason why you have to fill it up differs from the reason you have in your mind. This is something your manager/boss can/should clarify. The usual technique in these situations is

  1. to find a common understanding on the why and how, establish best practice, and follow it. If that does not work,
  2. you ask for a direct guideline from management on how to do it, and you follow that guideline. In case there is no guideline
  3. you tell that you'll fill it out the best you can with just enough effort. In case they don't like it, you refer them to step 2
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