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Jira Time Tracking: Everything You Need to Know

How to track time in Jira including the best time tracking apps for project management, invoicing and billing plus productivity tips.
min. read
Jan 8, 2024

Time tracking is an integral part of doing business. Beyond collecting data needed for payroll and invoicing, accurate time tracking provides insights that can be used to enhance productivity, improve resource planning and increase your organization’s bottom line.

But why should you do your time tracking in Jira?  If your teams work in Jira it makes sense to capture their time there. Along with eliminating the need to use multiple tools, using Jira Time Tracking – especially with an effective time tracking app, can integrate with other Jira tools to provide leadership with  insights needed to enhance capacity planning and improve teams' productivity.

In this post you’ll learn:

How Jira Time Tracking Works

Jira allows you to capture the time users spend working on an issue. This information can be used for workload management, performance evaluations, invoicing, and resource planning.

That said, Jira’s native time tracking capability is somewhat limited, and even Atlassian recommends using a time tracking app.

Atlassian Documentation

Worklogs: The Building Blocks of Jira Time Tracking

Whether you are using Jira’s native functionality, or a Jira time tracking app, the basic unit of time tracking in Jira is the worklog. At a minimum, a Jira worklog includes the user and issue (captured automatically), and the amount of time spent on the issue (entered manually, via a timer, or automatically).  Worklogs can also include a description and estimate of the time needed/remaining.

How to use Native Jira Time Tracking

You can track time natively in Jira. Time tracking is enabled by default, but your Administrator may configure Jira time tracking with specific permissions, projects and settings.

To track time on a Jira issue, click on the menu and select Log work.  A popup of the Jira worklog will prompt you for the time worked, and (optionally) a description of the work completed.

Jira Time Tracking Fields

There are three Jira time tracking fields, in addition to the time logged in a single work session:

  • Original Estimate
  • Estimated Time Remaining
  • Time Spent (cumulative)

These Jira time tracking fields are automatically updated after each worklog entry, so the issue always shows current metrics.

Jira Issue Menu
Worklogs in Jira Time Tracking Apps

Using a Marketplace app as your time tracking provider allows you to capture additional information on your Jira worklogs. This could include Jira custom fields, or custom attributes which allow you collect customized information on timesheets without the administrative overhead of creating / managing Jira custom fields.

Clockwork for Jira Worklog
Ways of Creating Jira Worklogs

Jira worklogs are created manually by users. If you are using a Jira time tracking app, the app produce the worklog by allowing users to start and stop a timer on an issue. Some apps can automatically capture the time worked. See this article on Jira Time Tracking Apps for more information.  

Jira Time Tracking Reports

Jira’s native time tracking feeds into a series of built-in reports, (Sprint burndown charts, Velocity report, Cumulative flow diagram, etc.). While Jira does provide a “Workload Report”, native Jira does not provide a timesheet and there is no way in Cloud to query the Jira worklogs. (You can’t easily export worklogs to Excel to create your own reports, and JQL returns a list of issues with no easy way to aggregate worklog entries.)

Jira Workload Report

This limitation is a key reason that many companies opt to use a time tracking app from the Atlassian Marketplace. Compare the report above with this Jira Time Tracking Report from Clockwork:

Clockwork for Jira Timesheet Report

The timesheet report can be:

  • Filtered for multiple factors (users, epics, projects, issue types, etc.) including custom fields, custom worklog attributes and overtime/undertime work
  • Broken down by multiple factors including custom fields and custom worklog attributes
  • Can show actual time spent vs estimates

Jira Time Tracking Tracking Reports for Billing and Invoicing

If your team works on behalf of clients, then your Jira time tracking reports should allow you to easily capture the information you need for billing.  To do this, you’ll need to include some key elements on your Jira worklogs - such as the client, and whether or not the work performed is billable (optimally, you should also be able to include additional attributes such as activities and cost centers).

Along with collecting the information needed, your Jira time tracking system can expedite your billing process if it allows you to create lockable billing periods, and to export your time tracking data into a CSV file to be easily formatted into invoice.

Regardless of whether or not you’re using your Jira time tracking reports for external billing, you still want to routinely evaluate the data for insights into how you can increase your teams’ productivity and improve  planning and resource management.

Using Jira Time Tracking To Improve Productivity

Prioritize to Improve Productivity

One of the most important things you can do be productive at work is to make sure you’re working on the right things. Every team member’s work should contribute towards identified Objectives and Key Results (OKRs).  

Even within the framework, there will probably be more things to do than time to do it. Unexpected, urgent tasks frequently emerge, preventing us from getting to the work we had planned on doing. One of the most useful prioritization tools to ensure you stay focused on what matters is the Eisenhower Matrix. It creates four quadrants depending on how urgent and how important a task is:  

Eisenhower Matrix

Atlassian offers a similar matrix in its Prioritization for Allthethings Your Team Does play:

Productivity Hacks

Identify How Time is Spent

Improving your personal, or your team’s productivity starts with shining a light on how time is currently being spent. How many times have you heard someone say they don’t know where all the time is going? Time tracking data can show you where the time goes, and help you identify time sinks that should be eliminated.

Be Focused

Research shows that multitasking is a myth. You have one brain.  Allowing it to do its best work means removing distractions. This could mean noise cancelling headphones, expanding your use of airplane mode, and only checking email at planned intervals.

Be Organized

Optimizing productivity also means being organized about your work. You can’t do what needs to be done unless you know what needs to be done. This is one of the foundational ideas behind tools like Jira.

In their article on productivity hacks, Atlassian includes, “Build a better todo list.” If time is tight, try dividing your To Do lists into two categories: things that need long, concentrated blocks of time, and things that can be chipped away at 5 minutes at a time. This simple tip can save you hours, allowing you to eke productivity out of the tiny pockets of time available between meetings, errands, life.

Eat the Frog

Eating the frog” is productivity technique that calls for doing your biggest, hardest, most tempting to procrastinate task first. The name is attributed to Mark Twain, who said that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a live frog, you can go through the day with the satisfaction of knowing that it is probably the worst thing that is going to happen to you all day long.

Along with avoiding procrastination, and putting priorities into action, eating the frog capitalizes on your brain being fresh; you have energy and ambition from having rested, and have yet to accumulate any of the days little setbacks.  This is the state you want to be in when you tackle your most challenging task of the day.

Looking for another hack for getting your workday started? Ernest Hemingway ended his writing sessions, not at a logical stopping point, but in the middle of a sentence. Finishing the sentence was the indisputable starting point for the next session. This technique not only avoids “blank page paralysis,” it optimizes for the Zeigarnik effect, our tendency to remember unfinished tasks better than finished ones.

Capacity Planning

What is Capacity Planning

We like to pretend that we have infinite capacity – that we can stretch ourselves to do whatever needs to be done. In reality, this isn’t true. When people or teams are given more than they can realistically do, something has to give. It may be progress on another project, the quality of all projects, or how team members feel about their jobs. Either way, overloading your teams beyond their capacity is unsustainable.  

Enter capacity planning. Capacity planning is the process of reconciling what you want to get done with what your teams can realistically do. It allows you to answer questions like:

  • Can we do this with the team we have now?
  • What are we willing to sacrifice progressing on to take on this new task?

How Jira Time Tracking Improves Capacity Planning

Once your teams have optimized their productivity (because increased productivity means increased capacity), you can use time tracking data from Jira for capacity planning.  

Accurate capacity planning relies on two important factors:

  • The team’s capacity
  • An estimation of how long the new task will take

You can glean information on both of these from your Jira time tracking reports.

The first step is determine a team’s overall capacity. You need to know how much time your team has and it’s being spent. Confluence has a Capacity planning template that can be used to visualize this.

Confluence Capacity Planning Template

However, filling out the template will take time – time that could be used on more productive activities. The good news is instead of having each team member fill out the form, you can grab the data from you timesheet reports and export it to Excel to quickly see the information you need.

Capacity Planning Data Downloaded from Clockwork for Jira

You can see where time is available, where too much time is being spent (“It’s a waste of Simon’s talent to have him spend so much time in meetings!”), and what projects you might need to slow down / let go in order to accomplish the new task.

The next step is to estimate how much time the new task will take.  Here is where having historic Jira time tracking data is invaluable. It provides a reality check so that you don’t fall victim to the planning fallacy and create overly optimistic estimations. Even more helpful is to review past estimations vs actual time spent. This allows you to see where you’ve gone wrong in the past and make ever more accurate estimations, which in turn gives you a more accurate understanding of your teams' capacity.

For more help with capacity planning, see the Capacity planning and Prioritize as a Team plays in the Atlassian Team Playbook.

Jira Time Tracking Apps

When selecting an app, start by comparing the Jira time tracking apps available in the Marketplace. Since native Jira time tracking is limited, many apps focus on adding configuration options to worklogs and then allowing you to extract worklog data in multiple forms to create time tracking reports.  

Jira time tracking plugin or time tracking app?

You may hear Atlassian Marketplace apps referred to as plugins, or add-ons. Plugin was the original term used for Jira Server. When Cloud came along Atlassian switched their terminology; plugins for on-prem, apps for Cloud, and add-ons as an umbrella term that would cover both.  
In spite of Atlassian’s intentions, people tend to use the terms interchangeably. So a Jira time tracking plugin is the same as a Jira time tracking add-on, or a Jira time tracking app.

This is an important function of any Jira time tracking app, however, you should also consider how the app tracks time. Having users manually create worklogs is one way to capture time. Alternatively, you may want an app that allows users to start / stop a timer on a Jira issue. There are even Jira time tracking apps that track time automatically without requiring much of any input from the user, ensuring that the timesheets are always up to date (see this video).  This can be done by integrating with the user’s calendar, or by using the issue status and user’s working hours to calculate the time worked. If you’re introducing a time tracking system for the first time, you can reduce friction by choosing a time tracking app that allows users different options for capturing their time.

Along with the reporting capability and time tracking mechanism, you’ll want to consider the cost and scope of your Jira time tracking app. Do you want to start with one of the free Jira time tracking apps available in the Marketplace? Do you need an Enterprise solution? Or something in between?

Finally, as always choosing an app, you should follow a vetting process to ensure that your new time tracking app enhances, rather than clutters your Jira instance.  

Jira Time Tracking Integrations

It’s worth noting that some Jira time tracking apps are actually time tracking integrations: they allow you to integrate Jira with standalone time tracking software.  If you have teams that don’t use Jira, a time tracking integration might be a good option. However, if most or all of your teams work in Jira, then using a purpose-built Jira time tracking app will avoid the need for additional systems and accounts.

Whether your goal is to make work more visible, improve planning, or enhance capacity planning, Jira time tracking can help.  

Jennifer Choban

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