What methods do PIs out there use to track time spent on a funded grant project for reporting purposes with the funding agency?

I'm specifically interested in the USA, for reference, if it varies internationally.

  • Prjoect management in the world is based on propertiary tools and people copying&pasting numbers from whatever format to a spreadsheets software. A software that is always at the forefront of the computational resources, i.e. a software that indipendently from how new is your computer, it will run always at the same pace: MS Excel :) .
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 17:39
  • 5
    At least for the NIH and NSF, that level of reporting is not required. You say, "I spent 0.6 person months on this project" and you did.
    – Ian
    Commented Dec 19, 2023 at 18:34
  • 1
    Are you looking for a program to log times spent on particular tasks by particular people? Commented Dec 20, 2023 at 0:28

1 Answer 1


Research administrator in the US here. Tracking depends on many things, e.g., sponsor policies and reporting, institutional policies on effort certification, etc.

In general, the method I use for PIs to help estimate, is I ask "how many hours/week do you spend on this project?" I can also do the same with the interval as a month if that it easier. Sometimes estimating "one day a month" makes sense, and then we extrapolate over 12 months to get to 12 days, i.e., roughly half a month (although you could be more precise at 0.40 if you need to).

When there are no time sheets, it's all a rough estimate. When it comes to RPPRs (progress reports) for NSF and NIH, a month is roughly 160 hours. So if hours is helpful to use, you can do that too. If you spent about 5 hours a month, then in the course of a year, it's 60 hours, and rounds down to 0 months on the report.

You need to check with your local research administrator for help with understanding your salary distribution. Those rules are always institution-specific. Overall you should be looking at the total amounts that go on your current and pending/other support documents and make sure you have a cohesive narrative about how you allocate your time. Funding agencies definitely care about what effort amounts you indicate on those documents to determine if you are overcommitted or not.

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