Timesheets – bane or boon?

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No-one particularly likes filling in timesheets – why would you? But whatever their model, fundamentally agencies are selling the time of their teams. They may package it in different ways commercially but being consultancies, time is the asset they have to sell. So it makes sense to monitor how that time is spent. Clients want to know they are getting the correct amount of time for the budget they allocate, and agencies want to know they are delivering that time, and not more (certainly not less). Invariably clients get a bit more time but the excess mustn’t be chronic or acute.

Equally PR staffers must be able to track their time for their own efficiency. If you work across several clients, as most agency staff will, you need to balance your allocation. There’s always a gravitational pull towards a favorite client, or the one you’re most comfortable with, the newest or the noisiest. Timesheets help to address that, particularly if they are transparent to the entire office.

Another benefit is that the humble timesheet, although it’s an additional admin chore, does prevent over-work. It’s clear who is burning the midnight oil and who has some spare capacity. Some staff, particularly juniors, tend to over-work for the wrong reasons. Perhaps they feel they need to, or perhaps they’re still mastering the skills of time management. Here again the timesheets can step in since it’ll be clear whether excess hours are due to over-commitment or inefficiency. We know what we’ve committed to so where are these extra hours coming from?

Once you’ve mastered the use of timesheets, it can transform the way you work. You know the time you have available and the tasks to be delivered each week. Then you can set yourself internal deadlines against each activity, or you can rapidly decide that you’re over-committed. This helps in managing expectations and priorities. It also makes you value your own time, and be disciplined with it.

When I was a junior account exec, I gave freely of my time since I wanted to build experience. You do need to get some miles on the clock after all. But long-term, pumping in long days is not sustainable nor really that productive. Each of us will find their own tolerances, and it’s true that like any muscle, your brain can sustain higher levels of performance the more you exercise it, but there are limits. Some of us are work sprinters who put in long hours then take a break, others are marathon runners who are capable of sustained periods of effort. Whatever your personal style, the timesheet should be your friend. It helps you monitor the greatest and most fleeting asset you have – your time.

  • This post is both timely and spot-on, Morgan! I’ll be sharing it liberally with my staff. Thanks!

  • Great post. I’m circulating it to my team as required reading. Anyone know of an ‘smart’ online time tool for consulting firms? Preferably open source?

  • Great post. I’m circulating it to my team as required reading. Anyone know of an ‘smart’ online time tool for consulting firms? Preferably open source?

  • It’s the most dreaded part of the agency business because you have to clock watch as you work.

  • Kesten Migdal

    I’ve been doing research recently to find a good timesheet program for our PR agency. If you’re on a Mac, check out MindSalt: http://tinyurl.com/4lrxsx and ClickTime: http://tinyurl.com/45hvrs. In the end, I created a nifty timesheet in Excel which we share in Google Docs.

  • A post that certainly resonates with me, Morgan.
    In my time, I have been known to be rather lax with accurate time sheet filling, and your points are well taken. The agency business model absolutely depends on this data, and it must be collected to allow for effective planning and growth – however tedious the task may seem.
    Cheers!

  • How interesting.
    I’m a part of a student-run PR agency at Chico State University and was just complaining how I dreaded filling out our weekly time sheets and submitting our weekly reports.
    Your post was a good reminder, though, as to why time sheets are so vital for an agency to keep on top of.
    Thanks for the post, Morgan.

  • The human ticking time of your company. Indeed time is valuable.