Why Traditional Timesheets Don't Work

This is not another article bashing timesheets. Quite the opposite. The general purpose of timesheets makes a lot of sense. Besides giving you information how much to bill which clients, tracking time provides you with great insights on where your (team’s) time is going. It’s important to be conscious of the way you spend your time, the most valuable resource you have. Time is money and you want to know where your money is going, right?

Here’s the catch. The general method of filling out timesheets is incredibly outdated. In a time where you can walk your dog with a drone, why would you keep time with pen and paper, a spreadsheet, or any other traditional (manual) form of the timesheet? It’s time for timesheets to get up to speed with the rest of the world. The traditional timesheet doesn’t work, and here’s why.

They cost a lot of time

This is pretty ironic. Timesheets are supposed to help you manage your time better, but filling out the traditional timesheet takes quite some time out of your week. In a 2010 survey on tracking time in law firms, it was found that each person spent an average of 3.1 hours per month on filling out timesheets. That’s 3.1 billable hours lost per lawyer, every month. And those lawyers are pretty good with paperwork, too.

Besides costing a lot of time to fill out, analyzing and filing traditional timesheets takes way too long. If your company uses any form of software for administration, planning or management, chances are that there’s somebody manually submitting your timesheet in there. Doesn’t sound too time-efficient, does it?

They cost a lot of money

Besides the billable time lost filling them out, traditional timesheets also cost a lot of money. This money is lost in “leakage”: not recording billable time spent on clients. Leaked hours mainly consist of time spent on client e-mails, meetings, and forgetfulness. In the survey on law firms I mentioned earlier, leakage per individual ranged from $20,000 to $40,000, annually. According to the Harvard Business Review, leakage is costing us billions a day. And this makes sense. It is incredibly counterproductive to spend 5 minutes manually recording the time you spent on a 5 minute client e-mail. You’re better off not recording the time at all, but in the end it adds up to big numbers.

They are everything but accurate

The most accurate way of tracking your time with a traditional timesheet is to submit an entry right after an activity. But it’s absolutely ludicrous to ask people to spend their entire day recording their activities as they go. So, the “solution” for most people is to fill out their timesheet on a weekly basis. But do you remember exactly how much time you’ve spend creating that report for client X five days ago? Do you remember every single thing you did this week? I didn’t think so. Besides, our perception of time is very different from actual time. So even if you have an idea of what you did, the time you think it took is probably off. This leads to a log of activities and time that is very different from reality and defies the “learning” purpose of a timesheet.

They are a source of frustration

I have spoken to a lot of people about how they manage their timesheets, and one thing is very clear: nobody likes doing it. Managers almost have to beg their team to fill out their timesheet on time. People get frustrated with their inability to remember everything they did. Clients don’t trust the invoiced amount of billed hours (which I can understand, knowing the degree of accuracy of the average timesheet). The list goes on. Dealing with manual timesheets sucks the energy straight out of you, your manager, and your clients.

It’s about time we all said goodbye to the old-fashioned, traditional way of managing timesheets and make timetracking a non-issue. At least, that’s what we at TIQ are trying to do. Shoot me a message or visit our website if you want to find out how you can get your timesheets up to speed with the 21st century.

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