You have probably heard it before, and it is true. You need to fill out, and submit, time sheets daily. Why? I suspect that you know, but I'll recap for you.
- More income – virtually nothing falls through the cracks so you can get paid for everything you do.
- More honest reporting – we all know that some people ‘game’ the system. When the reporting time frame is a week, two weeks, a month (horrors!), the time sheet exercise becomes more about either what should have happened or what you want ‘the boss’ to think happened. It’s a lie that hurts somebody – the client, the firm, co-workers.
- More accurate reporting – a more realistic view of what is going on is a really good thing for everyone. You can’t fix problems that you don’t know about. Daily time sheets give you information about who’s working on what, and how much time has been spent for the results you can deliver. Knowing this, either kudos or corrective action can happen.
- Faster invoicing – when all the data is already in, invoicing can be done in a snap. Monthly invoicing means you have some billable time that you have already paid out through payroll. Don’t wait another week or more before your client even sees the invoice, and the meter starts ticking on getting paid.
My advice: Take a businesslike approach to getting paid. I started out acting like the money was no big thing. Unsurprisingly some clients saw that as a green light to pay when it was convenient for them. When I had to skip my own paycheck, I found the motivation to get a businesslike process into place. That process got invoices out quickly, stated a due date, charged interest, and included emails from me asking for overdue payments. The key to the whole process was daily time sheets.
The How To
When we first introduced daily time sheets, we were accustomed to twice monthly time sheets due on the 1st and the 16th. The bitching was magnificent! The problems! The extra time! The disruptions! In less than one month everyone was on board and the world didn’t end as predicted. Make the new rule clear, set an example and dun any slackers until they decide compliance is the lesser of two evils and they get with the program. Use embarrassment if needed. We sent a daily group email reminder to everyone listing who was missing time sheets.
The timekeeping methods in use by our colleagues are predominantly:
- Network-based software
- Electronic spreadsheets
- Paper forms
Those using network-based software usually report that they are using QuickBooks. Two other sizable minorities are Axium by Ajera and Vision by Deltek. ArchiOffice is a distant third minority. A surprising number of QuickBooks users volunteer that they dislike this solution for time sheets, often describing spreadsheet or paper work-arounds. See Spreadsheets and Paper below for how time-consuming those solutions are. Deltek, Ajera and ArchiOffice do have integrated time sheets, although satisfaction with those systems runs low.
By the way you can download the results from the second survey to review this yourself.
You can use a homemade spreadsheet for collecting time, but it takes a lot of management. The best method we found with this system is for one person to manage a time sheet folder containing each person’s time sheet, which is a separate XLS workbook. By each XLS workbook referencing a ‘summary’ workbook you can add projects just once and get all the totals added up automatically. Using one shared workbook is a mess because no one remembers to close it when they are finished updating.
Spreadsheets require lots of management by someone to keep the projects/phases/tasks up to date – and to publish new spreadsheets each pay period.
I think spreadsheet-based timesheet management can take at least an hour per month per staff member. This has a cost that is often ignored. We had an architect doing this and not doing billable work. You might be paying a bookkeeper for those hours. Or perhaps you are using a clerical staff member who could be using those hours to improve your marketing. However you keep time, it is not a free process.
Paper time sheets have the warmth of tradition to recommend them, but they lead to two problems – inefficient time use and inaccuracy. First, although filling out the form itself is efficient, you must transcribe it in order to use the data. Once compiled, you now embark on the time-wasting chores described above for spreadsheets.
The second problem is that you don’t want to face this chore very often, so bi-monthly time sheets are the norm. My guess is that 3/4 of these time sheets are more fiction than fact – intentionally or not.
Here is the ideal. Once or more a day, you open a program in the browser you already use. This means you can be anywhere and using your phone, tablet or computer. You click on TIME to open a list of the projects/phases/tasks you worked on recently. You enter time. DONE. A few times a week you open a new project or phase. Until your G-glasses can record all this for you as you work, this is as simple as time sheets get.
The time sheet page might look like this. Or take a look at how Harvest handles time sheets.
Of course, the fact that your time is stored simultaneously in your payroll record, the pending invoice for the project, and the project accounting record is a time savings of an entirely different magnitude.