Time sheets: It’s Not About a Salary, It’s All About Reality
There are people who dislike doing time sheets — filling out little grids of numbers which quantify the amount of time one has spent on given tasks, projects, activity types, client accounts, etc. I am one of those people who dislikes doing time sheets — intensely — though I have been known to use them very exactingly when (a) starting on a new job / type of project, as a way to calibrate my own sense of how long things take to do; or (b) when absolutely required by contract.
The act of completing a time sheet can feel tedious, especially if one is not set up with a convenient real-time tracker such as a mobile app, a paper (yes, paper!) notepad, or even a set of Lego bricks. Using your Sent Mail box in Outlook as an audit trail for how long you worked on a series of documents? Yeah, been there, done that. It’s both wearisome and worrying to be in a position of needing to reconstruct and quantify fleeting memories of hours spent working… or not really working… all the while having to discern the distorted temporal effects of hours spent with intense, productive Flow versus those dilated hours of torpid, lackadaisical sloth.
..and that’s a big part of the problem with time sheets: Some time (and some efforts) are better spent than others! Simply “logging your hours” doesn’t say anything about performance or results.
On the one hand, there’s a good reason many organizations use a system of salary-and-minimum-required-hours (paycheck and punch clock). It simplifies planning, scales well, and is (sometimes, even) effective. The trouble is, an organization’s time sheet is often not as simple to use as a punch clock, and so that time sheet process creates friction and inefficiency.
My proposition: If your organization uses time sheets as a way of measuring productivity, either get rid of them completely, or up the ante and do them really, really well:
- Make the time sheet process incredibly easy to use, with a state of the art user interface
- Set the system up so that people receive automated/instant feedback on their own productivity metrics
In other words, if the person is going to make the effort of both quantifying and qualifying how they spend their time, don’t add insult to injury of making the process feel unproductive and pointless.
On the second point, above: By analyzing and synthesizing their input into a relevant statistics (E.g., % hours spent client facing, # hours spent on average to move a project from stage A to stage B, etc.) — these can be done for the person themselves and/or with a a group benchmark to compare against… although be careful with the latter as it may lead to dysfunctional hyper competitive team dynamics if done without the right level of nuance and foresight. Ultimately, this needs to be about instilling a sense of continuous improvement for the individual — people are deeply motivated by a sense of growth and mastery in their work — as opposed to merely “scoring” or “grading” them.
There are literally thousands of time tracking systems out there…. and here’s my idea for a next generation user interface:
Imagine if something like that was your time sheet software. You wouldn’t just be logging hours… you’d be seeing your progress as you logged them and have a sense of both purpose and accomplishment.
(Yup, that’s right, it’s just a snapshot of the screen from a piece of gym equipment. I’ve got a future blog post planned which will analyze the motivational differences between various visualization graphics used on LifeFitness™ cardio equipment… but for now, let’s just roll with this, okay?)
For a lot of companies, time sheets are here to stay… so let’s at least make those time sheets less annoying and more meaningful.
Posted on October 13, 2013, in Accounting, Analytics, Business, Management, Productivity, Project Management and tagged project management, Time management, time tracker, timesheets. Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.