How to Make a Useful Timesheet
You send a quick email to your team that they need to fill out their timesheet for the week. You can hear one collective and disheartened sigh. “Awwww…do we have to?” they reply. You would think that you are asking a bunch of three-year olds to eat their broccoli, but you’re not. You’re asking a group of grown professional men and women to enter what they did for the week so billing can be completed or the information can be used as a basis for providing estimates to the next project coming up.
There’s a reason people feel this way and hate entering their time. It’s because timesheets are something that have typically been abused in the past, used as a weapon against good people, and have ultimately not provided any value at all. Certainly no value to the person that is entering their time, but even many no value to the person or company that has requested their time. This makes it even worse as the pain and suffering that was endured to enter the time in the first place now sits on a shelf rotting away.
May project managers have wondered how to make a timesheet that provides value. How to make a timesheet that not only provides value to the company, but even more importantly provides value to the person who has been asked to enter their time.
We’ll start with how to make a timesheet that does not provide value and then provide some ideas on how you can make this drudgery almost (let’s not get crazy here…the word is ‘almost’) enjoyable.
How to Make a Timesheet That Everyone Hates
The following are some suggestions you can follow if you want to make a timesheet that everyone hates:
1. Make Sure it is Bogged Down in Administrivia
One thing you can do that will guarantee heavy groans and sighs whenever timesheet is mentioned is to turn it into an administrative nightmare. Make the login process complicated or have them pull up an entirely different timesheet application. Or, better yet, have them fill out their time on a spreadsheet and email it to someone to collect and aggregate their time. Then, make sure this person asks them all kinds of ridiculous, short-sighted questions about how they spent their time.Then, add an element of a painful approval process that either slows down them getting credit for the time they spent, or even not getting paid promptly and you have the beginnings of making a timesheet that is sure to bringing your toughest resource to their knees.
2. Make it as Disruptive as Possible
The next step on how to make a timesheet that everyone hates is to make it as disruptive as possible. Get down into meticulous details about the work they were doing. Ask them detailed questions like “was the graphic image you were working on cropped from the left or the right?” or “which side of the truck did you take the necessary pipe out to complete the job?” and then make sure they fill out even more details in a 255-character Notes field. They’ll really hate that! Make sure to account for every bathroom break and dock them for that time.
3. Make Sure They Know You’ve Got Your Eyes on Them
The finishing touch to really make a timesheet that everyone hates is to make sure they know that you know their every move. You know that they started at 8:05 instead of 8:00. You know they took an extra 15 minutes at lunch because the doctor appointment for their kid ran a bit long. You know that they left 10 minutes early on a Friday afternoon because it was their 20th anniversary. Be sure to bring these points up in conversation with them so they know that you are tracking them with the precision of a hunter tracking down their next kill.
OK…so these may be a bit over the top, but, not that much. You probably won’t find one place or person that breaks all of the rules above, but over a person’s professional lifetime they have undoubtedly encountered most, if not all of the above timesheet sins.
Now do you understand why there’s such a huge sigh when it’s time to fill out timesheets for the week?
It’s really not that hard to make a timesheet that is useful. The biggest thing is to keep in mind your motive for requiring people to enter time. People will quickly learn and react accordingly if your motive is to hit them over the head with their timesheet entries. They will also quickly understand and react accordingly if they see how you are using the information gleaned from these timesheets to make their jobs easier and the company more productive.
Here’s one place you can start to if you want to know how make a timesheet that provides value…keep it simple! Don’t ask for a ton of information that you will never use. There’s really no reason to ask for more than the following items:
- Date – You obviously need to know the date on which the work was done.
- Time spent– This is the duration of time that was spent on that particular activity. There are two ways to ask for this piece of information and pros and cons of each.
- From / To – The first way is to have someone enter the time they started a task to the time they finished. This could be either with a stopwatch type functionality (like an attorney would use) or it could be as simple as a drop down box with the time of the day broken up into 15 or 30 minute increments. This is typically a better solution for someone who may be at their desk all day and working on their computer on a regular basis.
- Duration – The second option is equally as good and works better for someone that may be out on the road, at the client site, or elsewhere that will not allow them to enter their time throughout the day. They just need to enter how long they spent on the task at hand…usually rounded up to a 30-minute increment.
- Client – You need to have the name of the client the work is being done for, especially if it is considered billable work.
- Project – Next, would be a short list of projects that are only assigned to that client. Don’t ask your people to do a whole lot of finding a needle in a haystack when it comes to which projects are assigned to which clients. Do this for them and make their job of entering time as easy as possible.
- What you did– The following will vary with every company’s particular needs, however, if you gather the following information you will find you have more than enough to put together unbelievably accurate estimates, and get an idea of those areas that may be candidates for improvement:
- Phase – Break your activity into 5-7 main Phases. This is the top level bucket of where activity occurs and can almost follow a departmental flow within your company. Examples of a phase would be Planning, Implementation, or Testing.
- Deliverable – For each phase, there is typically a set of core deliverables that will be worked on. Identify what those are and include them as part of the timesheet application you use. Examples of a Deliverable could be that within the Planning Phase, a Site Visit was done and a Blueprint was complete.
- Action (optional)- If you’ve done a good job of introducing the importance of accurately tracking time, people won’t mind this one last element. This is what was done to the Deliverable from above. For example, the following Actions could be taken on the Blueprint from above…Meeting, Create, Review, Edit. Again, this is an optional attribute but one that can certainly bring value depending upon your organization.
Using the above pattern will make it easier if you are wondering how to make a timesheet that provides value. Very simple and easy to use. Plus, the majority of information can be pre-populated so all that is left to fill out is the time spent, deliverable and action. True, people aren’t going to jump up and down like their eating dessert, but at least it won’t taste like broccoli.
If you want a simple to use time tracking system that won’t make people groan, try ProjectManager.com FREE for 30 days. Use this Time Tracking Software to complete your Time sheets online. Simply login and fill-in your timesheet. Your project dashboards, plans and reports will automatically be updated with your Timesheet information, so you’re always kept up-to-date.