What is a Timesheet?
Do you remember the Flintstone’s cartoon? Fred and Barney would start and end their day at the rock quarry by using a Time Clock. Sure, this Time Clock was a Dodo Bird that used its beak to carve out the time that our prehistoric friends spent at the quarry. But, it served the same purpose as modern day time clocks and timesheets…it tracked their activity.
Timesheets have come a long way since the days of the Dodo Bird. However, they still fill an extremely important need within companies that utilize this technology when it comes to tracking activity. There are different purposes a timesheet can fill depending upon what types of workers are employed. For example:
The main purpose of the timesheet for hourly workers is to make sure they are properly paid. This is most likely what Fred and Barney used their timesheet for when they clocked in and out. It allowed for knowing exactly how long an employee worked, when they got to work, when they would leave work, and if any overtime was due to the employee. This timesheet doesn’t necessarily focus on what they did during that time, rather, its main purpose is to monitor the time worked.
On the other end of the spectrum are salaried workers. These workers are paid the same regardless of how much time they put in at the job. Mr. Slate (Fred and Barney’s boss) was most likely a salaried worker. The main focus for collecting time from a salaried worker is to understand not necessarily how long they have been working, but rather what the have been working on.
The question may come up then as to why a salaried worker would need to complete a timesheet if their pay doesn’t fluctuate based upon how much time is spent on the job. Plus, many salaried workers have some flexibility when it comes to start/stop times for work and usually end up putting in more time than the common 40-hour work week. We’ll discuss the value of a timesheet for salaried workers later in the article.
It’s obvious then that timesheets have been around for a LONG time. But, have you given thought to what is a timesheet and why it’s beneficial beyond just tracking time? The following are a list of 6 purposes a timesheet serves and provides a good definition for what is a timesheet.
1. Tracking Tool
In the examples above, the most obvious use of a timesheet is that of a tracking tool. It allows management to monitor the comings and goings of their resources and how they are spending their time. One thing you do not want to do is exclusively use a timesheet as a time tracking tool in the negative sense. If you are using it in a “big brother” capacity where you are effectively watching everything everyone does then you are missing the purpose of what is a timesheet.
You can use a timesheet as a positive aspect as well. It can uncover areas where resources may find themselves bogged down and take longer than expected on a project. If you see this happening across multiple resources you can use this information to identify a broken process. Or, if you find it is happening with one or two resources, you can use this information as a coaching opportunity to help them personally improve.
Knowing how long a task, activity, phase, or some other element of a project took in the past is invaluable when it comes to planning your next project. Many estimates are based upon conjecture, hypotheses, educated guesses, and just some plain ol’ making things up. If a timesheet has been implemented in the proper way in your organization you can use this as a phenomenal resource when it comes to planning your next project. For example, a new project comes in and it seems remarkably similar to three other projects that have been completed in the past year. Pull up the timesheets from those projects and get a real-world sense for exactly how long this new project will take and use those numbers. That is a great use of timesheets and a good answer to the question of what is a timesheet.
3. Reporting Tool
You may find yourself committing to a certain amount of work for a client each month on a retainer basis. They have agreed to pay <x> amount of dollars for <y> amount of work. This would be next to impossible to track without a timesheet in place.The resources that use this timesheet simply enter their time against this client and a particular project they are working on and at the end of the month the report is generated. You can then filter this report down into exactly what the client is looking for depending upon the amount of information they need.
4. Sales Tool
This may seem like a strange answer to what is a timesheet good for, but you will find that if you provide your sales team with the facts about how long projects actually take then this will help them sell better. Many on the sales teams don’t have an in depth knowledge of what it takes to get the work out the door. That’s not their job. Their job is to get work in the door. It’s your job to get work out the door. However, it’s also the salesperson’s job to help the company make money. It’s hard for them to do this unless they have an idea of how long something takes to complete. You can use the information from your timesheets to provide them with this information and provide more accurate estimates.
5. Protective Tool
Another less than obvious answer to the “what is a timesheet” question is to use it as a protective tool. Who needs protection? Sometimes the resources who are expected to get the work done need protection from, sad to say, their own company. Management may have an idea of something that needs to get done and start throwing out some arbitrary dates for the completion of the work. These dates are 2 – 3 times more aggressive than what these resources could currently support, especially with the current workload upon them. But, if a timesheet mechanism is not in place to provide this factual information it will fall upon deaf ears and result in long days, late nights, and non-existent weekends.
A barometer provides an idea of how the weather will be acting in the future based upon whether the air pressure is going up or down. Based upon these trends, people can make preparations for rain or carry on with their activities knowing the sun will shine.
A timesheet can also be used for a similar purpose. You can use it as an early indicator if adjustments may need to be made later in the project. For example, there was an inordinate amount of hours that was consumed early on in the project due to technical difficulties. You now have an indication that there may need to be some adjustments made either later in the project, or perhaps fee adjustments, in order to get the project back on track.
What about the question of whether a salaried person should track their time using a timesheet? If they are involved in the production of the project or their time is billable then they should absolutely be entering their time in a timesheet to help for all of the reasons above.
What is a timesheet? A timesheet is a tool that can be used for much more than just knowing when a person clocks in and out. It’s time to get out of the prehistoric ages if you are using it for only that purpose. Make sure to utilize your timesheet system to its fullest extent possible and you’ll find it becomes a valuable tool for your day to day project management.
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