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How timesheets waste time

Have you ever worked out how much time you have wasted, sorry spent, filling in timesheets? Well, they may not be the most exciting part of your week, but below agency chiefs give six reasons for why they are invaluable. This doesn’t mean they don’t have their faults, they also list three reasons for why they are exasperating. To end on a positive note they suggest three ways timesheets can be improved.

Why we need timesheets

To keep on track

Jon White, director at PR agency Babel: “Most PR agencies operate on an hourly-rate basis, with budgets mapped against time investment from the team. To ensure we’re investing the amount of time we’ve committed to a campaigns, it’s important we use timesheets to keep track of activity. If used properly, timesheets are invaluable for planning resources across the agency, addressing over-servicing or under-servicing issues and eliminating activities not generating the desired impact versus investment. This level of transparency keeps clients apprised of progress against KPIs, with data from timesheets being fed into regular reporting and measurement of campaigns. It also helps senior management to ensure the agency remains profitable and efficient.”

To prove how hard agencies work

Clare Richardson, client services director at integrated agency Kindred: “It is true that timesheets can be tough to instigate – particularly in a busy agency where internal admin often falls to the bottom of the pile. However, there are some real benefits to timesheets, for client management, our staff and human resources. Timesheets ensure accountability – they are hard evidence that a client is getting the hours they are paying for, and ensure that this can be monitored in an ongoing way. Over-servicing of time coupled with increased output and successes makes a strong foundation for a case for increasing a retainer – or for investing in further projects.”

To improve time-management skills

Richardson also points out how, from an employee perspective, timesheets help to ensure time-management skills. “In an agency, it is of paramount important to have rigorous control of your time, particularly when spinning many plates at once. Regular, detailed timesheets ensure that individual employees can track the time they are allocating to their accounts – and can even help to identify certain projects or tasks where help is needed to improve efficiency.”

To increase efficiency

Richardson adds that timesheets are a tool for improving how an agency runs: “For those in charge of resourcing – allocating utilisation in a large agency can be quite the juggling act, and timesheets provide a valuable asset for ensuring that employee time is allocated in a way which is of maximum efficiency – both for individual clients’ servicing, and the agency as a whole.”

To allow space for creativity

Ruth Jones, deputy managing director at marketing communications agency LEWIS: “Our lives are getting faster, our email inbox bigger and the ‘always on’ culture more apparent. Time is our most precious asset. And when we are busy, finding time for the creative process is a challenge. Our success depends on balancing client-servicing time with forecast revenues.

“Our time is our value. Timesheets provide a crucial tool in helping to drive an agency forward at speed, whilst ensuring the team has the time to let those creative moments happen.” 

To nurture relationships with clients

Gavin Devine, chief operating officer at agency Porta communications and chief executive officer at agency Newgate Communications: “Like all right-thinking people in our industry I believe firmly that we should be paid for results not for the minutes we devote to our clients. By that I mean genuine, business enhancing, outcomes like increased sales, improved staff retention, greater investment, changed regulations and so on, not column inches and AVE. That is the future, and increasingly it is the reality now, but if we’re honest most clients still pay us by the hour. So logging time remains a vital part of a transparent and positive client relationship."

How timesheets fail 

People don’t keep detailed records

Xanthe Vaughan Williams, director of agency Fourth Day PR: “Timesheets can be incredibly helpful when it comes to chunky tasks such as writing or editing. It's good to have a realistic idea of how long it should take to write a 1,000 word article, for example. Where time recording falls down is when it comes to taking calls from clients or completing a 'could you just...' task. Unless you can rule your team with an iron rod and follow the example of accountants and lawyers, insisting that everyone registers every six minutes of time, then nobody is going to record these little things accurately. And if you're in a situation where everyone panics once a week and makes retrospective guesses about what they've spent their time on, you might as well throw out your entire system.”

They are unrealistic

Hiwot Wolde-Senbet, communications director at agency StrikeVoice Communications: “One thing most PR practitioners agree on is that no two days are the same. In most cases, you start your day with a ‘proper plan’, only to abandon it when client demands come flooding in. Even though the use of timesheets may seem ideal in an agency setting, in reality tracking the time you spend on chasing journalists and responding to emails is not just a waste of time, but also unrealistic.”

They waste time

Angus Campbell, head of corporate and financial at agency Stature PR: “Regardless of how transparent you are trying to be, a client can query the rates and then you are spending more time on the way it all works, which is why the monthly retainer fee tends to work better.”

How to improve timesheets

Focus on outcomes

Jo-ann Robertson, deputy CEO of PR firm Ketchum London: “As our industry evolves we need to transition from value being placed on time entered, to outcomes achieved. Whilst it may be a while before agencies move to this way of working, it will enable businesses to focus on the performance and impact their people make, and the business impact made for clients, rather than justifying what we have done hour-by-hour.”   

Don’t wait until Friday!

Babel’s Jon White: “In order for timesheets to provide accurate insight into financial reporting and team capacity they need to be filled out correctly. The best way to do this is to complete them in real-time, rather than retrospectively at the end of the week (or later). In an agency environment, with lots of campaigns to manage, realistically you’re never going to be able to remember accurately where time was spent a few days previously. This is when timesheets are no longer a useful tool, but become a waste of time.”

Set the right targets

LEWIS’s Ruth Jones: “Ensuring the right people are in the right places for the right amount of time is what oils the wheels of the agency. It is about agreeing with clients the amount of time that their investment gives them, setting targets and expectations. 

“Timesheets close the loop on the allocation of time versus reality. And give managers the data to investigate where clients are being too demanding, individuals are struggling or where resource needs to applied. Not having this data leaves agencies with a lot of unknowns and this can lead to time running away with them. “

You probably don’t have any choice about whether you need to fill in a timesheet, but at least you can be more efficient about how you use it. Starting with filling it in straight away!

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