Who loves Timesheets?
Updated: Apr 3
Answer: No one. No one wants to do them. Few see the value in them.
But hey, you’ve got time and expenses engagements to bill your clients for and you gotta have those timesheets! Saving the question of whether you should even be doing time and expenses billing for another day, Let’s explore what makes timesheets so hateful and how we might be able to make it better.
Why are they so awful?
If you hate timesheets, chances are you are tracking your time in a system that has nothing to do with the systems you accomplish your work in.
Write them in a notebook then enter them into a payroll system manually
Or enter them in a spreadsheet that you email into the abyss
Or even enter them into a fancy online spreadsheet that someone in your organization built.
These are terrible options. Why? Because they don’t help you keep track of your time. In these examples, you take note of when you stop and start, you type in the thing you are working on; it is incumbent on you to serve the system.
This is actual work that takes up actual time. And what’s worse, not only is it a waste of your time, each of those methods leaves it up to yet another person to spend time reconciling them with another system. Ugh, I have a headache just thinking about it. In all these scenarios, people are serving a system. I think the system should serve you.
Can timesheets be better?
Yes, they absolutely can. Here’s how: design a system that makes it easy for the user to keep track of their time and then automatically share that information with everyone else who needs it. Here are some characteristics of a modern time tracking system, one that serves the user:
TIMER Everyone has preferences, but I like to click on a timer to stop and start work or change tasks while working. Many timer apps can set reminders to take breaks or check on things while you’re focused on something else. They also might notice you never clocked out and ask if you really meant to leave the timer on all night.
PROJECT INFORMATION Rather than type any old thing into a spreadsheet, the system should know what projects and tasks you’re working on and present them to you as options when you create a time entry.
NOTES AUTOMATION If you’re working in a project management system with named items or subtasks, those names should go on the time entry automatically.
INTEGRATION WITH PROJECT LEDGER Whatever system you’re tracking your projects in should get the time entries automatically.
INTEGRATION WITH PAYROLL SYSTEM The payroll information for hourly employees is generated directly from the time entries. Timers log stop and start times, so you have compliant wage information. When it comes time to run payroll, a once-over for overtime and break compliance is all that’s needed.
How does it work in real life?
There are many ways to skin this tofu, but here’s a straightforward example that is 100% real-world: I’m tracking my time as I write this. When I sat down at my desk this morning, I went into Asana (our project management tool) and saw I had a blog post due. Just above the name of the Asana task is the Clockify logo (our time tracking tool). This is enabled by the Clockify browser extension.
I click on the Clockify logo, and I’m presented with a list of projects I’m assigned to. I can either select the project or, if the Project has tasks assigned, select the individual task. A window for time entry opens and the name of the Asana task-item is already populated in the notes field. I click "done" and the timer starts.
As I’m writing, a client calls me. He wants to chat about a project. While we’re talking, I navigate over to that project in Asana and start that timer. I prepend the note with “Call with client about....” A time entry is created for my writing task while the timer runs for my client call. When we hang up, it’s a good time to stop for lunch and with Clockify I have three options:
I can stop the timer from the task item in Asana
I can stop the timer from Clockify’s web site
I can stop the timer with the Clockify mobile app
When I stop the timer, a time entry is created for the call.
Benefits for multiple workstreams and stakeholders
At the end of the week, I review my team’s hours in Clockify. From there I can visualize the data different ways including varying the reporting period, filters and more. This is where I do my compliance spot checks.
When I’m satisfied, I export the time entries to QuickBooks Online Advanced, where we analyze project profitability. From there QuickBooks Payroll aggregates the time entries by pay period and we run payroll from there.
The setup is not perfect. For example, there’s no way to flag overtime hours in Clockify so if a team member is working OT, I’ll have to change it manually in the pay run. In our use case this is vanishingly rare.
It might not be the most scalable system we’ve seen, but it’s simple, cost-effective and most importantly, it supports our team, it doesn’t force our team to serve it.