I’ve tracked every hour of work since my PR internships in college. Time management is a constant undercurrent of PR. How you track, what you track, when you track, what you bill, what you don’t bill—it’s complicated, and even with guidelines, everyone has their own process and interpretation.
At INK, through our experiences with various tools—including Todoist for task-oriented planning and Harvest for time tracking and analysis, as well as invoicing—we can spend less time tracking and more time analyzing and improving productivity. This led us to do something radical with our time management policy. That’s right, "radical" and "time management" in the same sentence. Here’s what we did:
We only track time spent on client work and new business. Everything else is just your job.
Prior to changing our policy, we were all tracking our time down to how many minutes it took to load the dishwasher, as though our paychecks depended on it. We tracked a lot of time that no one cares about and that isn’t billable. It’s your job and you should do those things, but no one needs a record of it.
Tracking administration and other in-house activities in your time management system can actually harm your operation. Here are some examples.
Tracking admin disguises inefficiency and over-servicing. We staff our teams based on client budgets and our staff’s available hours, allowing for a healthy amount of INK admin time. Everyone looked like they had time available but still people felt overwhelmed. Why? It turns out folks were using the non-billable client admin bucket to track otherwise billable hours for assignments that took longer than expected. Instead of seeing the hard truth that we needed to be more productive and/or adjust the budget, we were sweeping that time under the admin rug. Now, all tracked time to a client is evaluated as a whole and adjusted down by the manager at the end of the billing cycle if needed. Awareness is key to productivity.
Tracking admin creates unnecessary cycles for management and staff. Can we bill INK for the staff retreat? Can I make up my vacation time by billing more hours another day? All valid questions under our old system or if you are an hourly employee. We understand the need to track certain business functions to monitor participation and we did go back and add our professional development series to gauge time spent in those classes, but overall, billing for internal admin and enforcing the guidelines around that is an unnecessary headache and the hours are rarely analyzed.
Tracking admin leads to a culture that rewards overwork. It’s human nature to compete, and competition is healthy for business, but obsessing over the number at the bottom of your time sheet as compared to your colleagues can drive some folks crazy, and drive them to work empty hours. Tracking that total number may be rewarding inefficiency and long hours more so than efficiency and results. Cutting out the non-billable time means that time sheets are not a reflection of raw hours but productive hours.
The bottom line is that if salaried employees are meeting billable goals and playing an active role in the company and its culture, you don’t need to know how much time they are spending “around the office.” That doesn’t mean it’s not important, it’s just not important to track how much time it took. For human resources, we track vacation and sick days in our payroll system, away from billable hours so as to not confuse the two. And there are better ways to analyze participation in the company culture such as relationships with colleagues and job satisfaction.
Give it a try if this sounds appealing. It’s going to be uncomfortable at first because you’re used to knowing everything. Focus on what you need to know, and the trust will follow. It’s not as radical as it seems.