Time management: Why timesheets are evil (and how to replace them)

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 21 June 2016
How we work Tools

Timesheets are evil

‘History is a lie commonly agreed on,’ said that famous productivity expert Voltaire. Timesheets are the same.

The problem with timesheets

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Here are some of the problems with timesheets as a measure of productivity and a way to bill clients:

  • Subjective. It’s Taylorism where you bring your own stopwatch and clipboard. In other words, there is no external check on the accuracy of the information.
  • Inaccurate. Even if the person filling in the timesheet is honest, their memory is terrible. What did you have for breakfast yesterday morning? Exactly when did you finish eating it? See what I mean?
  • Wrong. The value of work isn’t measured in six-minute increments. A good idea, a moment of insight, a relevant piece of experience could be worth much more.
  • Perverse incentives. If you’re being paid by the hour, you have little incentive to become more efficient.
  • Political pressure. Professionals often talk in hushed terms about under- or over-reporting on time sheets to bring client bills in line with management expectations.
  • Everybody hates them. Nobody lay on their death-bed whispering ‘I wish I had spent more time filling in timesheets’ into the ears of their loved ones. Ever. Timesheets do not make for a happy company.

Alternative to timesheets

If timesheets are so evil, is there any hope for civilisation? Yes. Here’s how:

  • Better technology. Apps like Toggl make it very easy to log time as you go, rather than doing it retrospectively.
  • Use timesheets for insight. It’s very revealing to know where your time goes, as long as you can do it in a scientific way.
  • Share your work differently. Apps like iDoneThis and KnowYourCompany let people tell their colleagues what they’re doing in a very intuitive way.
  • Change the business models. For example, The Wow Company, an accountancy firm despite the name, charges a monthly retainer and not hourly fees, freeing its staff up to focus on client satisfaction instead of billable hours.

Even with these ameliorations, it’s really time for businesses to move away from Victorian measures of productivity and recycle their timesheets into something more useful. There are completely different approaches and we've been experimenting with one for the last year.

Points to the rescue

Here at Articulate, we use 'points' for measuring and reporting work and for pricing and billing. Points run through our business like the letters in a stick of rock. It's a humane, accurate way to measure productivity because it measures outputs not inputs. (Read our article about how we work for more on points pricing.)

Employees log their completed tasks online.

Screenshot 2019-01-30 at 13.30.51

Interactive reports about deliveries by person or client.

Activity report from Points Mean Prizes

Detailed reporting with filtering, sorting and export for analysis.

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See also: happy company

Related service: Company culture