The timesheet challenge aka getting people to do their f***ing timesheets

Timesheets. For anyone who works in an agency, the word alone is enough to make their blood run cold. There’s already too much to do, and they’re so fiddly and boring. But they are essential. So how do agencies get everyone on board?

How many times have you got to the end of the day or week and thought “F***! I haven’t done my timesheet!” You look back at your schedule, scan your sent emails, log what you can…but it doesn’t add up to a full day.

It’s hard enough to remember to do them when you know the importance of timesheets. But when you’re a creative or developer and don’t fully understand why you have to do them, it’s even harder! Add into the mix that your day is already crammed full of urgent work with painful deadlines and something has to give. That something is usually your timesheet… because you haven’t got time to fill it out.

A common refrain amongst creatives is: ‘Why do I have to do my f**king timesheets? I’m too busy.’

And the answer is that quality timesheets will make everybody’s life better. They provide the foundation for any time-billing business, such as estimating, planning, profits and staffing. And the fresher and more accurate the timesheet data, the better all the above will be.

But really, the question they want to ask is…

What’s in it for them?

As an agency leader this is something you have to communicate. There’s no point piling the pressure on already-pressured people who have very little reason or motivation to fill out their timesheet. I’ve heard of one agency locking people out of their laptops if the previous week’s timesheets aren’t done. A tempting idea but not really the right incentive! A carrot — rather than a stick — approach works best.

You need to explain why you want, and need, timesheets doing accurately and as ‘real time’ as possible.

Accurate, up-to-date timesheets are the cornerstone of any successful agency. But, making the conversation about company profit is a waste of time. Why should they care? They need to understand the personal benefits.

You can’t task your teams to put themselves in your place. Rather, you need to put yourself in theirs. Agency work is fast-paced, demanding and driven. A creative’s priority is to create high-quality within often-tight deadlines. You need to always bring it back to them.

Here’s a simple graphic you could use that turns business benefits into employee benefits:

Often, creatives will wait until the end of a week or the end of a job before logging their time, which is virtually impossible. With all the to-ing and fro-ing of even straightforward projects, the odd few minutes here and there soon add up. Getting your teams into the habit of logging as they work means more detail gets noted, and they aren’t scrabbling around trying to remember what they did. And tell them what to log — do they need to include phone calls? Meetings, emails, amends?

As a leader, your priority is about creating a positive working environment that allows the creation of high-quality work, within achievable deadlines, and timesheets are the keystone for this. But you need to communicate the personal benefits of timesheets as vigorously as the business benefits. If everyone understands the “why”, they’ll want to get their timesheets done, and chasing becomes a thing of the past.

Communication, incentives, motivation… however you can, just instill the benefits of filling out those fantastic  timesheets!