Timesheets: Necessary? Evil? Or Both?

The Debate Over Whether They Are Necessary Rages On

By Published on .

Marc Brownstein Marc Brownstein
I remember when I started as a copywriter at Ogilvy & Mather (back in the day), some of the biggest debates were over doing your timesheets. No one wanted to do them. But doing them was not an option. And the penalty for failing to turn them in on time was that you didn't get your paycheck.

That was 20 years ago. Today, in my agency and agencies all over the world, timesheets remain a thorn in managers' sides. At my shop, we do them online. And if you asked what my team thinks about them, the answer would be a teeth-gritting "@#*%!"

Ah, how so many things in our industry have changed. And how little the acceptance of timesheets has.

Frankly, I wish we didn't need them. But they do have merit:
  • Timesheets help an agency see how many hours were logged on a particular job and thus determine profitability (or lack thereof).

  • They help an agency account for, and deliver on, its labor commitment to its clients. If a retainer calls for X hours to be applied to the client's brand, then timesheets provide a valuable snapshot for validation.

  • They provide insight for staffing. If your creative director says he needs another copywriter/art director team, take a look at the time sheets to see if there are inefficiencies, and if people are truly working at full capacity.
On the other hand, there's a downside:
  • Getting your staff to fill them out on a timely basis is the most fun you can have in advertising.

  • Creatives, especially, love timesheets. Must be a right-lobe thing. Makes for some memorable discussions.

  • Agencies are trying to move to a value-based compensation model, where thinking, not hours, is the premium.

  • Doing timesheets takes away from focusing on doing work.

  • Garbage in, garbage out. Too many people fill out timesheets with a broad, inaccurate stroke. No one benefits from that. But it is what it is.

  • In a world where some agencies have as many projects as they do monthly retainers, are timesheets as important? They can tell you if the project was profitable, but you may not get another project from that client again anyway. Or at least not for a while. The data gleaned from timesheet reports may be less relevant after a while.
Though I hear industry leaders are seeking alternative solutions to managing time efficiently, I'm not sure this debate over whether timesheets are important will end any time soon. Sure am curious what your experience has been. Have a better solution? Time to get rid of timesheets? Or prioritize them? Let's share some best practices here.

BTW -- it's taken me 43 minutes to write this post, and I have to enter it now.
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