Timesheets: how do you manage?

(48 Posts)
FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 08:34:38

I am a regular poster but have namechanged out of embarrassment. I am a lawyer, and I've done well enough to get to partnership but the one thing that I have always struggled with is time recording. Not targets - I have plenty of work to do - but actually getting it all entered on the system.

For years I've not kept good notes of what I am doing and build up a backlog of a week or more and then have to spend whole days of my weekends or late into an evening (once up to 6am) piecing together my time entries from emails and files and memory. (NB I am not guessing or inventing the time or in any way defrauding clients) It's a guilty secret I've always managed to hide, or allowances have been made because the rest of my work has been good, but I am getting to the stage where I hate it so much I am basically phobic and am contemplating giving up private practice.

It's exacerbated by the fact that my biggest client has very strict rules that mean that I have to do an individual entry for each task (i.e. reading an email and responding to an email are separate tasks) so each day can involve 60 or 70 entries, a lot of which are only for 6 minutes. Each entry involves a detailed narrative and the assignment of a minium of four different variable codes from drop down menus.

So many of my colleagues seem to get the time recorded without any effort at all. Can anyone offer any advice?

aliciagardner Sat 17-Aug-13 08:48:02

I'm not a lawyer but I do have to record detailed accounts of my time to bill to various tasks across various clients. It's a total pain. I don't record my time well - more or less do what you describe and piece it together at the end if the week (but I don't spend as much time on it as you, just do a rough guesstimate if I'm really honest).

If you're needing to bill every 6 minutes, I think you need to have some sort of tally chart set up, something you can print on a Monday morning listing all task and client categories, that you record as you go. I can't see any other way.

I honestly think most people do what we both describe and piece info together, so don't feel that everyone else does time sheets with ease. It's so, so silly that there's not some software that auto-records time spent on emails, etc. in this day and age!

bookishandblondish Sat 17-Aug-13 08:51:11

As a management consultant who has had time sheets of 15 mins, I can guess your colleagues don't take as much thought into it OR do it as they go along. Have you tried doing it daily?

On one system we used, I used to enter all the same things at once so all meetings, all presentations so in your case, I would input all emails sent for the week at the different times then all emails written etc rather than chronological.

Time sheets are a beast though.

RobotHamster Sat 17-Aug-13 08:54:52

Is this all logged on a central system or is it manual?

Every hour set yourself a reminder and just make a note. I think it is just one of those things you just have to get into the habit of doing.

Cuddlesinafort Sat 17-Aug-13 08:55:01

You keep paper notes of time spent? And build up a backlog of a week? No wonder it's a problem!

I'm surprised that you need to keep a paper record of time. I thought all law firms worked through a case management system with time recording built in.

My advice would be to get into the strict habit of time recording after each chargeable activity. Surely a detailed narrative isn't needed for every email, letter and telephone call? Unless more than one unit?

If you're used to making paper notes of time spent, I'd imagine you'll be amazed at how much lost time you pick up by recording your time contemporaneously.

BeckAndCall Sat 17-Aug-13 08:57:22

I would have thought you have to change your ways immediately. If you worked for my DH I think he'd be aghast that you are not recording your client time properly! I'm fairly certain he has a timer on his desk which he sets as soon s he picks up the phone or a file...... I'm not sure every one else does, but I think that's his way.

You just have to get into the habit of noting start and finish time on each task as you go along. It's the only way. Long gone are the days of putting a file on a weighing scales and saying 'its about £x'.

Is it not a law soc registration requirement to charge and record times accurately?

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 08:58:57

That's a bit reassuring. You've got a lawyer's username smile. I often joke to DH about how St Alicia is never seen doing sodding timesheets.

We actually do have software that montors what we do and produces a "log" of the day but the problem is that it can tell you opened an email or edited a document but it doesn't know what file the email or dicument was for, and the timings can be wrong if you stopped work for some reason but kept the email open on screen. And then the actual time entry still needs to be coded up, checked and the narrative entered. So it helps me with my tedious piecing together exercise but is far from just being click to submit.

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 09:01:01

Er, sorry, BeckandCall, did you mean to be so rude? Enough with the accusations of professional misconduct, please.

RobotHamster Sat 17-Aug-13 09:01:17

Does any of it get entered by legal secretaries? Is there any way that could be done?

Refoca Sat 17-Aug-13 09:05:47

If you're a partner, don't you have an EA who could input it all for you if you handwrite it? That 'until 6am' time would be better spent recharging your batteries or doing a little extra chargeable work, or probably both.

I'm no better though really, can only keep up if I do it daily and more often than not wait until the ed of the week.

Nerfmother Sat 17-Aug-13 09:06:33

Backandcall want rude at all: I think she's right! I used to do every six minutes and no way could I have cobbled it all together at the end of the week. I used to record as I went along - its not rocket science and is certainly better than staying up til six am! Buy a timer.

superbagpuss Sat 17-Aug-13 09:07:54

I used to keep scrap paper on my desk and make a note of everything during the day and then make it the last job of the day to enter it all in

BeckAndCall Sat 17-Aug-13 09:11:49

No, floosy I didn't mean to be rude and I'm sorry if it comes across that way but I didn't write it that way, iyswim.

I don't think anything I said was wrong though - I was, I thought, giving you a suggestion of how you might approach it.

And is not a requirement of the law soc, serious question? Saying that doesn't mean I'm suggesting professional misconduct! I wouldn't be qualified in any way to suggest that.

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 09:16:21

To those who advise getting into the habit of recording after every activity, that is not always possible because (a) the phone may ring or a colleague comes in, so you don't have a choice not to start the next activity until the last one has been recorded and (b) the time recording would simply take up too much work time.

I do know the "keep on top of it" theory though, and would be interested in any tips for forming better habits, becuase it really doesn't come naurally to me.

cuddlesinafort unfortunately yes, we do have to make a detailed narrative for every entry because our biggest client outsources bill narrative review to a third party provider which rejects time if the narrative is not sufficiently detailed - so not "email to John Smith", always " drafting email to John Smith about need for additional witness evidence" etc

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 09:25:36

BeckandCall, of course the Law Society requires solicitors not to charge clients for work that they have not done. However I was very specific in my OP that I am not recording time inaccurately, just that I have a problem keeping up with it.

I'm not sure how a suggestion that I don't comply with Law Society requirements is any different from an allegation of pofessional misconduct.

You also said that your DH would be "aghast" at my methods. That is a bit rude, to be honest, or at the very least insensitive. This isn't AIBU.

riksti Sat 17-Aug-13 09:27:30

Not a solicitor but tax adviser and I have an excel spreadsheet that's always open. It has the units running down the left hand side - 8:00, 8:06, 8:12 etc and every time I start something new I mark the client code to the start time. Obviously it's difficult when people come to you to discuss something but I try to make a note of what time they arrived and then can fill in the sheet after they leave.

A bit difficult to explain but I hope it sort of makes sense.

aliciagardner Sat 17-Aug-13 09:29:08

Urgh, I feel for you. It sounds awful that you have to be so incredibly detailed. I have no better suggestions then I'm afraid - I also fall foul of being distracted from recording as I go due to being so busy, phone ringing, urgent issue to deal with, etc. exactly as you describe!

Ps. I think St. Alicia spends all her time doing pro bono work just so she doesn't need to bill her hours!! smile

Looster Sat 17-Aug-13 09:46:52

We have daily time sheet submissions and I charge my time at lunchtime, 4pm and end if day. I lose about 2 hours a day if I don't do this. I have to do narratives for each entry too. I reckon it takes me 30 mins tops per day to do this - which I record as non-chargeable time smile

Was in-house for a while - loved lack of time sheets!

lljkk Sat 17-Aug-13 09:47:51

Individual entries for each email read is ridiculous. Of course you'll end up fudging it.

MsPickle Sat 17-Aug-13 09:56:42

I wonder if you could run an onscreen timer? So when you are writing the email you just have to start it when you open it and stop when you finish?

I'm on my phone so can't check easily but I reckon there's an excel template somewhere that might replace your paper? If you ran, say, a client/task/outcome type layout then it could function as your to-do and then you can sort all the entries to fill in the time sheet? OneNote will dock to the side of your screen so that could be the other way, just effectively having a sidebar that you can always access.

My sympathies. Sounds like a right pain the arse. Narrative every 6 minutes!

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 10:05:43

Thanks all. Just to clarify, we don't have to account for every minute of the day in 6 minute chunks - the significance of the 6 minutes is that it is the minimum time entry charged to a client, so if I do something that takes 2 minutes, the client is charged for 6.

So in fact our annoying client who insists on separate entries for reading and responding to an email is shooting itself in the foot as that's a minimum of 12 minutes. However you can see why we're in no hurry to ask them to change that policy.

BeckAndCall Sat 17-Aug-13 10:06:09

Sorry OP but you're a lawyer - the words 'does not the law soc require you to record time accurately' do not translate to 'you are committing professional misconduct', and you know that. That is neither what I said nor what I meant.

Anyway, as you haven't answered the question - ie does the law soc require you to record time accurately , the answer, apparently is 'no'. All you need to do is make an honest assessment of work done and that charges be reasonable and you're fine. Which you are already doing. The only question then is what your firm expects you to be doing, which is a different issue altogether.

Mintyy Sat 17-Aug-13 10:08:12

Omg when do you get any actual work done? That sounds tedious beyond belief!

eurochick Sat 17-Aug-13 10:14:46

OP, I sympathise. Time recording is the biggest pain in the bum about private practice. I've struggled with it over the years and have had two systems that worked pretty well.

1. At my last firm, I had a printed table (client/time/description) that was always on my desk. I scribbled everything I did down on there. I left it for my secretary every night. She entered it the next day and translated everything from my shorthand into a proper time entry, and I gave it a quick check over. This worked well as it meant I didn't have to waste time looking for client matter numbers, phase codes and what have you, or waiting for the very slow software. I could just put something like "British Airways/0.5/Reply to 25 July letter" and she'd sort it out. It takes no time and it really easy to do while you are waiting for a file to open or the phone to ring for the next task.

2. My current place bans secretaries from entering time - you have to do it yourself (grrr). I try to make myself do it every day before I leave and I succeed about 90% of the time. I don't keep any notes during the day - I just use my calendar and my emails to work out how long I spent on something. This works fairly well too. I tend to work on a small number of large matters though, so it is not too taxing for my little brain to remember what I did.

eurochick Sat 17-Aug-13 10:17:07

beck the SRA would be bothered about charging for work not done. It wouldn't be bothered if a firm lost out because some units were not recorded because the fee earner couldn't remember doing them (the firm might be though!).

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 10:47:04

BeckAndCall of course I would not say something to you that I knew to be incorrect. Non-complicance with the regulator's rules of conduct is misconduct, simple as that. Let's just agree to differ, shall we?

Eurochick, thanks. Your #2 is basically what I do but I tend to leave it a week rather than a day - problem is that at the end of the day I just want to get home and am too willing to let the timesheets slide. I think maybe I need to adopt a policy of getting in early in the morning and doing the one from the day before first thing, to the absolute exclusion of anything else.

My firm is like Eurochick's - policy of not allowing secretaries to enter the time. Mine does help on occasion though - partners can bend the rules a bit as long as the associates don't find out wink

Gobbolinothewitchscat Sat 17-Aug-13 11:04:37

I'm a lawyer too. On mat keave and not going back as pregnant with DC2. I will not miss the fucking time recording

I forced myself to do it daily. Even if I was at work til 1:00am, I stayed til 1:30am to do the time recording. Was a ball ache but much easier in the long run

What time recording g system are you using? We used carpe diem. I basically do what euro chick does but some of my colleagues used the smarTimers very effectively. You have the bar open and as soon as someone calls you etc, you just click on the new timer. Old one stops and new one starts. Do you have a system like that and could you try?

My firm was very, very hot on time recording - partners included and I know that partner remuneration (either the bonus bit or the actual drawings for the equity) did factor in time recording for the team and also that of the partners. Over 10% of missing time for more than 3 weeks and it was no bonus (was shit anyway) for fee earners. Not sure of the exact "punishment" for partners but it did impact them tpp financially.
I think loads of firms are going to start going the same way and the partners who really struggled at my old place were the ones who didnt have a good system in place.

Sorry to be all doom and gloom - I am very sympathetic as I fucking hated it too. Loved being on secondment and just whacking the time down on one file grin

FlossyFloozie Sat 17-Aug-13 11:39:01

Gobbo (and others who said similar) your sympathy means a lot. It's just not the done thing in RL to admit struggling with it, so I did hope to find a few kindred spirits on here. I don't have DC yet but am considering getting pg just to get some respite from the time recording!

Though I was round at my friend's the other day and she said "Just let me enter some time" and sat down at her computer - "oh", I said, "are you doing some consultancy work while on maternity leave? " She said no, she was entering into a spreadsheet the times that her baby was sleeping and feeding. Perhaps you too could try baby timesheets if you get withdrawal symptoms (and 2 mins' sleep counts for 6!) smile

We use a system called Timebuilder which is quite new but seems to have been developed by people who have no idea how lawyers actually work. From a business perspective it's interesting to see that it was obviously such an issue at your firm that drastic measures were taken to address it; suggests that I am far from alone. If only there were another way of turning our work into money.

Gobbolinothewitchscat Sat 17-Aug-13 12:41:54

flossy - not sure what area you're in but I'm employment. It was mixed contentious and non contentious

I think time recording is tons easier if your project based ( so projects/corporate etc) where you're just really eorking on one or two deals. Is a fucking nightmare when you have loads of matters

I was a senior associate so had a lot of supervising to do which meant loads of interruptions. I was very strict though and always asked for the matter number and put that time diwn as you lose shit loads on that type if thing

It was such a happy day to go on mat leave [grins]. I'm
Sure the person doing the spreadsheets is lovely but sounds totally weird grin

tribpot Sat 17-Aug-13 12:51:21

I think some friends of mine who are IT consultants use Harvest. You definitely need to get technology working for you on this (although Harvest is not free).

It does sound tedious beyond belief to have to be recording your time in such immense detail, although I appreciate that it's a professional responsibility. Presumably when you get interrupted it's reasonable to say 'hang on, need to press pause on the timer' or whatever, since everyone must be in the same boat at work? (Obviously not when answering the phone to a client).

Could you at least record oral notes as the day progresses? It sounds a bit mad but I would be tempted to use something like Voxer, which will allow you to record a 'note to self', although would keep it strictly to 'Client A, 10 min phone call' (I do mean literally "Client A", not the client's name and nothing that could be compromising). Equally there are lots of dictation apps for phones that don't store the content in the Cloud where you wouldn't have to be quite so circumspect.

eurochick Sat 17-Aug-13 12:51:49

I'm at a US firm and for the fee earners Stateside there is a system where if you have x% of time entries missing, they withhold your pay! They were swiftly told they couldn't do that for the London office but we are all pretty decent about recording it regularly anyway. But generally, I think it is a widespread problem. We get monthly firm-wide nags before the billing round to make sure everything is entered. It was the same at my last firm.

I think at partner level the important motivating factor is that if the client isn't getting billed because time isn't in the system, you are the ones losing out - the associates will still get paid!

Suzietwo Sat 17-Aug-13 13:21:51

I'm a lawyer and use harvest which is find perfect for my needs, so highly recommend it. It's extremely simple and you don't need to muck about remembering file codes or anything. Then you can export the time into excel. If remembering file codes is a problem then get a list of the ones you use most often printed out so you're not put off recording the time because you don't remember the code.

If I'm short of time I put a half entry in so at least I remember what I did and can fill out the details when I bill.

I don't know a single self employed lawyer or sole practitioner who has a problem with time recording, for obvious reasons.

Suzietwo Sat 17-Aug-13 13:22:47

Oh and routine monthly billing of evy matter so you can only ever be a few weeks out of date might help. Although I appreciate you may not always be in control of that.

riksti Sat 17-Aug-13 13:27:17

Cheers, Gobbolino - flattered by your assessment that I'm weird. It's a necessity where I work - I can work on up o 20 matters a day - there is no way I can piece my time sheet together at the end of the day, never mind the week. If you only have one project at the time then obviously it's easier.

florencedombey Sat 17-Aug-13 13:35:24

I'm a lawyer who works for lots of individual clients, so like Gobbolino, I find it only works if I do it as I go along. I tend to click the onscreen smart timer as soon as I start a job / phonecall / meeting and capture it that way. Occasionally I forget and have to go back and enter the time manually, but it basically works for me. I put the timeline narrative in at the same time, but my clients are not as demanding on detail as yours are by the sound of it.

Gobbolinothewitchscat Sat 17-Aug-13 14:05:53

riksti - I'm talking about the friend with the baby who was entering time hmm

Here us the excerpt from *flossy's" post: Though I was round at my friend's the other day and she said "Just let me enter some time" and sat down at her computer - "oh", I said, "are you doing some consultancy work while on maternity leave? " She said no, she was entering into a spreadsheet the times that her baby was sleeping and feeding. Perhaps you too could try baby timesheets if you get withdrawal symptoms (and 2 mins' sleep counts for 6

I think that's quite odd. Im not referring to you. Not sure on what basis you think I am. If I was, I would reference in your username

Suzietwo Sat 17-Aug-13 16:07:23

Bonkers

FlossyFloozie Mon 19-Aug-13 06:36:15

Tribpot, the voice memo idea is an interesting one, thanks!

Littlemisstax Mon 19-Aug-13 12:17:09

I do mine as I go along - time sheet is always open, and posted to clients at the end of the day. If I leave it I lose too much time.

AmandaCooper Mon 19-Aug-13 20:55:21

My supervising partner did just what you describe, not carefully recording and then filling in a load of guesstimate time sheets at the end of each week or two. Naturally he was generous in his guess work and his recorded hours always totted up to target. Then when matters went overbudget and WIP had to be culled, everyone's time would be culled equally - my laboriously recorded accurate time alongside his guesstimate. Also, we often gave costs updates that were way out because the parter hadn't input his WIP. I completely hated it; it was selfish and was one of my main reasons for leaving.

EBearhug Mon 19-Aug-13 22:01:18

Not a lawyer, but we do have to record time. I usually do it daily, and if for some reason I don't have access to my PC at the end of the day, I write notes on a bit of paper and fill it in the next day. There's no way I would remember at the end of the week. Even daily, some of it is a reasonable guess, rather than entirely accurate recording, not that I'm admitting that to my manager.

Keeping a running total, while a pain, must make it easier in the long run, surely? You just have to make a habit of it, and once it is a habit, you won't need to think about it too hard. It's those first couple of months or so before it is habitual which is hard.

holidaysarenice Mon 19-Aug-13 22:12:27

What you need is a dictaphone, leave it beside you, at the start of a task or end just hit record and eg 9.06 - email to client re tuesday meeting - charge x units.

Then its only typing it up, or asking a second to do it. Honestly its so easy like this.

bbcessex Wed 21-Aug-13 17:30:15

I think it’s a fair question.. I’m surprised more firms don’t give more help on time recording. I’m not a lawyer but I do have to record time in small sections.

As with most things, once you’ve got into a backlog, it can seem overwhelming, but it’s really not.

My suggestion is to start off with the tips below TOMORROW so that your time from TOMORROW is recorded; you can work out the backlog as you go along.
Honestly, once you start, you will feel so much better, and you are definitely not alone!

My tips:

If you are PC literate, use a basic Excel spreadsheet. If you’re not, use a large ruled noted book with one page per day and make basic columns. You can put more columns if you want, but 1 – 5 are probably the most useful:

Column 1: Date
Column 2: Start time
Column 3: End Time
Column 4: Client / Colleague
Column 5: Activity Description
Column 6: Billed (ie yes / no)

TOP TIP 1: Get a stop watch with start / stop and the time and date. Start to use it ALL THE TIME. It will soon become a habit even if feels weird at first. Press Start when you open an email, and stop when you stop (durr!).. The write down in the book / spreadsheet IMMEDIATELY. If you get interrupted, tell the person ‘hang on, let me just write this down’, or make a note in the book. Make it part of the process.

TOP TIP 2: Record all your time spent and then decide LATER if /what should be billed. Don’t waste time figuring out in advance what is billable. Just write enough in the activity column to work it out later, eg, if you are instructing an expert, write that down and assess later if it’s re-billable to the client. If you need to, write down when you started to speak to a colleague, when you finished speaking to your colleague, even when you went to loo if it helps! I find it helps to cross it off the log when it’s been invoiced.

TOP TIP 3: To really speed things up if you need to, work out a list of short codes if it helps, or use an existing one. ACK LTR – acknowledge letter; RD & Rsp Email – read and respond to email; PT files – photocopy files etc. Otherwise just scrawl works for me.

There are formulas to work out your minutes into hours; hence the spreadsheet function is more efficient when you get used it to it, but the notebook is pretty foolproof and has the benefit of being a ‘physical reminder’ on your desk.

. Just start from tomorrow and take control – it’s easy, don’t be overwhelmed. GOOD LUCK! x

flossieFloozy Thu 29-Aug-13 06:32:44

bbcessex thank you so much for your supportive post. Your advice about dealing with the future ones making the backlog less daunting was great. I have managed a week of daily posting using a combo of the tips on here and am feeling much more positive.

AmandaCooper Fri 30-Aug-13 07:15:11

My tip would be if you do keep a written record as you go along, use a particular colour of paper to do it - that way you can always find it quickly among all the papers on your desk.

Mandy21 Fri 30-Aug-13 08:53:06

What system do you use? Our time recording system has 2 options - manual entries and clocks. You input the file reference (only have to do this at say the start of the week - it "remembers" the files that you work on most often and has them in a list) so when the phone rings and its X client, you click on their clock when you pick up the phone, click on it again when you put the phone down and just type in a short narrative - obviously do a file note if it warrants it. Similarly if you've opened a clock and you have to stop working on the case because someone comes into your office whatever, you just click on the clock and it stops recording the time. When you start again, you can re-click the clock. When you close your timesheet in the evening, it automatically converts the clock time into units - thats how I and most of my colleagues deal with the ad-hoc entries that crop up when you're dealing with other things in the day.

For the "normal" tasks - letters, emails etc, once you're in the habit, it just becomes routine. Dictate letter, submit to secretary, record a unit. Send email / read email - drop email in specific matter file on system, record time. Pull out file to consider papers, do the work, record time, put file back in cabinet etc. If you consider the time recording as part of the actual task, it becomes slightly less onerous.

mikkii Fri 30-Aug-13 09:13:16

I'm an accountant rather than a lawyer, but we also work in a very similar way. I try to record as I go, but invariably have insufficient time recorded at the end of the day, in which case I review my mailboxes as a reminder, and also my calendar. I try not to leave it, as it doesn't get easier to remember what you were doing!

We use a system called Practice Engine. It has a built in timer (stop watch icon) which some people use, I don't like it because if I get distracted (e.g. By a phone call) I forget to stop the timer, but some of my colleagues use it successfully.

ZenNudist Fri 30-Aug-13 09:22:14

I have an A5 diary and I write down the time I spend on stuff at the end of the day. Often my time notes are more detailed in the morning as i get bombed out doing several things at once.

I have to record time once a week, so it's easy to be disciplined about that.

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