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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!).

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