No, really, how do you do it?
September 21, 2012 7:39 AM   Subscribe

For those of you that have to, how do you track your time at work? I'm not interested in the program you use or anything like that but what do you do if you have only 5 hours written down but you need to fill in the gap for the other three hours and you just honestly can't remember?

Or what if you can remember but you can't write down that you surfed Reddit for 45 minutes and talked to your mom for half an hour? Do you fudge on the 5 hours you have written down (expand a bit here and there) or just write down 3 hours to "misc, admin"?

I know this is a question I should be asking our accounting dept but I don't want to stick my neck out and was just thinking that everyone who tracks their time must come across this now and again.
posted by dawkins_7 to Work & Money (26 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
posted by cincinnatus c at 7:44 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

Really depends on your needs. Do you care at all about specifics? Does someone else care at all about specifics? If yes to either of those, google for a tracker program that will remind you at least of whichever activities were on the computer. If no to both of those: "Admin."

It would actually be really useful for you to know what your employee cares about seeing (and I think you can ask in a way that won't be held against you).
posted by kalapierson at 7:55 AM on September 21, 2012

"Support tasks" or "admin", whichever you call it - the same bucket you'd put your time into if you spent an hour rearranging your email, or making calls, or attending status meetings, or whatever other miscellaneous work-related tasks you might be doing.
posted by Xany at 7:55 AM on September 21, 2012

I had billable hours for a long time at an old job. fudging wasn't really a good thing if we could avoid it- fudging and billing extra to a certain client could have been a termination offense if we would get caught.

Mostly I just kept a notebook next to my desk and got in the habit of jotting down the time and job code whenever I switched projects or when to lunch. Then I added it up at the end of the day and logged it in. We were allowed downtime (creative types were considered to "need it") so we logged that with the "downtime, admin" code the same way we logged time doing the timesheets.

I also added five min of "Admin" to each day to account for all my "jotting."
posted by Blisterlips at 7:58 AM on September 21, 2012


I'm not sure exactly what you do, but I've worked as a project manager/producer in web development/design for a long time, and look at what people write down for their billable time a lot.

Don't put misc or Admin unless you really were doing something purely internal or Administrative. Too many "Admins" and people will start wondering if you're billing enough and wonder if you haven't got enough work. I generally use my emails and meeting calendar to see what I was doing if I can't remember.
posted by sweetkid at 8:00 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Don't put it on admin, divide it over your assigned projects/tasks. Too much booking on admin is the same as admitting you've been browsing the internet for several hours.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:00 AM on September 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

Admin or filing. But I have billable hours only for client-related work, and I don't and am not expected to bill admin and general office tasks time, so it's not out of place or weird for my boss to see that I've only billed 4 hours out of the 8 hour work day. Basically, I'm super careful about what I bill to clients, to the point where I generally subtract about 10 minutes out of any longer chunks of time I bill to account for bathroom breaks/talking to people/checking email. I don't have to be as careful about accounting for time spent doing general office tasks, but to keep track of it all and avoid the "wtf did I do for that missing two hours of the workday?!?" thing, I keep a running record of the work I'm doing during the day. Like, 9:00-9:30: entered time and updated costs spreadsheet; 9:30-11:00: work on memo, etc. If when you do this, you notice a lot of "faffing about online" time that needs to be accounted for, it may be time to suck it up and take on a new project at work, or admit to your supervisor that you've got some free time on your hands that you're not sure how you should be filling.
posted by yasaman at 8:10 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

To elaborate on my caution on not billing to Admin - definitely don't fake it if you're not working on billable work, just don't give up on trying to remember and bill things to admin when they could go to client work. If you are spending too much time lolling online, as yasaman says you might need more work.
posted by sweetkid at 8:13 AM on September 21, 2012

I find going through sent and received emails helps for when you can't remember what you did.
posted by dripdripdrop at 8:16 AM on September 21, 2012 [4 favorites]

I was pretty terrible at keeping track of my hours, and it got to be a huge stress at the end of the month as I'd have to recreate a week or more of time. Because I was freaked out about not overbilling clients (for fear of losing assignments and client satisfaction with my work), I ended up shorting myself quite a bit. Some weeks where I was there early and staying late, I could find only 25 hours or so.

So I went to the drug store and bought a cheap little spiral notebook, and started keeping a scratch page for every day that was solely for the purpose of tracking what I did. I would scribble down what I did throughout the day, then at the end of the day I'd review my inbox and sent items to see if there was anything I'd missed. Then I would allocate across the hours that I was there, taking into consideration my general productivity and applying a discount factor. I think it ended up as a pretty accurate account of my day and after a few weeks of discipline it became easy to do.
posted by AgentRocket at 8:41 AM on September 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

2nding sent and received emails, call log can help, too, especially if you have to talk to a lot of people where a 5 min call can turn into 50 mins before you know it........
posted by koahiatamadl at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2012

I have always spread that time over the tasks that I've already got allocated.
posted by neushoorn at 8:45 AM on September 21, 2012

Yep, looking through old emails helps. So does looking at calendar entries if you keep a detailed calendar. And it also helps to make it a habit to jot down whatever you're doing WHEN YOU'RE DOING IT. The easiest way to lose time is to wait until the end of the day/week/month and reconstruct your time from there.

You'll also want to find out what your policy is on rounding/increments of time. For example, we bill in 6-minute increments (tenths of an hour). Also have an idea of what your editorial policy is like. For example, we are bonused on what we actually bill, and not on what is actually passed onto the client. Our hours are reviewed before they're shipped out, so it's self-destructive here to edit for what the task "should have taken." We just bill the amount of time it actually took, and if some of that is eventually written off, fine. In other environments you may have to edit yourself and limit to what it should have taken.

I keep a written log next to my keyboard of all of the time I bill during the day, and enter that into our billing software once a week. Others do it contemporaneously. Do what works for you.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:51 AM on September 21, 2012

I know you said you weren't specifically interested in programs, but given the number of "spiral notebook!" answers, I have to say...there are programs where you just click a start/stop button as you move between tasks. Free online ones, even. I kind of like using them, because I can tie to a project or to a specific task. It is nice for estimating future work if you can see a pattern in past tasks.
posted by instamatic at 9:21 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: First I would ask what increments of time should be used. In most cases I would think rounding to the nearest 15 mins would be sufficient.

When I've had to do this before, I calculated it on a daily basis. I set up a notification to remind me to do my timesheet at the end of the day.

I would then think about my day in terms of percentages, and relate that back to how many hours I spent at work that day. So if I was there 9 hours, minus a 1 hour lunch break, that leaves 8 hours to account for. If I spent 25% of my time on Project A, 60% of my time on Project B, and 15% of my time on Project C, my timesheet would say something like: Project A - 2 hours, Project B - 4.75 hours, Project C - 1.25 hours.
posted by halseyaa at 9:28 AM on September 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses everyone. I'm not really looking for "how to track my time". I have a timekeeper on my desktop and it works great when I remember to use it. But I was just curious about those times that I don't or that I really just didn't do much in an afternoon. I know my company has policies about this and everyone else's does but I was thinking that other people have this issue as well. I'm thinking more along the lines of bigger thoughts rather than the details of how you track your time.

For instance, I have actually written down a half-day of PTO in the past when I've been here but just didn't do a damn thing.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:33 AM on September 21, 2012

If you have that much free time, first ask your manager if there are any projects you can help out on. You can also check in with your coworkers (bonus- they will think you are super helpful!). At that point, its safe to ask your manager how you should bill your "down time".
posted by halseyaa at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2012

Response by poster: On review - something like what halseyaa describes is what I'm thinking about.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:39 AM on September 21, 2012

Are you having this much downtime because there's no work to do, or because you're unmotivated/distracted? If there's no work to do, I agree that you should ask for more work. If you're unmotivated/distracted, you might have a different issue.
posted by the young rope-rider at 9:42 AM on September 21, 2012

I'm a little confused by your follow up. What do you do if you have such little work that you're putting in PTO for a half day? You ask for more work -- you'd do that even if you're not billing your time. Not enough work is not enough work, right?
posted by sweetkid at 9:48 AM on September 21, 2012

Response by poster: It's just a slow time right now. Next week we'll probably be slammed.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:55 AM on September 21, 2012

Best answer: ah, got it. In that case just ask your manager how to bill the time and don't put it toward billable work because it might just end up getting moved. A week or so of downtime is not unexpected and not on you.
posted by sweetkid at 9:56 AM on September 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do your hours get billed to clients? If so, fudging is completely unethical.
posted by murfed13 at 10:28 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Setting an alarm every hour helps immeasurably in reducing lost time. At 10, you get a pop-up notification on your desktop, and you think, "Okay, I was answering that email from Client A for most of it, but I also checked on the status of the project for Client B a little, so I'll say 45 minutes on A and 15 on B. Now back to work..." Cutting little slices off a bit at a time is a lot easier than coming to the end of the day and trying to remember what you were doing eight hours ago.

When you legitimately don't have anything to do, go to your boss and say, "Hey, I'm caught up on pretty much everything. Do you have anything else I can help on? No? How do you want me to bill the rest of the day, then?"

Your boss will probably end up referring you over to payroll or HR -- every job I've had that I billed time for had a specific code for time spent not doing anything. The reason for that is that if you're salaried, they pay you not just to do work, but to be available and ready to do work -- otherwise, they'd give you a project and say, "You'll get $1000 when you finish this." Part of the "bet" that companies make when they put people on salary is that they'll have roughly 40 hours of work for you every week. When they have 42, you won't bitch about the overtime, and when they have 38, they won't short your check that week.
posted by Etrigan at 10:49 AM on September 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

"Professional reading" is something that a boss in a former job had us do if there was downtime. In one case, a blizzard was forecast for the next day that he didn't want us driving in, but he was sympathetic to us being poorly-paid and on hourly wages where missing a day meant a chunk out of our paychecks (didn't get paid for snow days: state job, 'nuff said) so he sent my coworker and I home with books and journals for the industry and racked the day up to professional reading.

I've used that periodically since...and since I'm currently, in part, a web developer and designer, time spent looking at websites to see what current design trends are *is* professional development. (Sometimes those websites have entertaining content! I'm just saying.)
posted by telophase at 11:54 AM on September 21, 2012

I work in a creative job, and we often have legitimate downtime. We have an an internal code and an administrative code; we used to use the internal code when it was slow, and the administrative code when we were doing email cleanup or department organizing or whatever. Lately, however, our boss has told us to never use the internal code (even though it still exists) and only use the administrative code. I suspect the reason is that upper management is looking to streamline departments and too much internal would lead to a reduction in headcount. Administrative time can be more easily explained. At any rate, your manager is the one to ask, as they'd be the one to have to answer for your time.

I can't tell exactly from your question if you're surfing the web while you have work, and just taking longer to complete things, or if you having nothing to do at all. If you're sitting at your desk and ready to work with no work to do, you're doing your part and you should not use PTO time. If you're slacking at your desk with work to do, you need to stop that. Finish your work, THEN slack. It's very satisfying.
posted by clone boulevard at 2:37 PM on September 21, 2012

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