I think it’s fairly universal in the advertising industry that timesheets are hated (and probably many other service industries where time is the main factor in deciding how much to charge a client). Of course, not everyone hates them – accountants, project managers and account people tend to like them – so I’m probably just talking about creative people. Or maybe just myself?
Anyway, that’s not the debate I am having here, with myself. I’m trying to work out if timesheets are the bane of my life or a useful tool. I consider them to be the former. And here’s why:
In some instances, recording how long it takes me to do something is then used as a template for the cost of coming up with something similar, for a different client. This makes creativity into a production line and not, well, creative.
Of course, I’m not so naïve that I think we should do away with timesheets – they do, after all, serve the necessary purpose of making sure I’m not wasting my time on frivolous activities like Twitter or Facebook. They record, as best as I allow (because it’s me that’s filling these things in), how much time I spend on which activity; mostly, that’s coming up with ideas, refining ideas, writing copy, etc.
But using them to template out how long the next job will take doesn’t value creativity, and that’s what drives me mad about them. Creativity isn’t the same as production and confusing the two only leads to less creativity and a drop in standards.
It’s worth pointing out that deadlines, which are time-based, do not hinder the creative process; I actively love deadlines as they give me a focus. But missing them shouldn’t mean it’s game over. There are occasions when, for whatever reason, the creativity isn’t coming up with the desired goods. And this is where timesheets really mess things up for me.
Because a project plan states a number of hours and when those hours are used up, that’s supposedly it. Timesheets show up these discrepancies; instead of that being a reason to move the goalposts, it’s used a stick with which to beat a person. Not always, but often enough in my career that it’s made me wonder if timesheets are the best measure of how to bill a client for ‘creative work’. Surely, the client would prefer to get a solid creative idea that takes a little longer than accept second best?
And I’m not the only one who thinks this way, am I?
A quick search on Google shows there are numerous books on the subject, and that people, far more erudite than I, have written (some would say better) blog posts about creativity and timesheets/billing.
So, is it any wonder that those involved in the front line of the creative process tend not to do their timesheets the most often? No, I don’t believe it is.
And when I asked around the office, it seems that those in the creative department are constantly being chased to fill in their timesheets. My favourite response from one of our Creative Directors: “We get an email that says: ‘Your timesheets are outstanding’, to which the obvious reply is: Thank you!”