Top 5½ ways to get creatives to do their timesheets

Paul Doerwald • August 3

Let’s be honest — creatives are notoriously bad at entering their time sheets. Who can blame them? It’s not exactly the most interesting part of their job... But they must if you want to make sure your invoices are fair and accurate.

We’ve assembled the top tips and tricks to get creatives to enter their hours. It takes perseverance and patience to get your creatives to do their time sheets. But it's worth it!

1. Outline the importance of time sheets when you're first on-boarding new creative staff

If you want creatives to track their time, they need to understand why. It is important for you as well as them. It’s how your agency keeps the lights on.

“If you’re not ringing the cash register, you’re no good to us.” Randy Newman’s comment about his creatives was brutal, but true. The CEO of Colour, a Halifax NS agency, reasoned as follows. If the most brilliant mind in an agency isn’t bringing in money, their brilliance is worthless. Without timesheets, they become overhead. That makes them a cost center rather than a revenue center.

When on-boarding your new creative employee, it’s helpful to make these points:

  • Admit that everyone hates timesheets, but they are a part of your agency’s culture. Note: it helps if this is actually true!
  • Without up-to-date timesheets, your agency can’t send invoices.
  • If your agency can’t send invoices, it can’t pay its staff (e.g. your new employee!)
  • In the ebb and flow of agency work, when hard choices are made, it is helpful to be the employee who is consistently billing their time. (Yeah, this is kind of a threat, but the employee who earns their keep will keep their job.)
  • Encourage your staff to carve out time every day for their time tracking. Then make a point of respecting the time they’ve carved out.

2. Make timesheets part of your team culture and process

Timesheets need to be a regular and expected practice for your agency. The expectation should be the same as attending meetings or keeping up with emails.

If employees aren’t taking the initiative themselves, check in at least once per week. Remind them of the points above.

Find tools that help your staff remember to fill in their timesheets. Tools could be as simple as calendar reminders and regular email blasts. You could also use more sophisticated tools like RescueTime, Rize, or Clockk.

Empower your project or account managers to be the timesheet police. Make timesheets a shared responsibility. Both the project/account manager and the creative need to keep timesheets up to date. They can hold each other accountable.

Timesheets are most accurate if they’re done daily — either at the end of the workday, or at the beginning of the next. A successful timesheet culture is one where all billable employees embrace this principle.

3. Make timesheets easy to fill out

No-one wants to do something complicated after a long day — especially creatives! If you want them to enter their hours, make it as painless as possible. Creatives love a beautiful, simple interface. If your time tracking tool is hard to use, people will avoid using it. Then you’ll have late and inaccurate timesheets.

There are several ways you can improve the timesheet experience:

  • The worst part of doing timesheets is not remembering what you did. This can cause a tremendous amount of anxiety. Have an all-hands brainstorming session (with pizza, of course!) where everyone can suggest the strategies they use as mental pegs to recall what they worked on.
  • Use cloud-based tools instead of on-premise software. With everyone working remote these days, cloud-based software is a great choice. Plus, your staff can fill in their timesheets from anywhere!
  • Use modern tools. An ugly old application attached to your accounting system is not pleasant to work with. Instead, find a purpose-built time tracking tool where the makers prioritized user experience. You can import that tool’s data into your accounting system.
  • Cut the time to project creation. Before the ink is dry on a new job, the project should exist in your time tracking system. If your project creation process is slow, your staff will have to use pen & paper to track their time. That’s frustrating!
  • Make time tracking intuitive. If every step of the process is simple and clear, people are more likely to use it.
  • Give creatives some say in their timesheet system design. They know what works best for their workflow.

4. Show how time sheet entry can benefit them

Creatives are often motivated by money. If you show them that entering time sheets means they get to make more money, they’ll be much more inclined to do it! If every hour entered is an hour closer to a fat year-end bonus cheque, they’ll roll out of bed for time tracking!

Money is not the only possible motivator. Accurate, consistent invoices are closely linked to job security. An agency without ready-to-bill hours can’t access cash. If there’s no cash in the agency, there’s no money for payroll.

There is also a reputation aspect. Billed hours that don’t correspond to the value clients receive reflect poorly on you. Referral business dries up, or worse, you’ll get outright bad reviews. If a business is known for over-billing its clients, its employees are known for the same.

4.5 Gamify time tracking

If you want to give your team a nudge, incentivize them for tracking their time.

  • Connect completed timesheets to a quarter-end or year-end bonus.
  • Have a pizza party for everyone, but every missing timesheet day gets you a dash of hot sauce on your slice. Fun, public humiliation, and agonizing! A great combination! 😂
  • Run a monthly timesheet leaderboard, but keep the “leader” changing:
    • Most hours tracked
    • Fastest to submit timesheets each day
    • Last to submit
    • Most complaining about timesheets
    • Least timesheet reminders
    • Most timesheet reminders
    • etc.
  • Assign a “timesheet hero” who makes sure everyone does their timesheets. Give the timesheet hero a special hat or badge. The timesheet hero gets a special reward at the end of the week/month (e.g. a free drink, dinner out, gift card, etc.) for their suffering. Make sure to rotate the timesheet hero, because no one deserves this job full-time.
  • For repeat offenders, create a timesheet jail. A good jail is one that’s a bit embarrassing for the offender. The best jail is one that they created themselves. Survey everyone what an appropriate punishment is, and then deliver their personalized punishment.

5. Show them that timesheets are a priority for you too

As an agency owner, it’s likely that very little of your time is billable any more. Think about ways that you can show that you still watch your time, like you did back in your billable days. For this, automated tools like Clockk can be especially helpful.

As a bootstrapped SaaS founder who also still has a software consultancy on the side, I’m not only tracking the time I bill to my clients, but also the time I spend working for Clockk doing marketing, sales, customer support, and even product management activities. Clockk makes it super easy for me to track all these activities. So, even though little of my time is billable, my employees can see that I’m in the thick of timesheets with them.

If you’re looking for the best way to make time tracking super easy for your creative staff, give Clockk a try. Clockk lets them focus on their muse, while helping them remember what they worked on. Visit Clockk.com to try our time tracking software for free. Or, schedule a demo and see how we can help you and your team!

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