I am Minute Dock’s slave

To the uninitiated, Minute Dock is my current time recording software. There are many others. I like Minute Dock, they are Kiwis and will gently abuse you if you don’t record any time during any given day. I like software that amuses me. And it has lots of reporting elements to feed into my obsessive data need. I was thinking of moving to a new accounting system with built in timesheets and got very excited – right up to the point where I looked at the timesheet element and saw how basic it was. No targets? No graphs? No daily tallies? No nothing? I came out in a cold sweat and resigned myself to continuing to pay for timesheets separately.

Billable hours have become an obsession. I’ve talked a lot about how people don’t get the whole “Not working, not earning” thing, the billable hours concept takes some getting used to. It really does. I have been known to holler at people that come into the room / house “I’m on the clock!” because when I am on client work, I am head down, 100% focused on that work.

I’d love to able to offer packages which means I can escape the timer, but I find it quite tricky to bundle up what I do so a timer it is until inspiration hits. Curses.

For those who haven’t tried it, there is something really quite weird about working for minutes worked. I know we’ve all had employment where you’re paid by the hour and they’ll dock your pay if you’re ten minutes late but it still isn’t quite the same. I think that the other industry that works in a similar way is solicitors. What it seems to mean in reality for me is that you sit at your desk for 8 hours and only get paid for 5! And even consultants usually bill in hours or days and half days and it would rarely occur to them to give a client a timesheet – let alone one broken down like mine is. They wouldn’t clock out and in for a phone call or to make a cup of tea.

How many billable hours you do becomes an obsession. I have Minute Dock graphs, I have charts, I have daily targets, weekly targets, spreadsheets, daily notes and records of monthly retainers. If my “weekly billable hours” tracker is under at any point in the week my stress levels rise quite considerably. I will grab anyone who works in the same way I do (mainly lawyers) and shamelessly bug them for what they think is a reasonable number of billable hours, how many is enough? What about time spent doing internal work or sales – should you record it just so you know you aren’t a lazy bint just working 5 hours a day? Should you clock off if you go for a wee? How about making a brew? Do you round your timesheet up to the nearest minute? 3 minutes? 5 minutes? 15 minutes? How many hours would a junior lawyer do? I am a woman on the edge when it comes to these things. I read in awe about new lawyers joining USA law firms from college and how they are expected to bill 200 hours a month. In a 4 week month that is 50 hours a week, 10 hours a day. And that doesn’t mean they rock up at 8 and finish at 6PM because, as we know, just being in the building isn’t billable! In order to hit those targets they might as well sleep there and work every weekend! I kid you not, those poor bastards do not have lives. I work a fairly typical Monday – Friday 9 – 5.30 ish with some over here and there and my target monthly hours are around 100 (25 ish a week). As I say, I’ve done more, I’ve done less but certainly what you can’t do is work 9 – 5 with an hour for lunch and expect to bill 7 hours. It just doesn’t work like that.

And it is a bit bonkers to be so fixated on my charts, but actually, if I don’t hit my billable hours I won’t earn what I expect to be earning. Having said that, if I do too many billable hours I’m not going to be spending any time doing marketing, networking, sending invoices and so on.

A nice day for me is 5 hours, a kick-ass day is 6 or more, anything under 4 without a decent excuse (like I had a meeting or broke a limb) I will feel miserable about. Especially if I have actually been at my desk all day (and it does happen, there is some kind of time-stealing fairy that comes with some clients where you swear to God you have spent a whole frigging day on them and being stressed by them but the total hours add up to 2). I have done 8 hours and occasionally even 10 but I don’t recommend doing it often if you value your sanity.

Some clients are more anal about it than others. I’ve had people tell me that certain tasks shouldn’t take longer than 17 minutes or whatever and that just starts getting mental. I have come to realise that actually most clients once they know and trust you don’t really analyse time sheets that much and the obsession for accuracy is mainly in my head. When I first set up I worked with a lovely Irishman and I sent him my invoice and a time sheet for an hour and 45 minutes or something. He actually skyped me and I kid you not, his exact words were (scuse the accent) “What the feck is this? Jaysus, that’s mental. Can’t you just call it a couple of hours?”.

You also have to balance billing time with being OCD. I check emails lots, I don’t know, say 10 times a day ish if I am not head down in a particular project. I might not do anything for a client, there may not be an email in their inbox – do I charge because I checked? Some do. If there is an expectation that an inbox is monitored x times a day then that should be chargeable right? It may only take 20 seconds but in that time I could have watched a funny cat video on Facebook. I tend to whack 5 minutes on the clock for “general glancing at mail” if I don’t do anything. I start the clock if I do have to do something.

It’s a constant juggling act and an obsession that continues. Therapy. It’s the only way. Anyone else obsessive on the billables?