Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Tracking Your Time

There are a lot of reasons to keep track of your time. As I get older, I realize how much I got done in the weeks prior. But as a publisher, it helps me analyze where my company is spending time - and whether or not we are spending our time where it matters.

From 2004-2009, I used massive spreadsheets to help keep myself organized and to help my company track billing. At billing time, I wanted to drive my car into a wall most months. By then, I had three employees and each one of them would unknowingly write a different description of what they were working on. One would enter in Business Cards, the next one Biz Cards and another 2 Sided Bus Cards -- but that doesn't sort very easily to tell me they all spent time doing something with a business card for a client. I tried protocols, but there was inevitably a misspelling here or there and I missed a lot that way too. Billing took me 40-60 hours a month!

Then in January of 2009, I instituted three new things: A task list called Checklist by Task Solutions and its counterpart Task Anyone, which sends notices to individuals to whom I assign tasks. We have sort of outgrown it at this point, and I'm searching for another more flexible solution to it -- but it worked well for me when I had only 100 or so tasks to track. I'll continue to use it until I find something equally user friendly and cost effective for our task lists that are more than 2000 tasks long.

The third item I purchased and put in place was Standard Time. It is a time-clock oriented piece of software that has things compartmentalized by the person assigned to the task, the client and the project on which we are working. Each project is broken down into subcategories and then down to tasks within those categories. For example, a string might look like this:

KELLY W. (Client in purple here)
   Book 1 (Projects in royal blue here)
       Publishing Compliance (Subcategories are in red)
             Purchase ISBN (Tasks are in black)
             Apply for LCCN
             Join IBPA
             Category Research
             Pricing Research
             Front Cover
             Back Cover/spine
     Product Feature development
             Diagram album
             Press Release
             Sell Sheet
             POP Display
             Book Launch Party
             Facebook Updates
      Distribution and Sales
             Baker & Taylor set up and maint.
             Amazon updates
             Amazon sales
              Facebook Updates

Each time a person works on something, they are able to specify exactly which thing they are working on simply by clicking a clock-like icon and then selecting the task as the project tree expands from that simple click. Expenses are noted in the same way. For example, let's say someone spends $45 on their company Amex card printing sell sheets. They just expand the tree until they see the sell sheet category under Marketing and PR, and then enter the amount and the payee. When reconciling the Amex bill at the end of the month, I know exactly what the charge was for. And for billing I run reports to tell me by client, project and employee what we worked on how many minutes it took. (You can set parameters to always round up to five minutes, or fifteen minutes, etc.) There is also a feature that lets you link to Quickbooks or bill directly from the program. 

This type of program is quick, inexpensive, and very effective. I researched several and found this one more than served my needs. (The only thing I wish I knew how to do is write my own reports for it; currently I use the pre-existing ones that come with the program with the various filters that allow me to customize them for me.)

Check this out:  Standard Time, and talk to Warren Peacock.

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