Reader M writes in with a question about time management and billing fun…
There was a discussion a few weeks ago regarding timekeeping methods for those of us enslaved to the billable hour. I would LOVE to see a whole post on this. It’s been a hot topic among the associates at my small firm lately, particularly with the increased scrutiny our bills are getting from clients in the late economic times. What do people use to keep time? How efficient are people? Am I normal to have to spend 10 hours in the office to bill 8, or does that mean (a) I need to stop messing around so much (I’m looking at you, online shopping and Corporette threads!), or (b) I need to bill more aggressively? Any helpful tips on being descriptive in bills (5.9 hours for “organizing files”??)?
Tough question, and I’m very curious to see what the readers have to say. I remember being told, as a summer associate (many moons ago and in a very different environment than we find ourselves today) that “everyone bills differently — some people get that flash of brilliance on a case in the middle of the night, or in the shower.” (Um, for the record, I never billed any time for showers or middle-of-the-night-tossing-and-turning — not that work thoughts didn’t ever intrude on “private” time.) (Pictured: Pocket Watch Clock, originally uploaded to Flickr by Svadilfari.) I’ll also point out that it varies from client to client — some prefer you to bill in quarter hours, others in tenths of the hour; some will let you get away with “Drafted brief” as your description; others will want “Researched and wrote section of brief on copyrightability.”
Ultimately, I think time management is a problem for everyone trapped at a desk for multiple hours on end. I don’t think you’re unusual in the least to have to spend 10 hours in the office to bill 8. A few things that I’ve personally looked into include:
- the Pomodoro Technique — you focus on ONE THING ONLY for 25 minutes, then get a 5 minute break, then get back to work for that ONE THING ONLY for 25 minutes. You have to restart the timer (or: you’re supposed to restart the timer) if someone or something interrupts your 25 minutes. I like this in theory, but if your boss is fond of frequent, must-answer-now interruptions, it can be a bit frustrating. I downloaded a timer for my computer, but there seem to be several iPhone apps. (Hat tip to the WSJ for their series on time-management.)
- RescueTime — there’s a free version and a paid version (I pay $9.95 each month) that literally tracks where you’re going and what you’re doing online — and if you’re gone for more than 5 minutes, a window comes up that asks you where you’ve been. I’d say it works best to supplement and check whatever billing system you already have, not as a stand-alone, but that’s just me. I like that you get a weekly report telling you what you’ve spent your time on, as well as how you “rate” next to other users. (You also get massive information telling you just how long you spent on Gmail, or Corporette, or… well, you get the picture.)
Readers, what are your favorite time-management techniques? Particularly for those of you who bill (especially the more senior staffers and partners amongst you!), what are your personal ethics and tips for billing responsibly?