When I meet with colleagues who are starting their own independent public relations or marketing practice, one of my top recommendations is that they track their time. For everything.
PR agencies are all about tracking time, at least for the purpose of billing clients for hourly work. However, I’ve seen PR firms and independent practitioners skip time-tracking for projects that are billed as a flat-fee or retainer (“I’m getting paid $X to get a job done anyway, so what does it matter how long it takes?”). I’ve also seen a lack of time-tracking for non-billable tasks, like book-keeping, e-mail checking and business development.
I made this mistake myself, for years.
Then I discovered that tracking how you spend your workday can be incredibly valuable, and not just for PR agencies. If you work in an in-house PR department, I suggest tracking how you spend your time, even if your boss doesn’t require it.
The five reasons below explain why tracking your time is so important, no matter the environment.
1. Time is Money
This adage is true in all service industries, including PR. For PR agencies, most of which bill according to how much time is spent on an account, time directly correlates to revenue. Wasting time is wasting money – and who wants that?
For in-house PR pros, remember: your employer pays you to work 40 hours a week (or more). If you’re not using that time wisely to impact positive change for your organization, you could be costing the company money. No one wants to be in that position come annual review time.
2. Clarity allows for prioritization
When you start tracking every minute of your workday, you suddenly get very clear on where you’re spending your time.
“I spend an average of 3 hours every day answering non-critical e-mails?!”
“Do I really waste at least two hours every day in non-essential meetings?”
“I only spent one hour this week on a project that’s supposed to be high-priority for my company?”
What you see on your timesheet may surprise you – it may even scare you – but it’s the first step in the process. It allows you to identify time wasters and gives you the power to re-calibrate and re-prioritize as needed.
3. Know whether you’re getting fairly compensated
For agency PR pros, it’s critical to track time spent on all client work, including engagements based on flat fees. I realized this when I started tracking my time years ago and found that, based on the number of hours I was putting in on one flat-fee account, I should have been getting paid 50% more. Even though I wasn’t in a position to renegotiate the contract at the time, I did when we were up for renewal—and vowed to avoid making that mistake again.
For in-house PR pros, you need to understand how much time you’re actually working – especially if it includes nights and weekends. Even if you’re on salary, it could be helpful to know that you’re working 60 hours a week when your co-worker – who makes the same salary – is putting in 40. This could provide leverage when asking for a promotion or a raise.
4. Planning for future projects
After you’ve been tracking your time for a while, that recorded history becomes the gift that keeps on giving. Knowing how much time it takes to complete different types of projects and tasks comes in very handy when planning for new projects.
For example, when a prospective client recently asked me to quote them for a press release project, I was able to check my past timesheet from a very similar project and base the quote on how much time I spent on it. That way, I could base my new quote on actual time spent on something comparable instead of a less-accurate estimate.
For in-house pros, this can prove useful for planning everything from weekly administrative tasks to annual campaigns. When you know how long things tend to take, you can better plan for and schedule them.
5. Better decision-making
I’ve relied on my time-sheets to make many important business decisions. For example, when I saw I was spending several hours a month on accounting tasks, I knew I could justify outsourcing a book-keeper. Same thing with hiring staff, engaging subcontractors, and subscribing to services that decreased the amount of time I needed to spend on certain tasks.
For in-house PR staff, perhaps you’re spending five hours a week inputting news clips into a reporting service. This may signal it’s time to bring on an intern. Or maybe you realize you’re spending way too much time checking emails. Time to find tools to help streamline email management. When you see the time-sheets in black and white, you can objectively consider whether there’s room for improvement.
What do you think – are you a fan of tracking time? Have any other insights to share? Leave us a comment below.