Timesheets Create Efficiency–True or False?

EfficiencyTimesheets will help you improve efficiency, they claim!

Do you ever want to scream when you read people promoting one solution as the secret sauce to achieving every goal?

I feel like that when I read how timesheets will transform your knowledge services firm into a paragon of efficiency.

What’s the Problem?

Experts who use their knowledge to deliver life changing value don’t think in a linear, minute-by-minute fashion. Creative brains don’t work that way.

The definition of efficiency is delivering the end results in the least time possible adjusted for complexity and quality.

This definition implies that efficiency can be measured precisely, and the measurements can help speed up the work but that only works in rigidly defined processes such as factories staffed with robots.

How Knowledgeable Experts Really Work

Applying knowledge doesn’t unfold in neat increments at a steady pace that you could work to speed up.

As you begin a project you have periods of discussion. Your team needs an understanding of the problems, the current situation, and the eventual goal.

You can have the best facilitator and agenda. You can have the smartest people in the room.

However, the final action plan doesn’t come after a 60 minute meeting. If it does, you’re shortchanging the value of creative work.

There are discussions. Ideas come out of the discussions, and it take times to sort through and put them into an action plan. Then you need to decide on delivery date.

Once the discussion is documented and written down, and the delivery date is confirmed, you have to implement.

Wait…We are Not All “Creatives”

I beg to differ. Even CPAs are creative-they have to create order out of information that isn’t ordered. They can be astute advisors by putting disparate pieces together. They combine their expertise with the client’s needs, wants and desires. And deliver life changing value.


Implementation doesn’t unfold in neat 60 minute increments either.

Anyone who’s ever written an article (or a paragraph or a slide) knows there are times when you need to pause and let the work go on in your brain without being actively focused on it. That doesn’t unfold in neat increments.

In client work there’s collaboration with the client. Your firm needs to get their point of view, you need information from them; know that they will ask for changes; and have different points of view. None of this unfolds in neat increments of time.

Therefore, the idea that measuring time will increase efficiency is a fallacy. It causes unnecessary disappointment and conflict.

Even worse is that if you force an artificial timetable, you are shortchanging the life changing value you can deliver.

Are There Any Opportunities for Efficiency in Knowledge Work?

Yes. When you adopt Value Based Pricing as your pricing strategy, you and the client agree to an end date. By that end date the value is delivered. That’s as efficient as it can get. There may be some fluid milestones between the start and end dates to help maintain momentum and identify any problems that could hinder delivering the value by the end date. But strict timekeeping is no help at all.

If Timesheets Don’t Help, What Does?

This is the most critical question to answer.

Remember, you can’t turn on a dime. It will take several months to gain confidence that your teams are being efficient—delivering life changing value by the due date.

There are 3 key steps:

1) Look at past projects and understand what went on from the start to the end. What did you do and who did what? Closely analyze the past 6 months of work.

2) Consider how the allocation of experts is impacted by the firm’s habits and culture. Do you expect people to be single area experts or jacks of all trades?

3) Ask “How many projects can a specific expert handle concurrently? Can a person think about many different businesses and industries at the same time? You have to test that.

Timesheets will never answer these qualitative questions.

Wasting Time vs. Taking Time

Wasting time means: unnecessary meetings; filling out time sheets; frequent interruptions; unclear goals.

Taking time is about allowing the ideas to percolate and fully form and then to be executed in the highest quality way.

Efficiency is the wrong goal. Delivering life changing value by the delivery date is the right goal.

Need an Outside point of View?

Have you heard this one? “You cannot read the label from the inside of the bottle.”

I know firsthand how an outside point of view illuminates things large and small that I did not see. That is how I help the knowledge services firms I work with.

You’re making progress, which I respect and support. The question is are there more, better, or different ways to make that progress or is there more progress to be made? If you’re curious what an outsider will see, hit Reply, book a STARTER Call on my calendar or text POV (point of view) to 703-801-0345.

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