Productivity is the watchword of so many businesses, but many take very complicated routes when trying to increase their productive output. There is a very simple technique that should be implemented first when any productivity drive is underway, and it comes under the heading of ‘accountability’. It’s the humble timesheet.

Timesheets have been used by businesses since pen was first put to paper. They have gone out of fashion in recent years, but there are some solid arguments for reinstituting them. Productivity is one of these arguments.

Why do timesheets work?

Accountability is the enemy of disorganisation. Whether the issue is procrastination or just bad work habits, working accountability checks into a work system makes a huge difference. Timesheets are an example of such a check. They remind the writer and the reader that time has been spent on something, and set out in stark black and white whether that time has been productive.

For timesheets to help the productivity of a business, they need to relate back to specific projects. This happens naturally in some businesses, such as law firms or trade businesses, who habitually charge clients in quarter-hour increments. For other businesses, the fit isn’t so comfortable, and some adjustments need to be made.

Timesheet alternatives: the periodic time-check

Having workers jot down exactly how they have spent their day won’t work for some businesses, and a generalised ‘work in’ and ‘work out’ daily timesheet doesn’t assist productivity. The alternative is to have staff periodically assess the way they have spent their time on certain projects, using a utilisation rate format.

A utilisation rate is the percentage of available time that has been used to earn money on a project. It is the billable hours divided by the time available, multiplied by one hundred to deliver a percentage. In many work environments, ‘billable hours’ can be substituted by ‘time spent on the project’. For example, if a staff member is at work for eight hours a day, but spends three of those hours chatting, checking email, playing solitaire and getting coffee, the ultimate utilisation rate is 62.5%. Simply working this figure out will give most workers an unpleasant shock, prompting better work habits and adding to the productivity of the workplace as a whole.

Timesheets work as constant performance checks

Most workers only have their progress checked at a yearly performance appraisal. While this practice can be useful, it happens too infrequently to help the business on a day-to-day basis. Timesheets, on the other hand, provide a reminder not just to supervisors but to workers themselves of just how much time each task has taken.

Even the habits of a dream team can be tweaked to provide more productivity. By returning to the timesheet, businesses can ensure that workers and managers are aware of how time is being invested. This results in better work all round, and all from a very simple and small change.