The Cohen-Miller Report: Time Is Essentially Of The Essence

Tracking time is important (even if it sucks to do it)

by Jen Miller

This weekend I did a half marathon with my sisters and a friend. It’s an annual tradition (for the last 20 years) that we all get together for a girls weekend and the race.

Obviously time is a critical factor in a race and while none of us had a chance of winning, we were all keen on knowing our “times” for various reasons.

  • One of my sisters is a pretty serious runner. She trains all year and wants her time to compare favorably to others in her age group.
  • Our friend has all the right equipment to look at lap times each mile and she’s really driven to achieve a specific number of minutes per mile.
  • I like to improve my own time over last year, regardless of how I do against other people.
  • My other sister doesn’t care much about time – she just wants to have a fun weekend together.

Of course the race organizers take time-keeping very seriously. The technological advances they’ve made over the last 20 years are astounding. When we started out all those years ago, they had various starting groups and could only tell start and end times for each group. They’ve progressed through micro-chips strapped to runners’ shoes and now to thin strips on each runner’s bib number that can read detailed times at start, finish and various stages throughout the race.

Granted, our work environment isn’t a race, but for our internal clients very often time is of the essence.

It’s critical for us to know how long tasks take and help clients understand the time involved in developing and executing creative ideas.

Understanding time has all sorts of benefits including being able to:

  • Manage expectations by telling people up-front how long things realistically take.
  • Demonstrate our value by showing people what really goes into the creative process.
  • Understand and demonstrate how the time we’re taking compares to other creative teams or to our own performance in the past.
  • Rationalize why we need more time, money or resources to do what’s being asked of us.
  • Figure out ways that we can improve our processes (through technology or other methods) to get better, stronger, faster.

Most creative teams hate time-keeping because the system that’s used is too complicated, cumbersome, confusing and manual.

There are an abundance of technology solutions out there today that are cost-effective, easy to set up and easy to use. It just takes a little persistence and planning up front to get a workable time-tracking system up and running.

Some rules of thumb for time-keeping:

  1. Track at project level
  2. Keep it simple – track project type, tier and task
  3. Be consistent – make sure the system is easy and user-friendly so that everyone will comply

Time-tasks should reflect what people are doing in specific areas of expertise. Don’t track time against things like “meetings” that doesn’t tell us what each person was doing in the meeting (like concepting, art directing, or project managing). An example of a good list of time-tasks is:

  • Art Direction
  • Concepting
  • Design
  • Editing/proofing
  • Estimating/accounting
  • Photography
  • Production
  • Project management
  • Tech support
  • Writing