How do Architects Spend their Time? The Importance of Time Tracking
In my role as a consultant I come across a fair number of studios and colleagues who don’t do any time tracking.
In other words, they don’t know how many hours they work or what tasks and projects they devote those hours to. They don’t know how they spend their time.
It’s surprising, because time tracking is common practice for almost all service providers, even those that don’t charge by the hour. But this is just another concept that we architects don’t even bother thinking about.
Why track time?
Monitoring how you spend your time allows you to:
- Know how many hours you and your team work. It’s not about keeping people glued to their chairs, but about being aware of the effort everyone is putting in. If you track time you get some big shocks.
- Calculate costs. Everyone, even a freelancer working alone, receives (or should receive) a wage. So time is costing you money. And if you don’t know how much, you can’t have a clear idea of your costs.
- Know how much you earn, and whether your fees are high enough. I’ve worked with some studios that had plenty of work and yet at the end of the year always felt as if they were losing money, as if their results were getting worse.
- Calculate fees. Our fees used to give us a certain guarantee of profitability. But having dropped them during a period of intense competitive price slashing, you need to be able to calculate the minimums below which you may lose money.
- Identify profitable and non-profitable projects.
- Improve your productivity. If you devote a lot of hours to a particular design stage, or a particular type of project, or a particular task, you can study why that is so and how it can be improved.
- Realise that all those little extras that we often don’t charge for take up many hours and therefore represent a huge cost.
So how should we do it?
Every time I propose time tracking to an architect, their face fills with panic. Seriously, though, it’s not that difficult.
You don’t need to be totally accurate. It’s a question of getting a sufficiently reasonable idea of how you distribute your time. Do it the same way you’d calculate a structure: without decimals and leaving yourself a safety margin.
You could use an application like Toggl or Timeular, which track hours and provide rapid, accurate reports.
But the really important thing is for you and the people in your studio to be aware of how useful time tracking is. It’s an easy-to-adopt habit, but if you can’t see its benefits you won’t do it.
Start little by little and gradually adopt the procedures you’re most comfortable with: an end-of-day report, real time measurements, taking notes and summarising them at the end of the week… Do it in whatever way is easiest for you.
Ah, and I’d recommend three levels of time control. You should know how much time you spend on:
- Each main type of activity: administration, marketing, operational tasks, training…
- Each individual project.
- Specific tasks.
It’s worth it, it really is. Give it a try.
Whenever one of my clients has done it, they’ve understood many of the things that were going on in their business and have been able to improve them.