In search of lost time
The numbers tell the story and it all boils
down to time management. If you bill for
your time directly or on an hourly basis, diligent timekeeping is something you must do
in order to get paid for all of the work you
perform for clients. If you bill on a fixed-fee
basis, accurate time records help determine
how profitable specific clients and projects
really are — and if they’re unprofitable, time
records help us realize the viability of a client
for the long term.
How can you increase your billings while
working the same amount — or less?
1. Make accurate timekeeping a top pri-
ority. You must have an accurate account
of how you spend your time. Without it, you
may lose significant pieces of legitimate bill-
able time. In other words, you performed the
work, but were unable to bill because you
lost track of it.
In fixed-fee engagements, accurate time
tracking will allow you to gauge the profitabil-
ity of a given project, client or both. Given the
number of hours that you put into a project
or client, was the engagement worthwhile?
Should you quote a higher price next time?
Should you ditch a money-losing client? A
solid handle on your time will make answer-
ing these questions much easier.
2. Reconcile your time daily. My company, Chrometa, recently surveyed more than
500 billing service professionals — a group
that included many CPAs — about their billing and time-tracking habits. Respondents
that billed hourly estimated that they were
capturing only 67 percent of their legitimate
By Brett Owens
Practicing accountants know that effective time management
is the key to maximizing personal productivity and firm profits.
Five ways CPAs can increase their
billable hours — and their profitability
billable time — so they are working three
hours for every two that they are able to
bill! This means that a firm with $200,000 in
gross billings could be losing as much as a
$100,000 a year for work that they performed,
but never billed.
How often do these folks reconcile their
time? Quite infrequently, they admitted. Over
half of all respondents said that they usually
didn’t reconcile their time more than once a
week — with some reconciling only monthly
and some not at all.
On average, respondents spent over two
hours each week on this reconciliation,
searching through sent e-mails, calendar
entries, notes and other items to build a seat-of-the-pants, somewhat-inaccurate “forensic
analysis” to reconstruct their time.
As you would expect, respondents who
reconciled their days more accurately and
more frequently were able to account for all
3. Record your time concurrently. Do you
remember what you worked on yesterday
morning? How about Tuesday of last week?
After the fact, it’s very difficult to recall
exactly what work you performed. We’re all
busy throughout the work day amidst a bar-
rage of interruptions — the phone rings, an
e-mail hits your inbox: You know the drill. It’s
getting harder and harder to focus.
Brett Owens is chief executive and co-founder of Chrometa, a Sacramento, Calif.-based
provider of software that records activity in
real time. He is also a blogger, and founder
of CommodityBullMarket.com and Con-traryInvesting.com. Reach him at brett@