If you have ever misjudged the amount of time something would take, or how long something did take, then congratulations you're the same as the rest of us. You're also subject to something that experts call the "planning fallacy".
In a 1979 study, Daniel Kahneman, and Amos Tversky, found that we demonstrate a cognitive bias towards being overly optimistic when it comes to estimating how long things take, or how long things did take. Meaning, when it's left to guesswork we usually get it wrong. This possibly indicates that we should use more accurate methods when planning or recording the work we do.
Author Laura Vanderkam, has also written about how it's human nature to misjudge how much time certain tasks take. In her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think, Laura writes:
"We are prone to over- or underestimate things based on socially desirable perceptions or current emotions. For instance, few of us love the routine aspects of housework or household administration. Emptying the dishwasher or paying bills doesn’t take much time, but we feel like we’re always doing these chores. So if someone asks us how much time we spend on such things, we overestimate — by something on the order of 100 percent for both men and women — compared to the actual numbers recorded in time diaries."
From other studies, it's clear that when we guess how long we have spent on tasks, we can get it very wrong. Studies show that professionals can lose between 20 to 30% of their time if they complete a time sheet at the end of a week, and between 55 to 70% if completed at the end of the month.
In my own experience, I have found all of the above to be true. Working with fee earning teams we have piloted various different methods of time capture to assess the most accurate way to measure time spent on work. These pilots are run across the business over a period of 12 weeks , and include fee earners from all levels from Trainees up to Partners. Running these pilots has shown us an increase of time captured by up to 75% .
Not all captured time is billable, but the increase gives us either the option to bill more or the confidence when negotiating that we have in fact provided a value in our service which does not need to be discounted further.
Another observation has been that whilst Trainee Solicitors and Senior Partners capture more time with electronic timers, Associates will capture the same amount of time with either paper, or timers, which would lead us to think that given the right motivation anyone can capture time accurately using any method.
Built into most good practice management systems, is the ability to capture time. Better still are those systems that have the ability to capture time using mobile devices. Systems like LEAP Practice Management Software, or Aderant on the go, will give you the ability to capture time on the move, and integrate it seamlessly into your case files.
How often do we send a quick email from the train or make a quick call to a customer on the way home? In a recent pilot for mobile time capture we found that on average fee earners were dealing with and not billing within the region of 1 hour 30 minutes to 2 hours per day whilst commuting or sending emails from their device and when working away from their desk. For some teams this was just an increase in time captured whilst for others who can bill all time captured we saw an increase in their billing by over 7 hours per week.
What this pilot also showed, was the difference modern working patterns. There was a pattern of employees working while commuting to and from the office, and at the end of the day when those with children had tucked them into bed, and before their own bedtimes. Many in the pilot group were sending emails in preparation for the day ahead.
In a time when we appreciate the term "work life balance", it gives us a good indication of how we are often losing that balance now we are connected to our devices, and available to our customers all day everyday. Not only can we measure time to bill our customers, we should also offer our employees advice on keeping the balance right, and reducing possible stress in the workplace.
So, to capture more time it seems that Fat Boy Slam’s mantra, "Right Here, Right Now", pretty much sums up how you should be recording your time.
Capture it at the time you use it.
If you'd like to know more, get in touch.