A time card can improve the accuracy of your estimates, cut worker’s comp costs, and increase your profit

When it came to the management of my company’s time, I wanted a method to gather reliable information and a system for measuring performance. I started with some basic questions as to what components would be necessary:

• What was done? When was it done? By whom? And for whom?

• How does the estimated duration of the tasks compare to the reality?

• How do I verify all of my employees’ time related to payroll, bonuses, taxes, and worker’s compensation?

• How do I account for my nonbillable time?

Simple Format

The answers led to the creation of the time card I’ve used in evolving form for the past eight to nine years (see Figure 1). I created our time card using Microsoft Word and print it on standard, letter-size paper. I make copies for each week on the office copier rather than having them printed, because our card changes slightly. We print on different colored paper every week. The colors help us distinguish the weeks when the cards start accumulating in our office file and help break the monotony of the same form every week. We also place stickers on particular days to note their significance, like hearts on Valentine’s Day, a turkey on Thanksgiving, a pumpkin on Halloween, and so on.

Figure 1.The author’s weekly time card, printed on letter-size stock, enables field employees to record commonly performed tasks by code to match those in his estimating system.

Date range. The first thing I determined was a date range. Naturally, I wanted the time card to coincide with our payroll schedule. We pay our employees every week, held back one week. That is, they get their checks on Friday for the previous week. Our time card heading starts with Friday and runs through Thursday. If I ever decide to switch to a biweekly schedule, I’ll simply create a two-sided time card with the same format.

I don’t use specific daily dates on the time card, just a box with the heading “Week Ending.” This saves me from having to create a new time card for each work week. I only have to write in the employee’s name, Thursday’s date in “Week Ending,” and it’s done.

Column headings. Under each day there are two columns, headed “H” (hours) and “Job.” We encourage employees to use fractional hours when filling out the time card. Some employees will break things down to the quarter hour, and some to the half. I don’t ride them too hard on this detail. I want them to be aware of their time during the day, but I don’t want to lose valuable production time to endless clocking in and out. Besides, cumulative totals give me a pretty good average. Most of my field employees glance at their watches periodically during the day, note what they’re doing at the time, and then fill out the time card at the end of the day, after cleanup. They may compare recollections between themselves if there happens to be more than one worker on a particular job. The end-of-the-day routine provides a good setting for assessing time spent. It’s not too frequent to bog down production, yet things are still relatively fresh in the mind. It takes a week or two for new hires to really familiarize themselves with the time card but only a minute or two to tally the day’s work.

Sometimes, when I show up to collect time cards on Friday, an employee will go to his truck and fill out the entire week then and there. Though I frown on that, if his only activity that week was roof framing, I’m not going to come down too hard. If he was moving between multiple jobs or tasks, however, he’ll get a reminder to stick to the end-of-day routine.

If I’m not working on the job myself, I try to at least visit every day. That way, I have a general sense of the time cards’ accuracy. I enter general notes about the weather and work progress on my desk calendar for later comparison.

Tasks and codes. We’re licensed for commercial and residential work, but most of the time we build new homes and remodel. The time card includes a list of 28 tasks, with a code number for each. These are tasks that we frequently perform, some more than others. A finish carpentry contractor would not use such broad categories but would opt instead for greater detail of fewer tasks. For example, interior trim might be broken down into baseboards, closets, doors, casings, and built-ins. The idea is to generate detail that relates to your specific business structure.

Next to each task is a code number. The numbers aren’t in ascending order but jump around. I adapted my code numbers from Home Tech’s estimating manuals, the system I currently use. I used to use MacNail Estimating and the CSI code structure, so my time cards from that period reflected the CSI structure. The point is to have the task codes mirror your estimating and accounting systems. That makes the transfer of information easier.

My time card is all tasks, but you could create a couple of line items for specialty equipment you want to track. For instance, I might enter a Bobcat on my time card with a code number of 3.01, which ties it to Excavation.

If there’s a special item I want to track, such as a change order, I have the employees note it specifically on the time card. I can then invoice the change order for the proper amount.

Time is money. I deliver the paychecks every Friday. I fold the new week’s time card into thirds, as if it were going into an envelope, write the employee’s name on the back, and insert his or her paycheck. This creates kind of a subliminal message about the importance of the card — it’s carrying the paycheck. When I hand over the new time card and paycheck, they turn in the current week’s time card. You can imagine what some of these cards look like after a week on the job — crumpled, coffee stained, tattered, notes and phone numbers scratched on the back. Some are neatly filled out in pen; others are scribbled in bold carpenter’s pencil. The same job may be variously identified by client name, job address, or only the section of the county worked in. As long as we have accurate numbers, and accounts to invoice, I’m not fussy about the rest. But I do stress accuracy. Once we held a company meeting to raise accuracy awareness and explained the accumulated impact of a mere 10 minutes unaccounted for per day. Ten minutes, times our billing rate, times five or six employees, times 250 days (five days a week for 50 weeks) per year, adds up to quite a chunk of money.