Tracking and correctly attributing time spent on projects is vital for accurate cost estimates and managing your team and business, but can be challenging for agencies with several moving parts.
Toast Design needed a time tracking solution that would help them to simplify attribution of project work. Find out why they work with Timing – watch the video, or continue reading.
“Timing is probably the most awesome timing app that I have ever used…really, really simple to set up, simple to configure, simple to convince the team…” says David.
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David Foreman is the Managing Director of Toast Design, a UK-based, full-service design agency. The agency was founded in 1997 and has a team of 15 people covering branding, print work, web design, and support and maintenance for WordPress websites.
“We’re in an old Victorian townhouse in Oxfordshire, split over three floors,” says David. “And the way that we work is we have departments, so we have a branding department, a print department, and a digital team.” While most of the team come into the Oxfordshire studio, they’ve adopted a flexible, hybrid arrangement where several team members work remotely part of the time.
Toast Design is all about encouraging a team dynamic where everyone pitches in. “We are very much a team,” David says. “Everyone’s involved in the running of the business rather than just doing the work.”
Why Track Time?
Agencies like Toast Design need to track their time to ensure that; 1) they’re using their time efficiently and 2) the quotes they provide for potential work are as accurate as possible.
The daily work for team members covers a mixture of individual tasks and pitching in on different projects. This diversity of functions means that their time may be spent on various tasks, and sometimes tracking that time has been a challenge for both individuals and the team. “We don’t work in silos,” says David, “everyone pitches in on early stages of design work. So we all sit together and discuss the work that we’re doing.”
Furthermore, Toast Design may have different billing structures for different projects. According to David, some are billed based on the project, and others by the hour, requiring tracking and accounting for every minute.
With that said, David is also conscious of changes within the design industry and the need to stay on top of those changes while remaining profitable. “Especially with, you know, pay $5,000 a month, get an unlimited designer. Our industry is changing quite a lot,” he says. Time tracking can help the agency to establish a baseline should they opt to change their pricing models in the future.
Key Challenges With Time Tracking
The nature of the projects that Toast Design works on can vary. David describes: “We have projects that go very smoothly and quickly, and we have other projects that take a little bit longer than we anticipated and quoted for.”
One of the major challenges, especially with those more complex projects, is that time spent on them can be difficult to track, particularly if different tasks are completed on a piecemeal basis. An email here. A phone call there. An hour spent on a quick change request.
To add to this, Toast Design uses various tools in their work, including dev URLs for WordPress, SEMRush, Google Drive, and Basecamp. Time-tracking apps they’ve tried previously required them to manually stop and start timers and attribute work between apps to different projects. Despite people’s best efforts, there were often inaccuracies where project time wasn’t correctly attributed, or someone didn’t turn on or off their timers.
David says that team members often genuinely didn’t realize how much time they’d spend on a task and estimated based on their feelings of the task.
“When you get designers to track their own time, they’ll say that something that took an hour took 20 minutes,” he says. “If they’re doing a task that they really love, like doing some logo concepts, they’ll turn three hours into an hour and a half, just based on, (I guess) it’s the psychology,” says David. “I really love this task, so, you know, two hours feels like 20 minutes, and I hate this task, so 15 minutes feels like an hour.”
What about other time-tracking apps that Toast Design tried out? “Oh, it was impossible to track with other apps,” says David. “Nothing we’ve used in the past has enabled us to build such complicated tracking rules for each project.”
How Timing Was a Game-changer for Toast Design
After finding it via a Google search, David first tested out Timing for himself. From there, he rolled it out to the rest of the team. Did anyone have any hesitation over adopting Timing? “It was really the print guys that were a little bit more hesitant over having their time tracked. So I asked them to put it on their machines for a couple of weeks, just to see how it would work and what it would tell them,” says David.
“Once they saw what it did, they were all very impressed, and it’s quite interesting how different types of designers like Timing in different ways.” Toast Design has seen some great, game-changing benefits:
Tracking Effective Use of Time
One team member, in particular, found that using Timing to track her time revealed how fragmented her day was becoming, moving from small task to small task. “We were able to delegate some of those tasks and basically give her her day back,” says David. “She would definitely say that it freed up her time.”
Additionally, Timing revealed how much time across the team was spent on smaller tasks. “Within a couple of weeks of testing it was showing how much time people spent on email per day, which was a real eye-opener,” David says.
Tracking Team Time
David describes attempting to track team time as “impossible” with previous apps that Toast Design tried. Timing for Teams has changed the game, allowing them to share projects accurately with team members and attribute that time.
“We’re able to set up different teams with Timing,” David says. “So we have a digital team, the studio team, and the branding team. And basically, when we add projects in, we’ll add those to that particular team.”
Timing allows Toast Design to correctly attribute work done for teams, no matter who did it. “All the team members here are kind of on each team within Timing,” says David, “because I primarily do web work, but I might go and spend 25 minutes working on a branding project with one of the branding teams. So because of that collaborative nature of working and the fact that we might do a chunk of work here and a chunk of work there, again, that’s one of the great things about Timing; it just picks up on all of that stuff.”
Tracking Across Different Programs
The ability to create complex tracking rules has allowed Toast Design to accurately track and attribute time across different programs and work modes.
“Nothing we’ve used in the past has enabled us to build such complicated tracking rules for each project,” David says. “I think that makes it unique and, above all the rest, is this ability just to set up really quite complicated rules.”
For example, our extensible rules system can automatically categorize almost all of your activities – simply drag an activity while keeping the ⌥ key pressed to permanently assign it to a project.
Over time, Timing will save you hours of manual categorization effort, not to mention all the time you’d normally spend starting and stopping manual timers.
“We’ll be using SEMRush, we’ll be using Google Drive, and each one of those separate apps we spend quite a lot of time in,” says David. “And because of the way Timing works, we are able to plug all those different things into Timing. So, for example, a Google Drive folder for a client will have a specific identifier in the URL… And when one of my team spends 25 minutes on an SEO spreadsheet, it automatically goes against the client. Same with Basecamp, same with their client URL, the Dev URL. It just automatically pulls everything in, which is what makes it so special.”
Tracking Creative Time
The “creative versus commercial” time can be a sticking point for design teams. The creative process can look different for different team members, while Toast Design wants to emphasize the quality of the final result.
“One of the designers on the branding team is a little bit more of a branding designer, so he likes to wander around thinking,” says David. “[A] bit more time away from the desk. So they found that a little bit more challenging because there were these ‘holes’ that had unallocated time. Once they get back to their desk, they’ve got the popup [from Timing] saying, what did you do? And it just makes it so easy to say, ‘yeah, I was working on Project X,’” he says.
“So if a rule doesn’t catch something, usually it’s because people are away from their desk, you know, having a team meeting, or gone for a walk to think about something. So it prompts you to connect all that, to add all that time into Timing.”
Automatic Time Tracking Without Manual Time Sheets
David says that past attempts at time tracking often failed because the process was too manual for team members.
“You know, we tried every type of timesheet you can imagine, from pads that they fill in on their desks to apps that we use for projects that have a timing (feature),” says David.
“But nothing worked quite as well as Timing because they (the team) didn’t have to remember to stop and to start, and it was actually a real eye opener for them because they can see how much time they’re truly spending on things.”
Timing is a native Mac app that automatically tracks your work so you can accurately record timesheets without having to start and stop timers. It does this by automatically recording how much time you spend on each app, document, and website.
Tracking the Business as a Whole
David likes to use the reporting features of Timing to track how the business is doing as a whole. “I’m able to see a very top-level kind of view of where time has gone,” he says.
“I like to see when people have done a full week or a full month. I can ping a quick email and say ‘really good month’”, says David. “But we don’t use it for staff KPIs or in staff reviews. It’s more of an overview of what’s going on in the agency.”
Team leaders can access these reports using the Timing web app (just like when they are managing their team) and select ‘Reports’ in the sidebar. On this page they can select which time range they want to view and it is important to select the “Team Members” option to view all team member times. These reports are useful for an overview of the business, or they can be exported as a PDF, XLSX, CSV, or HTML to create timesheets and invoices.
Timing: The Right Time-tracking App
The bottom line for David and the team at Toast Design was that Timing solved the challenges they had with time tracking that previous apps could not. They’ve continued to use Timing as an integral part of their daily operations. Download Timing’s free 30-day trial and see how it can help your team.
“When we started using it, it became apparent very, very quickly that it was just what we needed,” says David. “I mean, I’m a huge believer that if I download an app, I shouldn’t need to read the instructions. I should just be able to use it. And Timing was one of those. It just worked.”