How to track time when you need to slice it many different ways.
Have you ever noticed how much of the world economy is devoted to counting? We count how many things we have. That's called inventory. We count who owns what. That's called money. The entire banking industry counts other people's money, and takes a big chunk of it as their fee. That's called finance. We count time on time sheets, purchases on expense reports, and Desperate Housewives on TV. But counting quickly gets repetitive. That's why we have totals. We like counting, but we LOVE totals. And sometimes, we need to count the same thing in different ways to give it to our total-loving bosses. That's the quandary that Kim finds herself in. She wrote in asking, "How do I track my time in a cross-functional, cross-department organization?"
Kim, welcome to my fantasy world. In my fantasy world, you work in the Human Resources department of a company that produces two things: Silly String and Bouncy Balls. You have two major functional areas, Accounting and R&D. Your job is to provide counseling to the employees to help them come to grips with the fact that their abusive Vice President isn't going to be fired any time soon, because she just married the CEO's son. These are the counseling sessions you jokingly call your “hope destroying” sessions. Only you’re not joking, are you?
How to Track Time Using a Grid
One way to get quick totals of your time is to use my favorite tool: a grid. Label row 1 "accounting," and row 2 "R&D." Label the first empty column Silly String and the second column Bouncy Balls. Now at each intersection, put how many hours you spent destroying the hope of employees in that function and division. Er, I mean, helping those employees. For example, say you spent two hours with the accounting people for Silly String and three hours with the accounting Bouncy Ball people. Add up each row to find out how much time you spent in each function. In this case, the Accounting row would show a total of five hours. Then sum each column to find out how much time you spent with each division.
This seems like a wonderful solution, until the next day. The Silly String accounting people just overdrew the checking account, and of course, they're blaming the Bouncy Ball division. "Your elastic is seeping into our accounting systems and making our checks bounce!" It takes you an hour to calm them down. When you go to your grid to record the time you spent, you already show 2 hours in the Accounting/Silly String intersection. You can add your extra hour and change this to a three, but that seems like so much work. And it means you have no record of the fact you actually visited the Silly String people twice.