Timing Is Everything

Ever since I hung out my furniture-maker shingle, I’ve been frustrated by my pathetic habits when it comes to record keeping. It’s bad enough that my office is a jumble of unfiled drawings and stacks of bills (yes, Jim, I will pay dues soon), but what really sinks my boat is that I seem incapable of tracking my time accurately. It’s important, both so I can fairly bill for jobs I’m paid for by-the-hour, but also so that if I repeat a design, I have a reasonable idea of what I need to charge to cover the labor (next time; always next time). All pretty obvious, but somehow it still escapes me.

I’ve tried a million tricks. For a long time (pre-digital) I had a weekly log set up that broke down each day into 15 minute increments so I could accurately track the various little jobs that come through the shop. All well and good, but only if I remembered to stop each time I switched jobs to make a mark on the log; I mostly would not, and then would have to invent at the end of each day (or worse, the next day).

That frustration led me to get a series of stopwatches from RadioShack so I could just click a button to stop timing one job, and click another to start timing a second. It was a plan that seemed so promising as I went off to shop for the necessary toys, but in fact within days of my RadioShack solution I could sense that this was another snare and delusion. I kept forgetting to click both buttons, so at the end of the day it looked like I’d worked 16 hours, or even 24! Great for billing, but bad for my conscience.

Now I’ve just given up trying to be accurate. My computer is set to remind me every day at 6:00 PM to enter my hours into a QuickBook timesheet. I pretty much just invent; no way can I remember how long I took for lunch, or how long that website conference call lasted, let alone when I stopped working on the dining table I’m currently making to repair the Sheraton chair that came in unexpectedly yesterday, or how long I spent driving to get the hide glue to do it with.

But I think I have the answer. I want to build a super timeclock that can cure me of my incurable bad habits. Here’s the idea: Take a series of stop clocks that have simple on/off switches and arrange them in a line. Above them– how you construct this device is up to you– put as many horizontal rods as you have clocks, with each rod having little feet that press the on switch of one clock, and the offs of all the others. For good measure, add another rod that only hits the off switches.

At the beginning of the day’s work, hit button #1 to actuate your first clock. When you switch to your second job of the day, hit button #2 and it will turn off clock #1 and start clock # 2. Ditto for job #3. Lunch time, or the phone rings? Hit the button that turns everything off, and when you’re done, start up the clock again with the appropriate job button. And et cetera. At the end of the day, you should have a series of numbers that not only accurately reflect the time to assign to each job, but when you add them together they should give you your actual working hours, of which there are never enough. Go enter them into QuickBooks and have a beer.

I think it will work! Now I just need a week to build it, and a RadioShack beeper to remind me to push the buttons.

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3 thoughts on “Timing Is Everything

  1. Timothy Clark

    I once shared a shop with an auto mechanic who worked by himself. He used a time clock (from when he had employees) with cards that you stick into it. They get stamped with the time so at the end of the job he could just add up all of the time spend on each job. One card for each job. He seemed happy with the system.

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  2. Al

    Josh,

    Your story made me chuckle.

    My wife recently worked on a little project for our granddaughters until 3:30 AM, because she was so immersed on what she was doing – and she had to get up at 6 AM, to do something with the girls!

    So – yesterday she bought a Radio Shack timer, to *remind* her to go to bed at some reasonable time. And it worked! Last night she came to bed promptly, at 9:30 PM… 😉

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  3. Richard Bissell

    I charge by the job not by the hour (as most of us do I suspect). When working up a price for a piece I estimate time neeeded to make something in 1/2 day, day, or week increments. This seems to work reasonably well. I have kept careful track of how long it takes to make things – particularly Windsor chairs – but for larger custom pieces the number of days method seems to work pretty well. I also have a set number of hours I figure for a drawer or raised panel door – so if a piece has 4 drawers and 2 doors thats X hours + I can make the case in “about a week”. Materials are pretty quick to figure.

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