Tracking Time, "Doing" Time, and Passing Time

One of the most pervasive practices in interactive agencies is “billable hours.” Contrary to what many people think, billable hours is not the practice of all advertising agencies (many still get a 15% commission on all media placed).

But to bill, you must track. And to track accurately, you must record specifically what you do at every moment. Only one person I’ve talked to actually did this (his company actually equipped him with a stop watch on his computer that he started when he began any task). Most everyone else fills in time sheets at the end of the day or the end of the week.

But most everyone also says they tend to “lose time” when they are deep in work. They are writing contact reports, optimizing images, planning media buys, creating reports — but they are not tracking time.

Gender theorists have a phrase called “doing gender.” They argue that gender is an overt symbolic practice that is manifest by “feminine” or “masculine” signs. Dangly earrings, make-up, high heels, and perfume are “feminine” signs that I will adorn myself with when I “do gender.”

I would argue that many people in the interactive industry “do time” when they talk about their time sheets, accuracy of their records, tracking hours to the minute, and reconcile their time. Most people have no idea what the accurate records are — nor could they if they get lost in their work — yet they expend much symbolic energy engaging in time practices that purport to be accurate.

“Doing time” in this context means propping up a system that suggests that time can actually be tracked. Doing time is publicly supporting that system by complying with its norms and practices. Doing time also undermines one’s own creative work, because creative work does not conform to billable hours.

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2 responses to “Tracking Time, "Doing" Time, and Passing Time

  1. Tracking time has always been problematic, especially compared with “output” i.e. delivarables.

    The standard has recently been 6.5 hours of “productive work” in an 8 hour day.

    Which doesn’t make sense to me…I spend most of my waking time (no , seriously I do, to the consternation of my friends and family) thinking about a problem, and not until I’ve figured it out (which happened for my grad thesis, at my birthday dinner) can I commit it to paper. Those pieces of paper may only be 5, or 50.

    Which is why I bill on a fixed-rate, for a project. I know myself, and I know how long it can take to percolate an idea, wherever it comes from. And when it does…whammo, it’s all down on paper in 2 hours.

  2. Tracking time has always been problematic, especially compared with “output” i.e. delivarables.

    The standard has recently been 6.5 hours of “productive work” in an 8 hour day.

    Which doesn’t make sense to me…I spend most of my waking time (no , seriously I do, to the consternation of my friends and family) thinking about a problem, and not until I’ve figured it out (which happened for my grad thesis, at my birthday dinner) can I commit it to paper. Those pieces of paper may only be 5, or 50.

    Which is why I bill on a fixed-rate, for a project. I know myself, and I know how long it can take to percolate an idea, wherever it comes from. And when it does…whammo, it’s all down on paper in 2 hours.

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