Most professional services organisations use time sheets in one firm or another, to capture details of the time that our people spend on client work for example. This normally involves the weekly capture of hours worked on individual client projects as well as non chargeable activity like training or business development.

Many dyslexics find time sheets a problem. Rationally, we all understand that in organisations that charge out our time it is vital that we have timely and accurate records. However, in practice there are a number if problems, including:

1. Remembering: The first problem is remembering to do a timesheet at all. Quite often the weekly deadline will pass and we have completely forgotten to submit a timesheet at all, having been distracted by a more pressing task and only remembering later when we have left work.

2. Accurate data entry: The second issue is that timesheets usually require the accurate filling in of a screen based form – which client, which job, which day, how many hours etc. Often this means job codes need to be looked up, recorded or memerised before being input to the system and faithfully reproduced on entry.

3. Remembering last week: For many dyslexics short term memory and sequencing issues can mean that visual cues are needed to recall the way that time was used. clearly this is where a diary comes in. This is often in electronic form (like Outlook or Lotus Notes) and more screen switching is therefore required to view the diary, remember the details and then transpose them into the timesheet format. Speaking personally, I find this very difficult and extremely time consuming.

4. The naughty step: One of the least desirable aspects of dyslexia in this context is the fact that at some stage, and usually despite significant efforts to avoid it, one of the above issues will result in an error or an omission. Typically, business processes and systems assume errors or omissions in this area are due to either a lack of understanding of the importance of the task or a lack of care. As a result, standard warning emails are often issued, lists of “offenders” are published etc. This is incredibly disheartening and sometimes worrying for those in receipt.

As usual, aspects of this will seem familiar to people who do not have dyslexia. However, the impact tends to be magnified for those who do, as does is the likelihood of co-occurrence of these and other issues.

So what can be done?

The answer does of course depend on the situation, the systems and the issues the individual faces. In my own case, the following have all proved useful at different times in my career:

  • Calendar alarms or recurring appointments for half an hour to “Do Your Timesheet” help some people.
  • Entering an approximate timesheet for the next week, in advance, so you never miss the deadline and have a little time to go in and edit the timesheet to the correct hours (note: this can have a real business impact so you would need to check it is acceptable in your organisation).
  • Separate the capture of the information from the coding and entry into the timesheet system. I find that looking at my diary lets me pull out the “when did I do what for who?” things go wrong when I have to write it down or key it in to a system – so why not speak it to a machine or a person? Then take the output of that process and key it in to the systems.

Today, I am lucky enough to have a PA who ensures I complete the timesheet, by phoning me and letting me simply tell them what goes on each day. The complete the coding, check for completeness and enter in to the system. Clearly, not everyone has this as standard but in many organisations this type of help can be arranged as part of a set of “reasonable adjustments” if the impact of the disability is significant enough.

And finally…

I am sure to many, the completion of timesheets may seem trivial. However, I can assure you that for some of us it is not… and for organisations professional services, failing to fill in a timesheet in a timely and accurate way has the same commercial impact not coming to work at all!