Tasks or Activities, Which should I use?

One Frequently asked question from new Abtrac users is whether to use Tasks or Activities in their timesheets.

Here’s the difference between the two: Tasks are Quantitative, Activities are not.

Tasks are where you enter the budget for the job.

2016_TasksTasks are also sometimes called Stages or Phases.

They should be exactly the same as budget items on the fee agreement you document to the client.

You give each task an estimate of both time and fees, and then analyse them later using reports such as Actual vs Budget by Task, or Invoice Preparation Information Report. These reports compare your proposed amounts, time spent, and amount invoiced.

You can learn from them over time to see how good staff are in getting through work allotted to them as well as how good you are in your estimates. If necessary you can modify your thinking and estimating to more correctly budget the next job based on what you’ve learnt from previous jobs.

Examples of Tasks (depending on your line of work): Concept Design, Feasibility Study, Developed Design, Media Monitoring

Activities are not Quantitative.

2016_Activities.pngIf Tasks are the bits of the job you’re working on, Activities are what you’re doing on each bit.

Really activities are to save you typing the same comments over and over again.

There are limited reports based on activities other than those used when reviewing timesheet entries and preparing descriptions for invoice lines.

Activities are generic across all jobs whereas tasks and the values associated with them are very much specific to a particular job, especially when there are variations and extras on a job by job basis.

Examples of Activities (again depending on your line of work): Office Work, Travel, Research, Meetings, Site Visit

Tasks differ from Activities in that the Task is generally a specific stage or area of work with a specific value, whereas the Activity is what you are doing and can be the same for many projects.

Generally your project tasks will match those items detailed on your original fee proposal letter. It’s the bit of the project you are working on – and can budget against.

You can make Activities dependent on Tasks. This is done by right-clicking on the task then choosing the activities associated with it. This helps you ensure the timesheets people create don’t have silly combinations of tasks and activities.

What about Task Groups, Sub Tasks and Activity Groups?

When you are setting up default tasks and activities don’t get carried away with micro-categorising. In most cases you probably don’t need to use groupings or subtasks, and it’s probably easier to get started without them unless you’ve worked that way before. 

You can learn more about Task Groups,Tasks, and Sub Tasks here.

For larger multistage projects, Tasks can be further broken down into groups. However we don’t recommend grouping for the majority projects, in most cases Tasks are sufficient.

You can also create Activity Groups, and use them to refine/filter out your pick lists in timesheets. And you can link specific activities to tasks. But in offices with dozens and sometimes hundreds of Tasks or Activities we often note that each staff member uses the same favourite 6-8 Tasks or Activities – regardless of what they are doing.

We find sometimes that the more categories you have for timesheet entries, the harder it is to find one that fits, and the more likely staff are to enter their time as ‘other’.

Like many others in the Abtrac Knowledgebase this article has been updated a few times since it’s original publication back in 2010.
In AbtracOnLine Tasks (and defaults) are managed slightly differently. This change was made after analysis of the use of tasks in Abtrac5, and from input from the Abtrac community.
Nowadays we also don’t focus on activities, or task and activity groups as much. They’re still there, but because they’ve never given quantitative information in reports we’ve always preferred tasks (and sub tasks) for analysis.
If you are converting to AbtracOnLine we recommend you read this article in conjunction with setting up your template tasks in the system.
If you are still using Abtrac5 then this article on Tasks still applies.

Abtrac KB# 2016