Published March 2020
Until 2011, I was a single-employer worker with one income plus my spouse’s. The recession of 2011 changed all that. Lacking other options, I returned to stagehand work to pay bills.
Suddenly I needed to track (1) work hours and (2) whether I had been paid. Few free resources were available, so I grabbed a paper notepad and started writing, the most basic work tracking ever. Any time I worked, I wrote down venue, start and finish times. As days passed, checks arrived in the mail to be compared to my book with check marks. This worked for over a year while I had only three or four employers.
At that point, a week’s worth of entries looked like this:
June 6 Guthrie Theater 7a – 4:15p (8.75 hrs) June 8 Guthrie Theater 7a – 12p (5 hrs) Target Center 10p – 2a (4 hrs) June 9 Excel Center 8a – 1p (5 hrs) Excel Center 10p – 2a (4 hrs)
Looking back, this record is cutely naïve; important info was missing (and it would hurt me) but I was keeping track of hours and able to compare to pay.
In 2013, I worked with more employers, almost always as a W-2 employee. Then, a problem: a check came in matching three work dates in my book but the name on the check didn’t match any of the three names I wrote down. Who was CCM, Enterprises Ltd? Which of the three gigs was this? Luckily, CCM was a local company with their contact phone number on the pay stub. After a series of contacts with their office, this was cleared up, but I learned to also write down the name of the employer as well as a more detailed schedule. At this time, a week might look like this:
10-18-2013 O’Shaughnessy (St Kate) - Fresh Beat Band 8a – Call, 12p – Break (4 str) 1p – Resume, 5p – walkaway (4 str) 10p – Call, 1:30a – walkaway, 2a – end of call (2 str, 1.5 OT, 0.5 HNW) 10-17-2013 Excel Ctr (SPAC) - JayZ load in 8a – Call, 3p – walkaway (6 str) 10-18-2013 O’Shaughnessy (St Kate) - Potted Potter Load In 8a – Call, 12p – Break (4 str) 1p – Resume, 3p – walkaway (2 str)
Eventually there was too much work for paper to handle. Moving from site to site beat up my notebook, so pages started falling out and the amount of information took a lot of paper. I knew I was getting paid and had a better handle on whether pay matched hours worked but it felt sketchy. Then I received a paycheck that was half what I was owed – 4 hours paid instead of 6. Eventually I got paid but without a record of my work hours I wouldn’t have known to look. Something had to change.
So, I made a spreadsheet and taught it tricks (Excel is your friend). I put call notes into my phone calendar, later copying details to the spreadsheet. I wrote something for every single day, even “no work.” Later I regretted this decision because I had a solid month with no earnings. Writing those words every day was devastating, and the anxiety of a month with no income ate me alive.
This combination worked to keep track of days worked, money earned, “days in a row,” paid or not, annual income, and so much more. The best trick my spreadsheet did was tracking taxes and whether I withholding enough (I was not). Being able to quickly know “anticipated gross” was good.
By mid-2015, my spreadsheet was a 13-tab monster devouring 6 to 10 hours weekly (Excel is your enemy). Sure, I could compare how this year’s income stacked up against prior years with percentages, but why? Something had to change: I simplified, deleting tabs. 13 tabs became 9, then 5 tabs only needing 3 hours a week entering calendar details and pay stubs to keep an eye on taxes.
Working on your own with few advocates means you must be ready and able to stand up for yourself, prove you did work and protect yourself – as much as possible – from the unexpected. Because I had a written record, I knew to look for paychecks. I could reach out to my crew chief for support, and I had proof beyond my basic word. I wasn’t alone.
Above is a downloadable Google Docs spreadsheet. It’s easy to use & should be okay for any platform or your phone. It has an instruction tab to help you get started. You really should be tracking basic things, for your own protection. It’s not too late to get a handle on this part of your work life.