Time tracking is something that no one likes. It’s something that no matter how folks feel about it, it’s the only metric by which to go off of to find out how something is going.
The metric by which a freelancer should be measured by is the value of the service or product. C’mon, you know me better than that, you should’ve seen that coming a mile away!
Let’s be realistic though, much to the this one man’s belief (among many other men and women too), is that the vast majority of freelancers charge by the hour still. Which needs to change, but that’s a topic for a different post.
Time does hold a much bigger place in a freelancer’s life. For that matter, in anyone’s life. It’s the only thing in this life that you can’t get back. Money comes and goes, people come and go, and things come and go. The 3 seconds it takes you to read this sentence will never come back. Once it’s gone, it’s gone forever, and we have a limited amount of it.
One of the more popular reasons someone decides to become a freelancer is time based. They want to spend time with their family and not driving in their car, sitting on a train, or warming a chair for someone else’s dream.
So you would think that we’d be masters of time. Yet over and over we hear folks saying “I have no time”, “if I only had more time”, “when I get time, I’ll take care of that” and one I hear from everyone’s lizard brain is “what time management system do you use?” or “how do you manage your tasks?”
We’ve all heard this before. Why are we so obsessed with how someone else is managing their time? Is it because we want to distract ourselves in the belief that someone has figured out how to manage time better than ourselves?
No, not really.
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Why are we bad at time
Freelancers above all else should be master of time, yet it’s something most struggle with. We struggle with it because it’s not sexy and it’s tedious. It’s a task that humans innately want to stay away from.
Freelancers want their freedom and flexibility. (It’s why we aren’t sitting at someone else’s desk.) At a basic level, time management is not freedom. It’s a record of exactly what you are doing at every second of the day. Plus “management” is in there and who likes management? 😉 The whole idea of time management is the complete opposite of freedom.
Admitting it is the first step. Go ahead and tweet it!
Seriously, did you tweet it? Just click it and you’ll feel better!
Good! Now that the first step is done, time management is really just time tracking. It’s knowing how long something will take so you can move onto the next. Whether that next thing is another project or family time, it’s all the same time.
Tracking is just a matter of recording. Hitting the start button on a timer when you start a task and then hitting the stop button when you are done. It’s as simple as that. The tracking of the time spent just gets recorded someplace and stored for when you want to review it. Without the tracking part, there’s no way to manage time.
It’s really about being disciplined in tracking your time. Hitting that start button on the timer before starting the next task. Then hitting stop and then start again when you transition to the next task.
Often times we start tracking our time, but then a few days go by and it’s back to bouncing around from task to task again without tracking the time spent.
It doesn’t have to be complicated. Harvest, Freshbooks, and countless other time tracking pieces of software within our invoicing systems have all these bells and whistles to link in billing vs non-billable hours, allocate to a project, or segment them off into a miscellaneous bucket.
Keep it simple. Here’s why.
A good friend of mine always says
Know What Your spending time on
Ask yourself this Mr./Ms. Hourly Billing. How good are you at estimating how long a project takes? My guess is that most times you aren’t that accurate.
Even if you do project based billing or value based billing, there is a need to know how long something will take to complete.
Without the knowledge to know how long a task will take, there is no way to know how much profit you’ll be making from the project. Yes, profit, that’s what matters. Not the total dollar amount that’s on the contract, that’s revenue.
I’d much rather have a $10,000 project with $5,000 profit (50% profit) than a $50,000 project with a $10,000 profit (20% profit). You’re probably thinking “Jason’s crazy, that’s 10k vs 5k!”, right?
For one, I can probably do 4 or 5 $10,000 projects in the time it takes me to do the $50,000, so that would be around $20k. For two, and this is what I like better, I can do 2 $10,000 projects for the same amount of profit in about half the time. Leaving me with time to do something with my family.
The profit is the amount of money that’s left over after you take out all the costs of a project. That includes the time spent by you doing the project. So knowing how long it will take you to complete each task can only increase your chance at making a better profit.
Tracking Time in the background automatically
I like to keep things simple, especially when it comes to things that I don’t enjoy doing, like time tracking.
I use Toggl to account for all my time tracking needs. I don’t have it tied into my accounting software or anything like that. However, it’s available as a Chrome extension which puts a button into Asana and Todoist which is what I do use to manage tasks and time.
This works for me because it doesn’t change any flow in my every day. I’m in these apps anyway. It doesn’t even require me to open up another app to start the timer. It’s simple.
I used Evernote to be my digital brain. I have a few things happening inside of Evernote for me daily. One is that it automatically creates 2 notes before I wake up in the morning. One called “Daily Notes” and one called “Daily Time Log”.
Daily Notes is a record of all the Todoist Items I complete each day and at what time. Daily Time Log is just what it sounds like. It is a log of all the time entries within Toggle, their description and how long it took me to do it.
Oh and all of this happens automatically just from me clicking the start and stop buttons for Toggl. I don’t even open up Evernote to do any of this.
Daily Notes for me is something I use as a part of my weekly review. Daily Time Log however was something I set up a long time ago when I had a client that wanted me to log my time into Harvest each week. This saved me so much time because it was an easy thing to just cut and paste the description, allocate it to the proper project and put in the time all in one session at the end of the day on Friday. Rather than having to fumble around with the Harvest app all day long.
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Use Time Wisely
I used Toggl to track the time I spent on fumbling around with Harvest. I saved 23 minutes per week (that’s 19.9 hours per year) by doing it this way. (Yikes! Almost one entire day per year inside of Harvest’s Time Tracker) I’m glad I tracked the time so that I can spend those 20 hours a year on something much more fun than Harvest.
Knowing how much time you are spending on anything allows an insight into time that you may not be aware of. It allows you to optimize and prioritize your tasks in a much better way. In other word, use time more wisely.
Another scary statistic that I found was that I was spending on average 4 emails back and forth and about 13 minutes any time I wanted to set up a meeting time or a call with someone. Now I have one email and spend about 10 seconds, just by using Alfred Snippets, Calendly, and Google Calendar.
Make it simple for yourself. Use Toggl, or use some other simple timer, for the next 2 weeks. Just 14 days! Click the start and stop button before and after every task. Then look at what you are spending time on. Guarantee you’ll see some of your billable tasks aren’t taking as long as you thought (a good thing) but others are taking longer (terrible).
The other aspect to this exercise is what are you spending time on that you may be able to optimize to prioritize your time better. Look for things like time tracking, administrative tasks, making appointments, logging, weekly updates to the team, making social media posts, and just about any repeatable task.
Leave a comment below with something that you found from this exercise that shocked you.