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The Importance of Time Tracking

We all want to earn more money. But have you ever thought about earning more time?

There’s a running joke that entrepreneurs and freelancers are the only ones who will work 60 hours a week to avoid working 40 hours a week. Most business owners I’ve met didn’t start their business in order to make loads of money, though that isn’t to say we shouldn’t generate plenty of profit. The majority of entrepreneurs do what they do in order to:

  • Spend their work time doing something they enjoy.
  • Have flexibility and time off for caregiving, hobbies, or self-care.

And so the amount of time it takes to make a certain amount of money matters just as much, if not more than, the amount of money itself. I can run a marathon...over the course of four days...but no one’s going to give me a medal for that.

By making your business more efficient, you can raise your hourly wage even if your total income doesn’t change, and that means you can give yourself more long weekends or vacation time. Yay!

Ironically, I’ve spent a lot of time figuring to optimize my work time. But it’s been worth it. Last year I made about $34,000 MOST 15 hours a week (and often much less). For comparison, that was how much I made in my first teaching job, working WELL over 50 hours per week.

I highly recommend that every freelancer track their work time carefully for 2-3 months. Every minute you spend in or on your business should be accounted for. I use an actual timer device that I turn to track different tasks, which I’ve sorted into 6 major buckets:

  • Marketing (i.e. attracting clients and customers)
  • Sales (i.e. booking clients or selling products)
  • Onboarding (i.e. getting started on a project)
  • Service (i.e. doing the actual work)
  • Operations (i.e. running your business)
  • Business Development (i.e. growing your skills, capacity, service menu, etc.)

I tag entries for different clients and projects so I know how much time I spent on various phases. This helps me scope projects and set my prices appropriately.

Time tracking can also help you identify and fix holes in your productivity, and maybe even reduce procrastination. I am generally fairly focused and motivated, but knowing I have a clock running on a task (usually) prevents me from squirreling off.

I use these time buckets to structure my weekly routine to reflect how important each bucket is to my income and growth goals. A typical week might look like this:

  • Monday: Marketing day, create and schedule marketing content or business development
  • Tuesday: Sales, onboarding, service, head down
  • Wednesday: Sales, onboarding, service, meetings and errands allowed
  • Thursday: Sales, onboarding, service, head down
  • Friday: Operations day, check over bookkeeping, website updates or business development

With this schedule, there’s a 60%-40% split between client-related work that is billable and non-billable time spent on marketing, business development, and operations tasks (which should result in billable work and product sales, if I’m doing them correctly).

Batching tasks like this reduce the amount of time I burn switching from one mental bucket to another. When I worked as an administrative assistant, the most challenging and frustrating thing was constantly having to drop what I was doing to tend to something urgent. When I got back, trying to pick it up again took at least a couple of minutes. Multiply this by 15 or 20 times a day and I could easily waste several hours a week just transitioning between tasks.

Task batching also put guard rails on how much time I spend on non-billable work so I don’t end up burning an entire week fussing over my website instead of, ya know, getting new projects or working on projects I already have.

This schedule is a guideline, not a hard and fast rule. If I take a project with a tighter turnaround time, I might bump some operations or marketing work to next week, or ask a team member to help out. If, you know, democracy gets threatened unexpectedly, I will take care of what’s urgent and try again next week. But it’s much easier to have a plan I can flex if needed than to get to my desk every day and wonder, “Gee, what should I do today?”

Try It Out:

  1. Download an app like Toggle or Timeular.
  2. Track all your work time for a week.
  3. Review at the end of the week how much you spent on each of the 6 categories.