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Summary:

I’ll admit, I haven’t always tracked my time when it comes to my clients and their projects. Although I always knew roughly how long things took me to complete, until recently, I never kept up with a more detailed view of my time.

The longer I continue this practice, the more I’m coming to appreciate it.

Here’s why it pays to track.

#1 It helps with finding the “time sucks.”

You might realize after tracking your time for a while that certain types of projects are less profitable than others. For instance, if you’re a ghostwriter, you might make considerably more writing blog entries than in-depth white papers. If so, you can adjust your pricing or service offerings to compensate for the difference.

You might also find that a particular client is more demanding on your time than other clients, and as a result, you might decide to drop him, charge him more going forward, or change your methods for working with him in order to be more efficient.

#2 It helps with staying on track.

I currently have a very specific goal to keep me on track – work four paid hours per day. I can quickly glance at my time sheet for a given day and see if I’m anywhere near that goal. If I’m not, I know I need to concentrate on acquiring new projects.

The more consistent you can be about hitting your own daily goal, the more consistent your income and work load will be.

clockI’ll admit, I haven’t always tracked my time when it comes to my clients and their projects. Although I always knew roughly how long things took me to complete, until recently, I never kept a more detailed record.

The longer I continue this practice, the more I’m coming to appreciate it. Here’s why it pays to track.

#1: It helps with finding the “time sucks.”

You might realize after tracking your time for a while that certain types of projects are less profitable than others. For instance, if you’re a ghostwriter, you might make considerably more writing blog entries than in-depth white papers. If so, you can adjust your pricing or service offerings to compensate.

You might also find that a particular client is more demanding of your time than others, and as a result, you might decide to drop him, charge him more going forward, or change your work habits in order to be more efficient.

#2: It helps with staying on track.

I currently have a very specific goal to keep me on track — work four paid hours per day. I can quickly glance at my time sheet for a given day and see if I’m anywhere near that goal. If I’m not, I know I need to concentrate on acquiring new projects. The more consistent you can be about hitting your own daily goal, the more consistent your income and work load will be.

#3: It helps with being more realistic.

As I mentioned, my goal is four paid hours of work per day. I realized recently that reaching my much lofty income goal would take much more time. In reality, lead generation, administrative tasks, and communications make it impossible to focus exclusively on paid work, so I had to adjust my income goal to match my available time.

Also, you might estimate that you’re working much more or less than you really are. Having a detailed time log shows just how much you’re actually devoting to your business. If you left the corporate world in order to have more flexibility and free time, but you’re still putting in 70-hour weeks, then your reality is well out of line with your intentions, and you might want to rethink your workload.

#4: It helps with improving profitability.

The more you can arm yourself with information, the more accurate you can be when making projections, like giving clients quotes and estimating expenses, which in turn leads to increased profitability.

You can also learn a lot about what tasks are taking more than their fair share of your attention. You might have a “busy” month (one filled with things to do, communications, etc.) and not really have a “profitable” month, since much of your time was unpaid. Hopefully, you can then identify low-value unpaid tasks going forward, and weed them out of your to-do list.

So, although time tracking might seem like yet another demand on your already overtaxed schedule, give it a try for a few months and see if it doesn’t improve your business, and your bottom line.

How do you streamline the time-tracking process? Share your tips, as well as the ways time-tracking is helping your business.

Image by flickr user RBerteig

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  1. These are great reasons for tracking your time. Another reason is that by tracking your time, you know where your energy is spent. It’s better to manager your energy than manage your time.

    You may also want to try a web-based goal tracker, http://www.goalsontrack.com

  2. Amber Riviere Sunday, June 28, 2009

    Thanks for the added tips, Harry!

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  4. I’ve been using springpad to keep track of my hours for work. They even have a template specifically made for time reporting. It works for me!

  5. Amber Riviere Tuesday, June 30, 2009

    Thanks, Alana. I’m always on the lookout for tools to help with productivity and organization; I’ll have to check it out!

  6. Try myhours.com

  7. Amber Riviere Thursday, July 2, 2009

    Thanks, Peter. I’ll have to check it out.

  8. Anybody else struggling to keep track of the billable hours you work? For the past month or two I’ve been test-driving various time trackers to make sure I’m not cheating myself. So far I’ve tried out a dozen or more — Paymo, Freshbooks, Harvest, etc., but so far my fave is Office Time (officetime.net). It’s an easy to use Mac/Windows desktop app (not Web-based — my pref). Unlike the monthly fee ones, it gives you unlimited projects, categories, clients, etc. With one click you can generate lots of customized reports, which can then be exported to Excel or as tab-delimited, or funneled into invoices. So I don’t need a $eparate invoicing program.

    It’s very flexible and easy to use. You start or stop timing with one click, and it takes just two clicks to change to a different project (like when a different client telephones) and start timing that event.

    OT isn’t free, but its one-time cost ($47) is much cheaper than the $5/month bunch. It does a lot more, too, and I believe they also give you free lifetime upgrades. It’s free to try for a month, and there’s a money back guarantee if you change your mind. I’m pretty sold on it.

    PS: I’m going to be writing a fairly detailed summary of my time travel, er, TRACKING adventures on my blog one of these days. Check it out if you’re interested.

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  10. Amber Riviere Tuesday, July 7, 2009

    Thanks for the resources, Tom! I’ll have to check out the options.

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