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Why Time Tracking is Essential for Freelancers (and Common Pitfalls to Avoid)5 min read

September 19, 2018
Beth Barrett

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Why Time Tracking is Essential for Freelancers (and Common Pitfalls to Avoid)5 min read

Does the idea of time tracking make your jaw clench? Is the mention of ‘billable hours’ enough to make you itch with hives? Maybe you thought there’d be a little more “freedom” involved in the freelance lifestyle… Sorry to break it to you, but at some stage in every successful freelancer’s business, making friends with time tracking is non-negotiable.

With a standard eight or nine hour working day, it’s crucial for any solo business owner to account for where each of those hours goes, and then plan accordingly. The alternative is something many of us will be familiar with: stress, competing deadlines and all-nighters to compensate.

What your day looks like is up to you; this isn’t about a dictatorial one-size-fits-all system. This is about gaining clarity and focus to help you in your business.

If you’re still in the process of making friends with time tracking, these time tracking tips and potential pitfalls should keep you in check and eventually turn you from slacker to pro tracker.

Let time tracking tame your project budgets

With the right time tracking system, you can easily get a handle on how you bill and budget for client work. This goes for jobs you bill based on a project fee, retainer fee or a time-based rate. It works like this:

  • The time tracking tool allows you to set an estimated time to complete the project
  • Any time you’re working on that project, you’ve got the timer running and every minute is tracked
  • You can opt-in for alerts when you hit a certain amount of time tracked
  • Once the project is signed off, you’ve got a clear report on how long it took and how that relates to the project budget and fee.

This can be a real game changer. It points out the projects where you’ve underestimated the time or undercharged for certain parts of the job. Eventually, this insight will guide how you price your services and help you avoid underselling yourself.

Pitfall watch: Make sure you’re disciplined with your tracking.

Remember: time tracking only works if you use it! So for every phone call, video conference, meeting commute, “final” change, email exchange or administrative task, you’re tracking time. Whether you set these tasks as billable or non-billable is up to you—the point is, the time you spend is accounted for.

Read more: Why Using a Time-Tracker is a Game-changer for Freelancers

Let time tracking boost your productivity

Freelancers can often fall into the trap of expecting each day to equate to 8 straight hours of mega productive, 100% billable work. It’s usually a steep learning curve to figure out that that’s not the case. Enter time tracking insights.

Through dedicated use of a time tracking tool over a few weeks, you’ll start to spot unique patterns in how you work. While you tried to stick to a regular schedule, maybe some days that only accounted to four or five hours of client work.

For the work-from-home brigade, perhaps those mornings you took an hour to walk your dog to the park were followed by a shorter but ultra-productive day. You might consider building this into your schedule permanently if it helps you stay focused and energized.

Pitfall watch: Don’t freak out when the results scare the &%$# out of you

Time tracking has a way of scaring even seasoned entrepreneurs. The shock of seeing how you’ve over-serviced or under-budgeted can be jarring. This is completely normal when you start to diligently track your time!

You might also notice your work energy and output waxes and wanes throughout the course of a month. Blame the moon if you will. Or things like over-scheduling meetings, poor planning—even plain old burnout. The main thing is to take advantage of this bird’s eye view from your time tracking reporting and make the necessary changes.

Build sustainable time tracking habits

To make time tracking work, it has to become habitual. Habits aren’t easy to cement. We know from studies like this one that the average time it takes to form a lasting habit is 66 days. That’s over two months of steady adherence to something that (let’s be honest) usually feels like a drag. So how can you add to your chances of success?

It starts with commitment. Know that like any new habit or business system, building it into your daily routine won’t be without teething problems. For your first couple of months, try to stick at it and know that doing at least some time tracking is much better than doing nothing at all.

Another great way to make the habit stick is through the ‘Anchoring’ technique. This is where you associated a new task (time tracking) with an existing habit that’s already deeply entrenched in your routine. For you, this might be the email check you do each morning to start your day. Or it might be when you’ve made your morning coffee and sat down to start work. Whatever it is, make sure it’s something instinctive and regular.

Pitfall watch: If you fall off the time tracking wagon, jump back on again

It’s okay if you get crazy busy and miss a few hours (or days) of tracking at the start. Remember, we’re playing the long game here. There’s no harm in going back and estimating the hours you worked the previous day – this will still give you some (albeit imperfect) visibility over the time you have spent on certain tasks. As long as you keep repeating the time tracking routine daily, it’ll eventually set in as a regular, productivity-boosting habit.

Take the first step

It may seem like a big task initially, but the first step to improving your productivity through time tracking is to simply give it a try. Since AND CO’s time tracking tool is free, you have nothing to lose. You can even create invoices automatically based on your tracked time, boosting your productivity more. Get started here.

Beth Barrett

Beth Barrett is a Melbourne-based copywriter and content strategist. Content zealot, coffee addict and digital doer, Beth gets a kick out of making words work for businesses and brands at https://bethbarrett.com.au/.

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