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The secret to "making the time" is simply tracking it

How many hours did you spend in meetings last week?

How much time did you dedicate to learning and personal development?

If you have to guess, you need to stop it. I'm far from being a data person, but this is one of a few areas (money is the other), where you need data!

You need to be tracking your working time, every second of the day.

Here’s why:

  • You’ll know how many hours you’re actually working. Think you work a 40-hour week? Your actual heads down work time might be 25 hours.

  • Accountability. That Facebook scrolling time, what are you going to log that as? Tracking your time keeps you honest.

  • Data behind how much you charge for services. When I first got started freelancing (and still today), I tracked my hours. I did this so I could learn approximately how long it takes me to do things like new client research, writing a website, and writing a blog post. Now, I can present my clients with a single rate that eliminates all the guesswork of wondering how long a task will take me to complete. 

  • Productivity. When I'm watching the little timer going and I'm in the middle of writing this blog post and get the urge to check my email, I stop. Also, when I see the timer has been running for over an hour and I haven't taken a break because I've been in the zone, I force a break. My brain and productivity will thank me in the long run. 

  • Where your life minutes are going. If you have a goal of quitting your day job and becoming an entrepreneur, you’re going to have a lot of work to do. This is totally an understatement. This way, you can check-in mid-day, mid-week, mid-month, and mid-year if you’re spending a disproportionate amount of time on tasks that aren’t adding to your bottom line or bringing you joy.

 

Tasks I track:

  • Blogging. I track the time it took me to write this blog post and every post on my website.

  • Website updating. When I’m writing new web copy or tweaking my About page for the 38th time, I’m tracking it.

  • Book writing. Because I want to know how long each book takes me to write. Because I’m going to spend the same amount of time marketing it. Thanks, Perennial Seller.

  • Client work. I estimate based on how long I think a task will take, if my effective hourly rate is $10 an hour, I’m doing something seriously wrong or taking way too long.

  • Proposal time. This is the time I spend talking to potential clients, preparing proposals and discussing estimates.

  • Volunteer time. I volunteer my time for writing for a few organizations and need to track this for a few reasons, but also, I have to keep an eye on my work for free time. 

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In 2017, I’ve worked over 500 hours. In the chart above, you’ll see a spike in time starting in April. This is when I left my corporate 9-5 to write full-time. I tracked my work as a management consultant separately.

 

My biggest finding

I thought that when I started working for myself full-time, I’d easily log 40-50 hours per week. Isn’t that what entrepreneurs do?

I was dead wrong. Between school pickup and drop off, summer vacation landing in the middle of my new freelance career, and realizing that I had this thing called creative energy and I needed to refill my creative well to bring my best work for my clients, I was heads-down working or writing 20-25 hours per week.

 

What I use to track my time

I use an online tool called Toggl. So far, the free version has given me everything I need, and I haven’t needed a premium subscription. There are other tools out there, but I’m happy with this one for it’s easy and free-ness.

You could always use your calendar, or a pen and paper, but this is a handy tool. Especially if you’re billing by the hour. Your clients will be oh-so-impressed when you give them a time report from Toggl.

If you’re not used to tracking your time, this will take some time to become a habit. In management consulting, we usually had to bill our client time in 15-minute increments, so I’m used to being conscious of every minute.

If you have a big project you want to finish or are wondering, “where did all the time go?” Track your time. The answer is in the data.

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