When I was making the decision to “turn pro,” my coach and I spent several sessions going over “what-if” scenarios and the kinds of processes I should set for my business before I actually hung out my shingle. We talked about all manner of things, ranging from setting boundaries, how my values would show up in my business, to invoicing and no-show policies.
Some of her best advice, given the week before I walked away from my full-time corporate gig, was to track my time. All of it. Not just client time – duh! – but every minute I spent from the time I woke up until I called it a day.
Tracking your time helps you to stay present.
If nothing else, each time you move away from one activity to another, you’re forced into the awareness that your attention is being placed elsewhere. It’s like noticing your breath. There’s training to be done with this one cuz it’s easy to just float to the next shiny object that appears, but I’ve found it much easier than meditation. A lot!
Tracking time helps you make informed choices.
This builds on the benefit of staying present. When you’re aware of what you’re doing, you can make a choice about it. Your work and your life become intentional.
Tracking your time provides history…
… and history is very useful when you want to know how long a new project is going to take. Most people estimate based on experience and gut feel. Experience, as in – “I’ve done this before and my guess is that it’ll take about….” – is better than nothing but it isn’t even close to accurate. Why is this? Because most of us are optimists when it comes to estimating. We forget to add in the time it takes to research how to do something, or the time troubleshooting when things inevitably go haywire. We tend to look only at the ideal picture. If you have a way to track time to the minute based on specific categories of work (more about that later), you’ll be able to go back to that the next time you have to say how long a project will take.
Tracking your time helps you make decisions about where you should be spending your time.
It’s enlightening to look back over the week/month/year and see where your efforts have been spent well or wasted. When your business isn’t tracking (pun intended) as you’d like, you can see exactly what needs to be modified with respect to your time.
Tracking your time allows you to invoice accurately.
Believe it or not, it’s been a selling feature for me when I tell clients I use an automated system for tracking my time to the minute. You can’t get much more accurate than that.
Tracking your time makes you feel like a pro.
You’ve got to act like a pro if you want to be a pro! Professionals know exactly where their time is spent, even when it’s being social on Facebook. We have so little control over our life but if you can control your time by tracking it, you’re a step ahead of those who don’t.
Tracking your time allows you to measure how effective a certain activity is.
For instance, if you knew that you spent 3 hours and 45 minutes on Facebook last week and 6 hours the week before, you could look to see if your client engagement was any different between those two weeks. And you could derive some meaning from that regarding just how productive facebooking is for your business. Yeah, I get that there are other factors, for sure, but this is another piece of the puzzle.
So back to that first week when I began life as a real-live, gosh-darn entrepreneur. I got my owner-and-founder self down to the Office D-POT and purchased an “analog” tracker called the “Day Minder.” First week I was freakin’ religious about tracking my time. Second week – still pretty good, as it turned out.
I made it a month before I abandoned it all together and found that sleeping in ‘til 8:30 was AWE. SOME! I also found that my enthusiasm for solopreneurship and my life began to flag. And I hated looking at The Day Minder. It was boring with its old brown boring cover.
Soon after the New Year, I realized living life free – at least in the way I had been doing it – wasn’t going to lead to Living Life Free, which always entails a high level of self-responsibility. So I started planning at the end of each day. That helped a lot.
Enough with the story! Give me a tool!
Recently, I stumbled across OfficeTime, which has restored my faith in tracking time, as well as provided additional insight into time tracking’s hidden benefits. The app works on Macs and PCs, is super-easy to install and use and there is a 21-day free trial.
When you do decide to purchase, the cost is only $47.00, which includes all updates for the current major release (1.x). You can also sync it with your iPad, iPad and iPhone. That version is $7.99 – a deal.
Features and Functionality
OfficeTime allows you track your time at the project level and category level. For example, I have a project set up called “PHC – Blog Post.” I’m tracking time to it as I write this. The category is “Blog Post” but it could have just as easily been “Research” or “Write” if I wanted to track my time to that level of granularity. When you create a category, you can set a rate and a color to help you distinguish it in the reports that are provided.
When you leave your computer for a period of time, the tracker knows that you haven’t been working – at least not on your computer – and gives you the option of subtracting the time you were away, adding it to a different project or leaving it as part of your work effort being tracked.
My favorite feature so far is the ability to have several projects open at once. You can pause and resume as you move between your projects. This is amazing when you have numerous clients and delegating long periods of time to each is not feasible.
OfficeTime also has a reporting feature that’s great for invoicing or creating invoices in whatever tool you use for that.
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I’d love to hear about your experience with time tracking. Do you do it? What do you use? Let us know by leaving a comment below.