Why you should track your time even if you don’t charge by the hour

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The freedom of working on your own can be exhilarating. And overwhelming.

Many of us escaped corporate slavery because we were tired of punching a clock. The day we hit the door we left the trappings of that world and all the drudgery that came along with it, including that dreaded time clock.

I even worked at a job where we used a digital fingerprinting system to clock in and out so no one could impersonate us and manipulate our hours.  Talk about slavery!

But maybe it’s time to give that time clock a second look.

Sidenote: Once you finish, read how 4 freelancers built recurring revenue models that changed their business. You'll love it.

Even if you’re using a value-based pricing system, tracking your time has its advantages.

Here are just a couple to consider:

Without tracking, you don’t know where the hours are going

Do you ever feel like you spend more time working on your business than in your business?

In the beginning you’ll be busy setting up business systems and marketing.  But once things get rolling, you should be prioritizing your workload and making money. Otherwise your business won’t survive.

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Use a time tracking app like toggl or create a recipe in IFTTT that records your time on a Google Sheet. Be sure to record every activity and label it appropriately, including email management, accounting and marketing.

After a couple of weeks you will know what you’re really doing and what activities take up the most of your time.

Use this information to say goodbye to bad habits (spending too much time on social media) or outsource tasks that drag you down.

I think every freelancer should hire at least one person.

Without tracking, you don’t know how long things take

One day someone asked me how long it takes me to plan a month’s worth of marketing content and I stood there looking like an idiot.

I really didn’t know.

It’s easy to wreck a schedule this way. Take on too much, and you really start to go crazy.  Take on too little, and you starve. The stress is enough to burn you out quickly.

Taking the Next Steps

After 2-4 weeks of tracking every single activity you do during your day, choose some of the following options:

Wrapping Things Up

Don’t hide behind the left-brain/right-brain argument and leave things to chance.

Successful freelancers have good systems in place (or they hire someone to create them).

Creativity and organization can reside in the same person. Why not you?

Do you have a favorite time tracking tool or system?  We’d love to hear about it in the comments!

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About Sharon McElwee

Sharon McElwee helps creative businesses with blogging, email, copywriting and social media. She loves to partner with designers on web and print projects. You make beautiful things; don’t let them get ruined by ugly copy. Connect with her on Twitter.

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Comments

  1. I use Roll for time tracking and it’s a great tool. It can specifically track the amount of time you spend on each task or project, and it can even bill those hours to the appropriate project if you are charging by the hour.

    Great thoughts on the amount of time spent on the business and advertising! I have never thought to add that up, because I’ve always actually just enjoyed it. I guess I found the right field 🙂

    • I looked into Roll but it didn’t meet my accounting needs. I use Toggl for time tracking now, but in the future I may switch to something with more capabilities.

      17Hats has similar capabilities to Roll, and you can set admin tasks to non-billable so you can see where your time is going. Thanks for the comments, Brittany 🙂

  2. Time tracking is very important for every freelancer, Sharon!
    Posts like that are necessary reminders!
    We must know how long it really takes us to complete a certain task, even if we don’t charge by the hour.
    I started doing that because I wanted to know exactly how many hours do I need for every service I offer (including emails, phone calls and meetings).
    If not, how would I know if I can deliver on time or how much should I charge the client for a certain service?

    But it can also help when discussing our rates.
    Most of the clients don’t know how long it takes us to do certain things right.
    (Some professionals also don’t and that’s not good at all!)

    It can be a good argument sometimes to say that we need at least 50 hours or 2 months for a certain project.
    It shows that we are organized, experienced and confident and we take the time required to do quality work.
    Not many will complain about the hours we spent on their project to bring the best results, especially if they were informed in advance!

    I’ve also tried toggl, but what helps me more is a special notebook I have only for time tracking and expenses for every project and google calendar.

    • Thanks, Mania 🙂 Dina Rodriguez, who also writes for Millo, is very specific about the amount of time each task in a project takes her when submitting a proposal, which really helps to explain pricing to clients like you mentioned.

  3. Great piece, Sharon!

    I use Toggl religiously and it’s been quite an eye-opener. I not only have a much better sense of how I spend my time, but I also have a *much* clearer picture of how long it takes me to complete a project and just what’s involved, which in turn helps me to be much more accurate (and competitive) in my pricing. 🙂

    • I love how easy Toggl is. It also helps me learn when to delegate tasks that take me WAY too long (social media and email are my worst).

      Thanks for your comments, Lori 🙂

  4. Most freelancers don’t think about tracking their time. It can be easy to just do the job and move on. If you track your time, you can adjust pricing accordingly. Sometimes you realize that you’re getting very underpaid. Thank you for some great info!

    • Sad but true, Robert. I think it’s much easier to estimate our project time but a lot harder to pinpoint how much admin time we spend on a topic, especially when it’s a new client 🙁