How Time Tracking Can Benefit Your Business (and Maybe Even Your Marriage)

(Last Updated On: August 29, 2016)

I’ve been freelancing for years, but I always resisted tracking my time. To be honest, I had never tracked my time before because I didn’t want to see the results. I didn’t want to feel guilty about the time I spent checking my email. I didn’t want to know how much time I spent each day on Facebook. I didn’t want to see that I was often making less per hour than someone flipping burgers at McDonald’s.

But, this year I resolved to treat my business like a business. This meant I had to start tracking my time.

Thank goodness I did. Here’s how tracking my time has made me more efficient, given me the hard data I need to grow my business, and helped my marriage.

Tracking my time pushes me to get more done in less time.

I used to be a long distance runner. Watching seconds tick away on a clock always motivated me to hustle.

It turns out that tracking my time while I work has the same effect. I challenge myself to spend only fifteen minutes a day on Pinterest. I can see that clock ticking, and I pin like a mad woman. When I check my email, I no longer open every single link in every single email. I don’t even open all of my emails. It turns out, when the clock is ticking, I don’t actually care what’s on sale at The Gap. I’ve unsubscribed from all the junk and created a policy of touching each email once. I’m in and out of my inbox like a stealth ninja.

The simple act of tracking my time has changed my behavior. I never feel guilty about time spent on Facebook or checking email. Just knowing that I’m accountable for my time has made me stop wasting it.

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I can make data-based decisions about which clients to work for.

No more $7/hour jobs for me. Now that I’m tracking my time, I can see exactly how long it takes me to finish a freelance project.

If you bill by the hour, you should already be tracking your time on every project. If you bill by the project, then it’s especially important to track your time. Here’s why:

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We’ve all had a client who changes the scope of the work or asks for multiple revisions. By tracking my time, I can calculate my hourly rate for each project. Just as I suspected, I make much less per hour when I work for the scope creep/multiple revision clients. Having time tracking data makes it easier for me to turn down future work from the client or negotiate for a higher rate.

Based on the data I’ve collected, I usually turn down work from clients who suffer from scope creep. Clients who change the scope of work usually don’t have any clarity on their project, so it’s not worth either of our time for me to work with them.

For clients who ask for many revisions, I’ll email something like “Hi ——, I know how much you value high-quality work, and I am happy to do multiple revisions so we can make sure each article is perfect for your audience. In order to devote extra time to your project, I’m going to have to raise my rate to $x/article.” From there, the client can either agree to my new terms, or refuse them. If the client’s budget doesn’t allow them to pay me more, then I offer to reduce the amount of work or the number of revisions for each project.

Again, if I’m going to treat my freelancing like a business, I want my clients to know that my time is valuable.

TIP: When you track time for client work, be sure to include time spent communicating with the client and not just time spent working directly on the project.

My husband takes my business more seriously.

If you are a freelancing mama, then you know my pain. I have to manage the house, take care of my toddler when she’s not at preschool, and squeeze in freelance work. My husband works 50 hours a week, so he’s not around to see what I do all day. Since I’ve started tracking my time, I’ve been able to show him how little time I actually spend freelancing (because most of my time is spent making life easier for him and our family.)

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Counterintuitively, this has been great because it takes the pressure off me to find instant success, and it gives him a more realistic picture of everything I do for our family. He also has more realistic expectations for my freelancing business.

Last week I only worked 23 hours in my business. And you know what my husband said? “ Oh, well, if you’re only working part-time, then I think you should give yourself two years to reach your goal, instead of one.”

Having clear time tracking data shows my husband that I take my business seriously. In turn, he takes it more seriously. His background is in management and operations, so he has helped me use my time tracking data to set business goals and create systems to increase my productivity. My freelancing business is no longer a hobby, it’s a valuable part-time career that my husband wants to help me excel in.

I use the free time tracking application Toggl. I like that it sits in my browser so I can see the seconds ticking away. I also like that it allows me to organize my time by project, so I can easily switch from one project to another in the same day. There are plenty of time tracking apps available, so find something that appeals to you and just get started.

Do you use time tracking software? If so, how has it benefited your business? If you don’t track your time, what has stopped you from trying it?

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