Time Tracking: Know What You’re Doing
The Benefits of Time Tracking
When I am working, I am tracking my time. Every day. Every task.
I haven’t always done this, but after being an online entrepreneur for over 5 years—I was wondering just how productive I actually was. Also, I wanted to see how productive my team was being, too. So we all began tracking our time.
As a small business, you have to be very in tune with where you’re spending your resources. This includes your money, your assets, and your time.
Think about it:
Of all the resources you have at your disposal, the one that’s irreplaceable, the one you can’t make more of, stop, or save for later—is time.
Don’t you want to make sure you’re using your time in the smartest way possible?
HOW TO GET STARTED WITH TIME TRACKING
For me, I wanted to start tracking my time to see just how much of my life I was spending in my inbox—managing, reading, and answering emails. As an online business owner, you may be wondering the same. I felt as if managing my email was eating up all of my time, and I needed some facts to help me either come to terms with it or get the info I needed to make some hard decisions around my inbox.
You should do the same for yourself: find a reason for tracking your time.
Identify Your Reason for Time Tracking
Maybe you want to…
See how much time you’re spending on client/customer work vs working on your business
Track your profitability—are you spending more time on tasks than you charge for?
Find the items that eat up your day to see if it’s time to systemize and/or delegate
Keep an eye on time-suck tasks—like answering emails—to set better boundaries around how you organize your day to be most productive
Find your why to give you some juice to get going.
Choose Your Time Tracking Software
Next, I went about finding a time tracking software. I’ve tried several in the past sporadically, but this time I came across Timely, an app that would let me track time and easily divide my time per project.
Whatever time tracking app you decide to use, set aside 30 minutes to properly set it up with the tasks you plan on attacking over the next few days. There’s no need to spend half a day setting up everything you need, just get it going so that it’s usable for what you need now. You can add projects and parameters as you get the hang of it.
Then, it just takes a bit of discipline. Start with the goal to track your time for a week. As you move from task to task, visit your tracker to log your time.
Don’t beat yourself up if you forget for a day. Go back and eyeball it, or adjust that task that says you’ve been hacking away for the past 15 hours. Be gentle with yourself and keep going.
PRO TIP: I keep my time tracking app open on my browser, in the first tab, so I always know where it is and can click back and forth as needed.
HOW WE USE TIME TRACKING SOFTWARE TO WORK FOR US
There are dozens of time tracking options for you out there, but first at Indie Shopography and now at Being Boss we’ve settled on Timely. And even though I use it for my entire team, it works just as well if you’re a solopreneur.
If you’re in the need of a solution that does time-tracking and invoicing, check out our pals at Freshbooks. Or do your own research based on your needs.
*This post is not sponsored by or affiliated with Timely or Freshbooks. We’re really just sharing this because we think they’re rad.
Here are some ways that we put Timely, our chosen time tracking app to use:
CLIENTS AND PROJECTS
I like how Timely allows me to do clients AND projects because sometimes we had clients doing more than one thing at a time. This way I can track everything individually.
We even once broke down a large project into separate projects (onboarding, web design, web development, etc) just so we could see how much time was spent on each individual part. Total nerds.
The point is that we have worked for a while to figure out a system that worked for us, and you can do the same. Test and change. [LINK]
This is my favorite part! Thanks to Timely’s handy color-coding capabilities, I can—at a glance—see what I’m spending my time on during the week. I previously had mine set up this way: Indie Shopography tasks (marketing, answering emails, or team meetings) were blue, Being Boss tasks were yellow, current client work was red, retainer clients were purple, client maintenance was blue, and coaching calls were pink. So, I could check out a week and see if I’m balancing my time wisely between in-house tasks and client work. It helps me quickly see where I’m spending my time.
As a service provider, you’re selling your time (more or less), so it’s important to keep an eye on the profitability of client work. Reporting in Timely allows you to see how much time is spent on any given project, allowing you to see if our client projects are profitable, as well as which kinds of projects or clients take more time than expected so that you can make smart decisions moving forward. This was crucial when I was running Indie Shopography.
We also liked to use this feature (along with the “notes” feature) to keep an eye on project phases, to see how efficiently we’re developing websites, how much time we spend in client meetings, and so forth.
This works the same for me all by myself, but also to keep an eye on what my team members are working on. And you can do the same to keep an eye on your own process, whether you’re recording orders and packing products or coaching, designing, or developing for clients, as a solopreneur, or as the boss of a team.
WHAT I’VE LEARNED & MY BENEFITS OF TIME TRACKING
Though I went into tracking my time with the plan to only do it for a month or so, it’s still something that I do constantly, and maybe always will. Time tracking has given me some great insight into my work, my business, and even my life.
EMAIL IS A TIME-SUCK
I quickly discovered that my assumptions about email were spot on: email was sucking up an enormous amount of time, and not just my own, but the entire team’s. Within a week or two we discovered that—as a whole—we were spending about 1/3 of our time on email. I decided we needed to get that fixed.
We immediately began putting systems in place to make email less of a focus. We made getting client work into project management systems a must-do-now, and I worked to hand off a lot of my email load to my team members. We set boundaries around what needed immediate answers, and what could sit cold for a few days. We made systemizing email a priority.
Now, a years later, email takes up only 10-20% of our time, leaving us more time to do more impactful things.
TIME TRACKING MADE ME (+ MY TEAM) MORE PRODUCTIVE
You might think that adding the extra task of time tracking is just another time-suck to your day, but I actually found the opposite. Because you’re actively tracking for a specific task or project, you find yourself veering off course a lot less frequently.
I immediately began to feel more focused, and therefore more productive, and I found that my team was getting more done, too. Win/win, if ever there was one.
WE GAINED HARD INSIGHT INTO PROJECT PROFITABILITY
When you’re tracking all the time you spend on your business, you gain some serious insight into profitability. With this time tracking in place, we were given the data we needed to see if we were pricing our projects well, if we were wasting billable hours on nonsense tasks, and if we were charging enough to really cover all the time we spend in the business.
Without this kind of data, it’s a guessing game, especially if you have people working for you hourly. Now that I have access to this data, I wonder why in the world I didn’t make it more of a priority before. This was a #bossmove, for sure.
IT HELPED ME ACHIEVE BALANCE
As a designer, I’m very visual. Timely’s color-coding ability helped me get that birds-eye view of my week to help me see where I was spending my time. If my week was all red from client work, I know that I’m not taking any time apart to work on my business and vice versa.
This view of how I spend my time helps me achieve some balance. No more working in my business instead of on it. No more spending half my week in my inbox. No more slaving away on needy clients. Tracking gives me the data I need to make responsible decisions on how I use my time when I’m at work.
But it also helped me see just how much I was working and helped me aim for how much I wanted to be working. For me, 6 years into working for myself, I was over pulling 40-80 hour weeks. In my world, being boss means being hella productive within a 25-30 hour week. Tracking my time has helped me get there, like a boss.
TIME TRACKING HOLDS ME ACCOUNTABLE
When you’re looking at your time tracking app off and on all day, it’s hard not to be very aware of how you’re spending your time. When that ticker is counting up, I don’t find myself spiraling into Pinterest or clicking over to YouTube.
My tracker is tracking, and I’ve got shit to do.
This accountability has been my favorite part of incorporating time tracking into my work day. I’ve seriously been able to get more done in less time, and I’m put back into the driver seat of my day.
Getting more important things done means happier to-do lists, gained profitability, and more time away from work and living our lives. Time tracking puts my time back into my control, as opposed to it wasting away from under my feet.
Because I’m the master of my time, work time is work time, and everything else is spent away from my computer—living my life.
Time tracking and controlling my day makes me feel boss. And that, for me, is reason enough to keep on tracking. It’s up to me as to how effcient I am when I’m working, and how free I am when I am not.
BEING BOSS TIME TRACKING CHALLENGE
You may have heard on some previous podcasts about how I’m a tracker, but Kathleen is not. And though I totally get it—shaking up a routine is hard, I’ve seen some really good things come out of fitting time tracking into my schedule. Over the years, I have also heard that lots of bosses aren’t time tracking or struggle with it.
THE CHALLENGE: I challenge you to one week of tracking your time. If you’re working, track it. Pick a time tracking app that suits your needs and let’s do it.
TIMESPAN: Just one week—5 business days.
DELIVERABLE: A breakdown of what you did, and how it makes you feel.
Additional Benefits of Time Tracking
You’ve gotten a glimpse into the benefits of time tracking that Emily found when she and the team first started using time tracking software. You might feel resistance to tracking your own time when you are working for yourself. But hopefully, you’ll see that there are further benefits of tracking your own time inside of a small business.
Time Tracking for Prioritizing your work
As the owner of your small business, you wear many hats and perform many roles. When you get a clear picture of just how much time you are spending on each type of task with a time tracking system, you’ll be able to make better decisions.
Time tracking data can help you focus on the tasks that are more profitable
This data can also help you pinpoint any tasks that are a time suck. Emily’s example of the amount of time spent managing email is a perfect way to use time tracking to identify where you can automate or streamline a low-profit task.
Tracking can help you identify where you need to hire or delegate to an existing team. Considering what your hourly rate is and the amount of time you spent completing certain tasks, does it make more sense to outsource them?
Similarly, if you already have team members, tracking time can show you when they are at capacity and if you need to grow your team.
Time Tracking for Understanding Your Expenses
When you are thinking of keeping track of your expenses, you likely look to reports like your profit and loss. But reports like these don’t show the full picture and having time tracking data can help you understand your true profitability and how far your budget can go.
As Emily mentioned, you can gain a clearer picture of the profitability of your projects. It will help you more quickly see when you need to raise your rates to bill your clients accordingly and if the effort going into the projects is worth your return.
You will also be able to get better insight into the contribution of your team members. Based on this data, you’ll be better equipped to guide your employees on how long it takes to complete different types of projects and where they should be dedicating their efforts.
Time Tracking Can Help Eliminate Bad Habits
We all have some less-than-perfect habits when it comes to working. Whether you are the ultimate multitasker or you’ve turned procrastination into an art form.
If you want accurate timesheets and data to help you in your business, multitasking or procrastinating mid-tasks will mean you need to stop or switch your time tracking. Tracking your time can help to keep you focused on the task at hand which will also help keep any bad habits to a minimum. This will bring you the most accurate time tracking results and insight into your schedule.
If you’re ready to become the boss of your own time, check out our resources page for episodes, articles, and a time management training to get you started.