When I am working, I am tracking my time. Every day. Every task.

I haven’t always done this, but over a year ago—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.

'As a small business, you have to be very in-tune with where you’re spending your resources.' -@EmilyM_Thompson Click To Tweet

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 or stop or save for later—is time.

Don’t you want to make sure you’re using your time the smartest way possible?

HOW TO GET STARTED

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 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.

'Find a reason for tracking your time.' -@EmilyM_Thompson Click To Tweet

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 price 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 email—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.

Next, I went about finding a time-tracking app. 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, guys, 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 eye-ball it, or adjust that task that says you’ve been hacking away at for the past 15 hours. Be gentle with yourself and keep going.

PRO TIP: I keep my time-tracker 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 TIMELY TO WORK FOR US

There are dozens of time tracking options for you out there, but at Indie Shopography 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 to use:

Clients and projects

I like how Timely allows me to do clients AND projects, because sometimes we have 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 (on-boarding, web design, web development, etc) just so we could see how time was spent on each individual part. Total nerds.

The point is that we have worked a while to figure out a system that worked for us, and you can do the same. Test and change.

Color coding

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 have mine set up this way: Indie Shopography tasks (marketing, answering emails, or team meetings) are blue, Being Boss tasks are yellow, current client work is red, retainer clients are purple, client maintenance is blue, and coaching calls are pink. So, I can 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.

Project Reporting

As a service provider who sells my time (more or less), it’s important to me to keep an eye on the profitability of my client work. Reporting in Timely allows me to see how much time is spent on any given project, allowing me to see if our client projects are profitable, as well as which kinds of projects or clients take more time than expected so that we can make smart decisions moving forward.

We also like to use this feature (along with the “notes” feature) to keep an eye on project phases, to see how effeciently 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 is 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 FROM TRACKING MY TIME

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. Tracking my time 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. 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 must-do-now, and I worked to hand off a lot of my email load to my communications girl, Kris. 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 year later, email takes up only 10-20% of our time, leaving us more time to do more productive things.

Tracking Time Made Me (+ My Team) More Productive

You might think that adding the extra task of time tracking as 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 on 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 this business, I’m 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 tracker 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 become more productive, and I’m put back into the driver seat of my day.

More productive means happier to-do lists, gained profitability, and more time away from work living our lives. Tracking my time puts me 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.

Tracking my time 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 productive I am when I’m working, and how free I am when I am not.

BEING BOSS CHALLENGE

You may have heard on some recent 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.

THE CHALLENGE: Kathleen—ma’am—I challenge you to one week of tracking your time. If you’re working, track it.

TIMESPAN: Just one week—5 business days.

DELIVERABLE: A breakdown of what you did, and how it makes you feel.

Want to join our challenge?

Track your time too! Pick a time-tracking app that suits your needs and let’s do it.

MAKE IT OFFICIAL: Join the Boss Clubhouse, where you can share your results with us and our community, as well as hear Kathleen’s first-hand experience in March’s live Q+A call with me and Kathleen.

Emily is the co-host of Being Boss Podcast, helping creative entrepreneurs learn how to run their own creative business with the tough love they need to hear to do the work. She also owns Indie Shopography, a web design and development studio helping creative entrepreneurs get paid for what they love to do online. You’re already in the right place to listen to Being Boss podcast episodes and read more Being Boss blog posts, but you can also say hi online through the Being Boss Clubhouse.