Time is money for any business, but for freelancers this ratio is even more important. Many freelancers bill by the hour, making time metrics a vital part of how they get paid. Other freelancers are paid on retainer or by project, but can use their time data to find out their hourly rate or gauge which clients are most profitable. This way, a freelancer can keep the 20 percent of his or her clients that make up 80 percent of revenue.
This article provides essential time tracking best practices for freelancers, so that if you don’t already track your time, you can start, and if you do track time, you can improve.
Research the right tool for you
Eliminate paper and automate time tracking with cloud-based software. Time tracking software is more efficient and convenient than manual timecards or even an online spreadsheet. Software not only saves ink and paper, it saves you time.
Instead of manually writing down your time, or punching it into your phone, you’ll have time data and metrics at the push of a button. You’ll always have your time tracking data at the tip of your fingers, accessible from anywhere.
This infographic gives an overview of four time tracker choices for freelancers.
Make it a habit
The first few days you track time will be an adjustment period, since you’re adding something to your workflow that wasn’t there before. Below are some ways to help you remember to start and stop your timer.
- Use the timer for non-billable work as well as billable work (be sure to log it in a separate space to avoid accidentally charging it to someone). This will help you associate “work mode” with “track time.”
- Place a sticky note by your screen, or put a piece of paper over your laptop keyboard, to remind you to start your timer right when you begin.
- If you don’t shut off your computer, bring the timer to the front of all other windows, so it’s the first thing you see when you turn on your screen.
Many time tracking tools have alarms for idle time, or can detect when you’re away from the computer. This makes it easier to backtrack and find out when you stopped working if you accidentally leave your timer running.
Many freelancers use project management (PM) tools to stay organized and keep track of files, to-do lists, discussions with clients, and due dates. If you already have all of your data in a PM tool, it would be a waste of time attributing time to each task manually, or importing your to-do list one-by-one. You would be doubling your work, instead of increasing efficiency (which is one of the key benefits of time tracking).
Instead, integrate your time tracking and PM tools so that you aren’t entering data multiple times in multiple places. Your integration should automatically sync on a regular basis, so that new projects are shown in your timer, and you can track to-do list items individually.
Keep it simple
“Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler.” -Albert Einstein
In line with the point above, time tracking should be a seamless experience. If it’s difficult or complicated to track your time, you won’t do it. If you have to manually write down the start and stop times for your work on a paper timecard, it’ll be easy to get lazy and forget.
Ensure your time tracking process is seamless and simple, only including the features and information you need. If you don’t want screenshots, then turn them off. If you just need a simple timer, then don’t get something that asks you to specify exactly what you’re working on with each entry.
However, if your client wants those screenshots as proof of work, or your business needs those metrics to improve and grow, incorporate them into your workflow. Often, it will be as easy as clicking a box in the settings turning on the feature.
Install your timer on multiple devices
Finally, you should utilize a tool that you can take with you. As a freelancer, you have the opportunity to work on-the-go, from whatever country or coffee shop you want. Your timer should be just as versatile, and you should be able to track time accurately, to one main database, from your desktop, laptop, smartphone, and tablet. Be sure to download and install the timer (if they are apps) before you need them.
How are you tracking your time?
I’m interested in hearing what processes you’ve found work best, or don’t work at all. Share your experiences in the comments or reach out on Twitter!
About the author
Rachel Go manages social media at Hubstaff and enjoys writing the occasional blog post. She loves writing about remote work, productivity, and workplace culture. She works remotely from around Asia, and is continuously learning about content strategy, SEO, and WordPress. Connect with her on Twitter @rgo_go.