Tracking Your Personal Time
Sue was a web designer who worked from home. She found herself very distracted and didn’t feel she was as productive as she could be. At a friend’s urging, Sue began using a time tracker to track her personal time. She was amazed to see how much time she was filling with minor tasks (like checking Facebook on her phone and surfing Pinterest). Tracking personal time is really essential if you plan on having a successful business.
If you haven’t done it before, you should try tracking your time, too. The results can be surprising and like Sue, you may discover you could be far more productive…
Tracking Personal Time Takes About 2 Weeks
Think of time tracking like a budget. Your hours are your dollars. By tracking them you can see where your money (in this case your time) is really going. Then you can make adjustments to your schedule depending on what you learn.
Plan to spend at least two weeks tracking your time. If you only track your time for a day or two, you’re not going to get a complete picture of what your habits and routines really look like. This can lead you to under-estimate the time you need to do certain tasks (like finish a big project).
Do Quick Check-Ins
Tracking your personal time doesn’t have to be all-consuming. Instead, you can check-in with yourself 3-4 times a day to make a note of what you’ve been doing. A good idea is to plan to check-in after every meal. This gives you a chance to think about what you’ve done and what you plan to do in the coming hours.
Record everything no matter what. You wouldn’t splurge on a huge purchase then not budget for it, would you? This could lead to financial errors and other problems. It’s the same concept with your time. Acknowledge how you’ve spent it, even if you’re not proud of it.
Use a Physical Notebook
There are dozens of time trackers online. These can be useful when you have to track time for client projects. But it’s not so great when you’re tracking your personal time. If you go to record your time and find yourself distracted by social media or emails, you could definitely benefit from using a physical notebook instead.
Make It Fun For Yourself
So, when Sue started time tracking her personal time, she asked her friend to join her. Together they both began tracking their time. But instead of sharing their logs, they’d take selfies and send them to each other every hour. Cool huh?
It made the experience more enjoyable and kept both of them focused on being productive. You can do the same thing—send a quick selfie to a private Instagram account every hour for a visual record of how you’ve spent your time.
Look over Your Log
After you’re done with tracking your time, plan to have a review session the next day. Look over your logs and make notes about what you’d like to change now. Do you want to spend more time playing with your kids? Would you prefer to cut out Facebook and use that hour to work on eating healthier meals?
Time tracking can be a great way to see where you’re spending it well and where you can make some improvements. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself becoming more intentional with how you spend your hours!
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Stay on Track: Scheduling & Planning
One of the best ways to stay organized and keep on track with your projects is to create a monthly plan. Your monthly plan can be filled with notes about when to do your various tasks so you can smooth out your workflow (no more rushing to write that blog post at the last minute!).
Here are a few pointers to get you started…
Make a List of Recurring Tasks
Take some time to think about what recurring tasks you have to do for your clients each week. Do you log in to their WordPress blog and delete spam comments? Do you schedule their social media content including videos and pictures?
There may also be tasks you only do once a month for clients—like backing up their website or assigning work to other team members. Add these tasks to your list, too so you won’t forget them.
Schedule Recurring Tasks
Now that you know what you have to do each week or month, make space for it on your calendar. You can use a physical or digital calendar, depending on what you prefer. Digital calendars do give you a slight advantage since you can set reminder alerts so you never forget an important task again.
As you fill up your calendar, think about how long each task will take and build in some buffer time. For example, if you think you can write a blog post in twenty minutes, give yourself sixty instead.
Now, you have extra time if you realize you need to research a fact or interview a source.
Create a Checklist
Some recurring tasks may be big and complex. Maybe you’re a virtual assistant who uploads products to her client’s website. There’s a whole list of things you have to do to make this happen. You need to upload the product to Amazon S3, add it to aMember, set up a form in aMember, create a pickup page in WordPress, add the official sales page to the website, create an autoresponder series, etc.
With all of these tasks, it’s hard to know where to start. Use a checklist to help you stay organized. The next time you’re doing this task, note down every step you have to take along the way.
Now, doing this task in the future will be easy since you just have to open your checklist and get to work.
When you schedule recurring tasks on your calendar, you’ll be more likely to remember them and impress your clients. You’ll also feel less stress since you know exactly what to do to stay on track each month.
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Time Tracking for Your Clients
Casey was a virtual assistant who specialized in social media. She enjoyed working for clients but she was hired for a month or two then let go time after time. After noticing this pattern, Casey reached out to a friend in the virtual assistant industry who had spent years serving clients.
Dana, Casey’s friend, explained that often it’s hard for clients to understand exactly what their service provider is doing. “So, they paid you for ten hours of social media help but they don’t know what they purchased unless you tell them. At the end of the month, it’s hard to validate the money they’re paying since they aren’t sure what happened with it.”
Dana went on to recommend Casey do a few key things to improve her time tracking for clients.
Start with a Regular Report
Every week, send a brief email to your client and let them know what you did. Don’t say something vague like, “I spent three hours on your social media.” That doesn’t give the client an idea of what you were doing.
Instead, provide relevant details. You could say, “I spent one-hour uploading 15 posts to your social media scheduler. Then I researched popular Pinterest group boards. I followed the rules of each board then pinned your latest blog post so you can get more Pinterest traffic. I also updated the branding for your Facebook fan page with the new logo we discussed.”
After you share what you did, include any metrics that might be helpful. For example, you wrote a new blog post that resulted in two big sales for your client. Be sure to mention that in your week’s report.
Keep in mind that the results you measure should match the client’s goal. If the client’s goal is to become a social media influencer, then mention that their new video tweet got 103 RTs and 1.5K views on Instagram. If you’re not clear on what your client’s goal is, you need to talk with them. Figure out what it is they’re looking for and develop a strategy to help them achieve it.
Schedule a Review
As a service provider, you want to make sure that you’re spending your time on projects that matter to your client. It’s smart to request a 15-minute call every month. You and your client can use this time to review what you’ve been doing.
This monthly review ensures that you and your client are working toward the same goal. Your client might see what you’re working on and say, “Yes, do more of that please!” or she might say, “No, I want to change direction on this project.”
Tracking Your Time is Good
It’s not just clients who benefit from your time tracking—you do, too! Even if you’re doing an unpaid internship or bartering with someone, track your time.
Plotting how long it took you to complete a task can be helpful so you know how much time to budget for future projects. For example, tracking your time might reveal it takes you an hour to write a blog post but you always thought you could do it in 30 minutes. Now that you have this information, you can block off a full 60 minutes to write without feeling rushed or frazzled.
Casey took Dana’s advice. She started emailing her clients a weekly report and began getting more repeat jobs. This enabled her to spend less time marketing her business and more time doing what she loved—serving her clients.
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The Best Tools for Time Tracking
Time tracking is a great way to ensure that projects stay on track while giving your clients peace of mind. But manually tracking it yourself can be difficult. It’s hard to remember to do it every time you start working on a project leading to inaccurate time estimates.
The solution is simple: stop tracking your time yourself. Instead, use a tool that monitors your time use for you. Then you can simply review it at the end of each day and make sure it’s accurate.
Here are a few of the best apps and software for your time tracking needs…
Account Sight allows you to track time for 5 clients and 5 projects. The great thing about this site is that it integrates with PayPal and QuickBooks. This means that you can easily track your time, invoice your clients, and update your earnings with just a few clicks. There’s both a free version and a paid upgrade that unlocks additional features that you may want to use.
Toggl makes it easy to see where your time is going at a glance. You can color code clients and projects, which turn into colorful charts and graphs. It also integrates with other productivity tools like Asana, Trello, Basecamp, and more.
Toggl has a free version that you can use for as long as you want. If you choose to upgrade, you’ll probably do it for access to the accounting features so you easily invoice clients and track your profits.
And a couple more:
Rescue Time is another app for your time tracking. It works differently than most tools. With Rescue Time, the program tracks what websites and apps you use throughout the day. It then gives you a productivity score each evening.
The cool thing about Rescue Time is that you can set specific activities to be categorized as “productive” or “distracting”. This can be helpful if you’re frequently on Facebook to update a client’s group or page. You can simply set Facebook to “productive” so your daily score is accurate. The app has both a free and a premium option if you want more in-depth tracking.
Trigger is an app that combines the power of time tracking with project management, resulting in robust software that lets you see at a glance what you need to do each day to stay on track with your projects.
Along with time sheets, you can use Trigger for online reports and automated invoices. It also integrates with Freshbooks, Zapier, Basecamp, Slack and more. You can get started with a free account but it’s limited to just 5 projects, so you may need to upgrade to a premium account later on.
Don’t get discouraged if the first app or software doesn’t seem to fit your needs. It can take a few weeks of testing out different apps until you find the one that works best for you and your business.
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Evaluating How You Use Your Time
Tracking your time for clients is a good practice for service providers. But don’t stop by just tracking it for clients. You should also be evaluating and tracking time for your own personal use, too. When you do this, you’ll discover important insights about your business that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Here are a few questions you’ll want to ask after you’ve been tracking your time for a week or two…
Where Is My Time Really Going?
You’ve been working on launching your e-course for two months and you’re still nowhere near ready. But when you open up your time tracking app, you can quickly see that you spent 14 hours on Facebook or 9 hours tweaking the design of your website.
It’s easy to procrastinate when you don’t have any form of accountability. But a time tracker forces you to look at how you’ve been spending your time. This isn’t about shaming yourself. It’s about evaluating how you’re spending your time.
Instead, focus on being positive. You might say, “I spent ten hours on Facebook last week. What projects would I like to invest those ten hours into this week?”
Are These Tasks Giving Me a BIG Return?
You had a business coach tell you to make 10 Instagram posts each day and you’ve been following that advice faithfully. But when you stop and look at how you’ve spent this time, ask yourself, “Is this task giving me a BIG return?”
If you aren’t getting a good return on the time you’re investing, consider moving your attention to a project that will grow your business, like launching a course or hosting a webinar.
Do These Tasks Have to Be Done by Me?
Some digital business owners get bogged down in doing non-essential tasks that keep them from their important work. For example, if you’re a best-selling author then your most important work is writing that next book. But instead, you’re spending hours every week managing your Facebook group.
But what if you could outsource your community management? You could still pop in daily to stay connected to the group but you could focus all of your energy on that one thing you do well—writing your book. This is the right way you should be evaluating your time.
Is This Task Draining Me?
As you’re reviewing your time tracking, think about how you feel after you’ve completed each task. Did you feel energized and motivated after filming that Facebook Live broadcast? Did you feel frustrated and drained after working on your sales copy?
Pay special attention to tasks that take your energy. Try to find a way to avoid doing them. For example, you could hire a copywriter to handle your sales page or if your budget is tight, consider bartering with another service provider. Then you’ll both get to work in areas where you shine!
If you want to create more of what you want in your business and your life, tracking your time is important. The more you track your time, the better you’ll be able to manage it.
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Stay tuned for “The Best Tool for Time Tracking” on the next blog post.
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