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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One of the best ways to stayorganized 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.
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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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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If you don’t already have an organizational system for your business, now is definitely the time to start. Different people work best with different systems, so, unfortunately, I can’t tell you which type to use. But, here’s a cool business tip for you. Paper or Plastic – I mean Digital! lol Some people like paper systems, because they can cross items off their list as they complete them. And some people like digital planners because they can send their lists to their phones, i-pads and have them on their computers.
Google Calendar can be a mix of both because you can set appointments online and then print out your calendar as well. You can also view it from your phone, and have reminders go off on your phone and computer too.
Personally, I like the feeling of crossing things off a to-do list, and I like to see them, so paper is what works for me. But like I said, everyone is different. Find what works for you and go with it! Here’s a FREE PAPER TO-DO LIST you can use if you like paper.
2) Start Planning
The first step in taking time off in your business is to start planning for it. How much time do you need to take off? You need to know how much work you need to do in advance so that your business doesn’t fall apart when you take the time off. This is such a great business tip.
Let’s say you want to plan for a two-week vacation. Well, if you blog 3 times per week, that’s 6 blog posts. You’ll also want to plan for your Twitter and Facebook status updates, as well as any promotions you are going to do before taking off on your vacation.
On the other hand, if you are going to be working a reduced schedule, you need to plan for that, as well. For example, if you normally work 20 hours per week within your business but need to cut it down to 10 hours per week in the summer, it’s time to figure out how much you need to do each week, so you can start working extra now to make up for it, and to make sure you schedule the most important tasks in your limited hours. This little business tip is GOLD!
When you figure out how much work will need to be done, don’t feel overwhelmed. We’re taking this one step at a time. You don’t have to do everything in one night.
Look at the big goal and work backward. Using the first example of someone who is going on a two-week vacation, let’s say you have four weeks before you leave. Well, if you wrote two extra blog posts for the next three weeks, you’d have the six you will need, plus one extra week to schedule your Twitter and Facebook updates to let people know when new posts are published.
3) Work Smarter
Now is the time to start working smarter, not harder. Like I said earlier, you can write posts now, and schedule them to publish later. I for one think this is an excellent business tip!
If the idea of writing extra blog posts gives you a big case of blogger’s block, start doing the following:
Reuse old content – Take the content that is already on your blog and re-use it in a new way. Some examples include “Top 10 Lists,” where you list the links to some of the best tips you’ve previously written. If you don’t write tips per se, you can still use that idea and just call it a “My Faves” post where you list the links to some of your favorite previous blog posts.
Get Readers to Create Content – Get your readers to help you create some content! Ask a question and ask them to answer it!
Guest Posts – Ask some of your favorite bloggers to guest post on your blog! You can ask them to write an original blog post or ask for permission to post one of the posts that was previously written on their blog.
When it comes to taking time off during the summer, technology is your best friend! All the major blogging platforms let you write posts now and schedule them in advance. Your email newsletter service should be the same way. It would be impossible for me to know the facts on every single service out there, but all the ones that I know allow you to create your newsletter now and send it later.
HootSuite (https://www.hootsuite.com/) allows you to schedule social network updates, such as Twitter and Facebook. I use the free version, and it works just fine! Once you schedule your blog post and have the link for it, you can sign in to HootSuite and schedule an update with the post title and link on the publish date. It’s like you are right there, publishing it live at your computer, even though you are out on your vacation!
Delegating can be hard. Really hard. It’s kind of funny – you start a business because you want to be your own boss, but it can be really hard to start bossing other people around. Doing that requires letting go – and your business is a lot like your baby and putting that “baby” into someone else’s hands can cause you lots of anxiety and worry.
But eventually, you’re going to have to learn to trust, and start letting go…
You can let go in small steps. Let someone write your newsletter. Get someone else to answer your customer service questions. Have someone else post your items to your Etsy shop… Let someone else do what you are comfortable with. When the world doesn’t fall apart, let them do another task. It all depends on what your goals are.
So, where are you supposed to find these people? Well, you can hire one. Look online for a virtual assistant. You can go to sites like elance.com and guru.com, where you can post your job opening, and qualified people can “bid” on it.
These people will tell you how much they would charge you to take on the job. Now, don’t just pick the cheapest one. Look at their past work references! Just because it’s “cheap” doesn’t mean it’s good, and just because it’s “expensive” doesn’t mean it’s the best choice. Look at their past work and let that be your guide. Of course, you can also send a shout-out through Twitter or Facebook and see if any of your “friends” are interested in a side gig.
Another option is to find an intern. In most cases, interns do not get paid, but they should be learning something. So, you might be working with someone who has never used Twitter before. That’s okay. You can teach them! Yes, it will take more time, but you are getting work done for free, so you’re going to have to trade some time for that exchange. There are so many virtual assistants in the marketplace these days that will jump at the chance to be an intern. You can offer a testimonial for them to include on their website in exchange for the work they provide to you. Such a great idea!
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