10 Reasons Freelancers Should Track The Hours They Work

Do you track the hours you work each day? If you answered “no” to this question, you should start tracking your work time, today. To find out why, read on. It’s a must-do for every freelancer, and it’s easier than you think, especially with specially designed time tracking apps that make it simpler than ever to keep tabs on your working hours.

Time tracking software lets you monitor the time you spend at work. You can see how much time you’re working on client projects, how much time you’re spending on non-billable tasks such as marketing and admin, and the amount of time that you’re doing nothing productive.

1. You Track Your Bank Balance, Don’t You?

All successful business owners know how important it is to properly manage their finances. Money is limited, and unless you use it well, your business will fail.

Although money is limited, you can always make more of it.

Time is also limited, but it is forever slipping away. You can’t create more time.

Each day, your “bank account” of time is credited with 86,400 seconds. You can’t keep them, you can only spend them.

Tracking the hours you work daily helps you better manage your “bank account” of time. Then, you can be sure you’re spending it in the best possible way.

2. You Become Aware of Where Your Time Goes

The first step on any journey of change is becoming aware of what needs to change. By opening your eyes to how you spend your time, you will discover exactly how every minute of your day is being used.

Even if you believe you’re doing well managing your time, that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. As the Bulgarian-American poet Katerina Stoykova Klemer once wrote:

“If you can’t feel anything, it doesn’t mean it’s not hurting.”

3. You Can Create Accurate, Honest Invoices for Your Clients

Many freelancers and contractors bill clients per hour. If this is you, it’s vital you track every hour you work on each client’s project.

Billing clients when you haven’t tracked your time is a nightmare. Either you’ve got to recall from memory every hour you worked – and the human memory is notoriously fallible. Or you’ve got to guess.

Both these approaches lead to inaccurate invoices. You’ll either undercharge your client, which is bad for your profit margins. Or you’ll overcharge your client, which – even if unintentional – is dishonest.

Tracking the hours you work makes it easy to create invoices, and gives you the peace of mind that your invoices are accurate.

4. You Get Better at Pricing Up Projects

If you bill clients per project rather than per hour, you should still track the hours you work. Tracking your hours every day makes it easier to price up future project quotes accurately.

Failing to track your hours could mean you’re underestimating how much time you spend on project work. Do that, and you’ll undercharge your clients.

5. You Discover Your Real Hourly Rate

Tracking every hour you work – whether billed or unbilled – lets you see your real hourly rate.

You’ll see whether you’re charging clients enough to cover the time you spend on marketing, admin and other tasks you can’t invoice for.

As a freelancer, your real hourly rate should be at least 50% more than what you’d earn in a comparable position in employment. This is to cover the cost of insurance, overheads, and the risk of not having a long-term contract.

6. You See How Many Billable Hours You Really Work

Along with your real hourly rate, you’ll discover how many billable hours you’re working per week.

If you find out you’re being paid for fewer than 20 hours each week, then an easy way to increase your income is to find more clients and increase your billable hours.

7. You Discover What Tasks Are Worth Your Time

When you monitor your time, you should track how much time you’re spending on various admin and marketing tasks. Keep track of how much time you’re spending:

  • Bookkeeping
  • Marketing (e.g. updating your website, writing marketing materials)
  • Managing your IT systems
  • Making sales calls
  • Responding to emails
  • On other tasks you can’t or don’t bill clients for

If you’ve got a waiting list of clients, and you can outsource these tasks at an hourly rate that’s lower than your own, then it’s worth your while hiring subcontractors to help you out.

8. You Beat Procrastination

Procrastination involves substituting urgent tasks with less urgent tasks. Entrepreneur Paul Graham says the key to beating procrastination lies not in avoiding it, but in learning how to procrastinate well.

Tracking your time – even the time you’re avoiding work – helps you see what you get up to when you procrastinate. That way, you adjust your procrastination habits, and begin to procrastinate in productive ways. For example, rather than goofing off playing FarmVille or reading the news, when you’re tempted to procrastinate you can indulge yourself by catching up on your email, cleaning up your desktop, or working on a non-urgent client project.

9. You Inspire Yourself to Change

Seeing how you spend your time can be a wake-up call. Tracking your hours is the first step to taking full responsibility for how you use your time.

If you discover you’re using your time in less than optimal ways, you can turn things around and use the extra time you create to increase your income or work on passion projects that you believed you didn’t have time for.

10. You Actively Find Ways To Be More Efficient

By tracking your time every day, you’ll discover how fast you work when you’re at optimum speed. What do you do differently when you’re working fast compared to when you’re plodding?

One thing to look out for here is perfectionism. This can be just as much as waste of time as procrastination. Of course you should do a great job for all your clients. But to be perfect is an impossible goal. Tracking how you spend your working hours will show whether you’re wasting time on tiny, irrelevant tweaks.

Over to You

How do you track the time you spend on projects? What are your top reasons for tracking the hours you work?

About the Author

Seth Banks is equal parts designer & engineer, who’s worked on the web since 1996. He’s the founder of Subimage LLC & lead designer of Cashboard.

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Author: Mike Smith

Mike Smith is a WordPress designer & developer at GUERRILLA and the owner and main blogger here on Guerrilla Freelancing.

Comments

  1. Robert Macklyn says:

    keeping track of hours is an effective way to have a better sort of productivity. A working professional without the prior knowledge skips many important steps which contribute to the productivity ended up with. And the main cause behind the same which I understand is the improper management of time. So as to clearly keep track of the time for freelancers basically makes a better arrangement for a streamlined work productivity.

    And when the case is of a freelancer then the definitive aspects of the time tracking must be watched with respective approaches so as to utilize the proper time with proper scheduling, then only the work structure is gonna make a significant change in the competitive platform. Even I am a freelancer by profession and its my craziness that I look out for all possible forms to have my time managed and with out the cloud based hours tracker from Replicon ( http://www.replicon.com/olp/hours-tracking-software.aspx ) I believe that I could not have been so much productive at any means.

    • Mike Smith says:

      Thanks for the comment Robert. I used the rescuetime app for a while which runs in the background of your computer and it lets you know where you’re spending most of your time (ie: Photoshop, code editing, the web & which websites you’re on the most, etc).

      Without that, I would never have guessed where a lot of the extra time was going and it definitely allowed for a better and more productive work day.

      I’ll have to check out replicon and see what it’s like. Thanks for the recommendation

  2. JL20 says:

    “YOU BECOME AWARE OF WHERE YOUR TIME GOES”
    It’s definitely what I’m after for a time tracking software. It should provide reports on where I spent my time and whether if it was productive or not. I’m using Time Doctor and its features are really a fit to me.
    I can edit time, manage the reports I received in a daily/weekly/monthly basis, and keep track on specific things that are unproductive.

    I’m using it for almost 2 years by the way.

  3. dennyzhang says:

    The pomodoro technique is quite useful for me to keep productive, while freelancing.

    If you’re an emacs guy, org-mode is the king of king!!

  4. Alicia says:

    I use Paymo (which I highly recommend to anyone!) to track my hours. At first I did have a project for unbillable, behind-the-scenes activities, but I quickly got lazy about it and stopped tracking them. The only project I had for myself was called Client Acquisition (I also highly recommend this to anyone!) in which I track hours spent corresponding with and preparing for a new client, right up until the moment they sign the contract. But this article inspired me to add back in that administrative project. I’m even tracking writing this comment right now. So, thanks!

    As a freelancer, your real hourly rate should be at least 50% more than what you’d earn in a comparable position in employment. This is to cover the cost of insurance, overheads, and the risk of not having a long-term contract.

    I’ve never read this before, but it’s interesting. Is there any source for this formula, or is it just from personal experience? I’ve always calculated my rate simply by dividing the gross amount I need to make in a year by an estimation of how many billable hours I work in a week (multiplied out over the course of a year).

    • Mike Smith says:

      I’ve heard good things about Paymo, and they’ve been around for years which is definitely a good sign in the ever changing landscape of the internet :)

      No, there’s no scientific source for the 50% formula, it’s just from past experience and editing my own work flow and pricing structure over time.

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