You glance at the clock, feeling blurry-eyed and exhausted. You can hardly believe it, but it’s already the end of your workday.
You take a minute to think back on everything you managed to accomplish in the past several hours. If your fatigue is any indication, you know you got a lot done. But, that’s about as specific as you can get—your entire day is just a blur of different emails and projects.
Yes, you know you worked hard. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you worked smart.
As a freelancer, you like to think that you’re in control of your own time. But, ask yourself this: Exactly how in control are you… really? How much do you know about where your working hours actually go?
Enter the beauty of time tracking. By closely monitoring your own working time, you’ll have the information you need to grab the reins and take better control of the clock and your income—even if you don’t bill by the hour.
Use Time Tracking to…
1. Maximize Your Billable Hours
You might feel like you spend the vast majority of your day working on actual client projects that generate a paycheck.
But, even after just a day of tracking your hours, you’re likely to see that a good chunk of your time actually gets sunk into tasks and duties that you can’t directly bill for—things like emails, invoices, and other general administrative work.
And, as one recent study pointed out, we’re all pretty bad at weighing in those necessary admin tasks when budgeting necessary time (and quoting a price for a project!).
How can time tracking help with this? For starters, you can use that activity log to pad your prices by just a little bit to account for the time you spend on the clerical tasks you need to complete in order to get up and running with a client.
Or, for example, if you look at your time reports and notice that you’re investing hours each week into a task that you don’t necessarily need to be doing yourself, you can explore other options for getting that pesky work done—such as outsourcing or even automation.
It’s a simple equation: Less time spent on admin work = More time available for the stuff you can actually bill your clients for.
2. Increase Your Income
With that in mind, time tracking can have a direct impact on your income. When you have more hours available to dedicate to paying work, you’re bound to see an increase in your profits.
But, aside from actually freeing up some of your precious workday, time tracking has another added benefit related to your income: You can zone in on the specific clients and projects that are most profitable and worth your time.
Let’s say that you’re a freelance writer, for example, and you’re charging two clients the same rate of $400 for a 1,000-word article.
In looking at your time tracking reports, you see that you spent four hours crafting that article for Client A. But, Client B? Due to their strict requirements and uncertainty about the topic direction, that article actually took you eight hours.
With Client A, you’re earning $100 per hour—as opposed to $50 per hour with Client B.
So, if both of these clients want to work with you again in the future? You’ll know to stick with Client A, and potentially propose a rate increase to Client B.
See? That’s more money in your pocket for the same amount of time you were already spending on that work.
3. Improve Your Productivity
You sit down at your computer with the intention of making progress on a client project. But, before you really get invested, you check your social media accounts. Then, you do a little online shopping—which reminds you that you wanted to start a load of laundry.
It’s a common trap, particularly for freelancers who work and live in the same space. However, this is another area where time tracking can swoop in and significantly help out.
While you likely don’t miss the days of your clock-watching boss breathing down your neck, there was something to be said for that accountability. Knowing that you were technically “on the clock” inspired you to buckle down and focus on your work.
Time tracking can have a similar effect on your work ethic. When you start that timer for a specific project, it serves as a reminder that you should be making progress on what you set out to do—and not falling aimlessly into the black hole of the internet or completing household chores.
Just try it out, and you’re sure to notice a boost in your own productivity levels.
4. Organize Your Schedule
Chances are, you’ve heard something like this a time or two: “It must be so nice to be a freelancer and be able to work whenever you want.”
True. But, what people often fail to realize is that this typically means you’re working all the time. You don’t have a set work schedule, and you find yourself in front of your computer late in the evenings and even on weekends.
Fortunately, tracking your time can help you craft a much more realistic schedule for yourself. By getting a practical handle on how long certain tasks and projects take you, you can buck that pesky planning fallacy (put simply, the fact that we all severely underestimate how much time tasks require) and manage a workload that’s actually doable.
Without those unfinished projects hanging over your head at the end of the day? You’ll be able to shut down at a decent hour—and return to your work the next day feeling refreshed, rather than burnt out.
5. Add to Your Legitimacy
Needing to quote a price is one of the most cringe-worthy parts of freelancing. And, every now and then, you’ll get those clients who try to talk you down to a rate that they think is more fair.
While there’s nothing wrong with negotiating, you’ll have a much easier time backing up your own price quotes if you have the necessary evidence—which is something that tracking your time can help with.
When a client claims that your quoted rate is far too astronomical for the amount of work that they believe is required, you’ll have the data you need to share with that client exactly how much working time you need to invest into that sort of project—which adds legitimacy to your price.
Additionally, if you charge by the hour, those activity logs and time reports will be handy to have just in case a client ever refutes the number of billable hours listed on your invoice. You might never need it—but, at least you can rest assured that you have that documentation anyway.
Get Started Tracking Your Own Time
There are plenty of benefits that result from tracking your time as a freelancer. And, fortunately, getting started couldn’t be simpler.
Whether you want to enlist one of the numerous time tracking apps that are available (like BigTime or Harvest, for example), or you want to stick with a more traditional and simple method like pen and paper, figure out what works best for you in terms of keeping a watchful eye on your working hours and then get started.
QuickBooks customers can easily add tracked time to invoices, or even sync with Google Calendar to automatically track and bill for meetings. Learn more about the benefits of integrating time tracking with your accounting software—and give QuickBooks a try for 30 days at no cost.