As a business owner, time tracking may not be top-of-mind. After all, tracking your work and your employees’ work by the hour can feel tedious.
But, here’s a rude awakening. Letting time slip through your fingers can be just as detrimental to the success of your business. Time management is one of the best ways to increase productivitiy—thereby increasing revenue.
Nobody understands that age-old “time is money” cliché better than Coral Edwards, who works as the Marketing Lead for Harvest—an online time tracking app that empowers people to take control, leverage analytics, and thus make the most of the working hours they have.
Needless to say, Edwards has plenty to say about how business owners and individuals alike can better manage their time. Here are four key lessons pulled from our enlightening conversation.
1. The Planning Fallacy Is Real
We all fancy ourselves productivity superheroes—which means we typically grossly underestimate how long certain tasks and to-dos take us to complete.
This discouraging concept is known as the planning fallacy, and it’s one of the many reasons that Edwards believes so strongly in the power of time tracking.
“That’s a great thing about Harvest and our team scheduling tool is you can learn how long your projects are taking, or have taken in the past, and then you can better estimate how long future projects might take,” Edwards explains. Learning to strengthen your prediction muscles means you can better assess the work that comes across your desk.
With that data in your back pocket, the estimates and quotes you put together for your work will buck your natural tendency to be an eternal optimist and instead be based in reality—which means you’re far more likely to quote (and thus, actually get paid) what you deserve for that amount of time investment. Nobody likes to leave money on the table.
2. Time Really Is Money
You might be sick of this sentiment, but the message behind it really holds some water.
“Companies do a great job of measuring money, but I don’t think everyone does a great job of measuring time—and time is money,” says Edwards.
She recommends putting a dollar amount on each hour of work to make analysis easier. In the same way you can pinpoint high expenses that drag down profits, you can find inefficiencies in your work too.
“I don’t think people go the extra step to think about how much time something took,” she continues, “And if you put a dollar amount to that, all of a sudden something that you worked on that was cheap and seemed like it had great ROI might not have been because it took a ton of time.”
For example, perhaps you own a website design firm and your client paid you $2,000 to design their new website. Everything went smoothly, and that project took your team a total of five hours—meaning you had a great return on your time investment.
But, let’s say a different client is also paying you $2,000 for a website redesign—except they’re extremely picky and require a lots of revisions and other back and forth communication. That project ends up taking your team a total of 20 hours. Considering the amount of time it took you to get that site wrapped up, the return on your team’s investment is low.
Put simply, Edwards states that you can’t just look at the dollar amount assigned to a certain task, product, or project. Time is another important consideration when deciding whether you should continue pursuing that avenue—or channel your attention and energy into something that’s more profitable.
3. Optimize What You Can
If time really is money, then it’s even more important to figure out how you can make the most of it. For this reason, Edwards recommends looking for different tasks and duties that you can optimize or even automate.
“I think it’s important for companies to think about the project lifecycle because there’s not only the aspect of learning about how your projects perform versus how you expected them to, but also there are some tasks that are easily duplicated and create more work. That can be solved for, and you can be more productive, by having a thoughtful and integrated workflow.” she explains.
This could be something as simple as setting up canned responses for emails you frequently send, or using some sort of system or solution to automate a task you do day in and day out—such as saving email attachments to your Google Drive or automatically archiving your data to a tool like Evernote.
Or, perhaps it’s leveraging an integration like the one that Harvest has with QuickBooks. Using Harvest, you can automatically generate invoices using your time data and then immediately export those to QuickBooks Online.
These changes might seem small and insignificant. But, when time serves as a constant stressor, saving five minutes here and 15 minutes there can really add up to a major impact on your workday.
4. Find What Works for You
Tricks, hacks, and apps can all be powerful tools to help you maximize your time as a business owner. But, ultimately, it all comes back to finding a method that works best for you.
For example, Edwards recognizes that she’s far more productive in the mornings. So, she structures her schedule in a way that allows her to take advantage of those hours when she’s at her most motivated and focused.
And, despite her emphasis on technology and data, Edwards herself is quick to admit that she always finds herself coming back to an old fashioned pen and paper to-do list.
“I get so much gratification out of striking through something that’s done and I haven’t found an app that gives me that same gratification,” she says.
While it’s safe to say that Edwards is big on efficiency and productivity, she also asserts that it’s important to balance that with what feels right for you internally. As an example, she says that she knows cleaning through her inbox isn’t something that needs to be a high priority each day—but, making sure it gets done allows her to approach the rest of her work with a clear focus and a level head.
“There’s the science behind optimizing, being more efficient, getting more time out of your day, and using data to learn all of that stuff,” Edwards continues, “But also thinking about—outside of the science—what just makes you feel good or what makes you feel accomplished with your work.”
Over to You
Nearly every business owner has cursed the clock and wished for more hours in the day. And, while there’s no way for you to literally tack more time onto your workday, there are some things you can do to best maximize the working hours that you do have.
“I’m personally obsessed with efficiency, perhaps too obsessed,” Edwards concludes, “but time and money are limiters for small business owners and if you can squeeze just a little more efficiency into your everyday, it can add up and make a big difference.”