By Rieva Lesonsky, CEO GrowBiz Media & SmallBizDaily.com
The best thing about working for yourself is that there’s no one to tell you what to do. But sometimes, that’s also the worst thing about working for yourself. Without anyone else to hold you accountable, it’s easy for time to slip away without much getting done. Oh, sure, you may feel super productive—after all, you’re busy hunched over your computer, firing off emails and returning calls all day—but how much of that time is just busywork and how much is real work?
Using a time tracking tool can help you figure out how productive you really are by providing a clearer picture of how you’re actually spending your time. Here’s how to get started:
Look for time tracking technology that fits the way you work.
For example, a solution that works in the cloud so it’s always available is a good choice for most self-employed people. Since you probably spend much of your day working on the go, having mobile time tracking capability ensures you won’t lose a moment. Make sure the time tracking tool you choose makes it easy to switch between multiple clients. If you multitask as much as most of us do, you’re rarely focused on one project for long; time tracking apps that make it simple to toggle back and forth enable you to get an accurate picture of how much time you’re spending on each client. Last, but not least, make sure the solution you choose allows you to track appropriate increments of time. For example, if you work on many different projects per day, a time tracker that divides time into 15-minute, 10-minute or even 5-minute segments will be most useful.
Don’t stop at 5 p.m.
Because self-employed people tend to work in bits and pieces throughout the evening and well into the night, it’s a good idea to track your after-hours time, too. (You can create categories of non-billable time for your off-hours activities.) You may be surprised to see how much you’re actually working during what you think is downtime. (No wonder you’re so tired.)
Start off by tracking your time regularly for at least two weeks to a month. This should be sufficient to create a picture of your “average” workday, and will give you enough data to spot time-wasting tendencies (such as getting sucked into Facebook for an hour every time you update your business’ social media status) or obvious inefficiencies (like stopping what you’re doing to check email every 10 minutes).
Consider clocking in and out at the beginning and end of the day.
This sounds ridiculous to many solopreneurs (after all, isn’t freedom from the time clock one perk of entrepreneurship?). However, an official “start time” can energize you to focus, while putting a “hard stop” on your workday can help keep your business from taking over your entire life.
Act on what you learn.
Once you’ve gotten into the swing of time tracking, use what you learned about your work habits to change your bad habits. For instance, if you discover that you’re only spending an hour a night with your family because of all the little tasks that eat up your evenings (“Just one more email”), figure out how to batch those tasks and fit them into your work day. If you find out you’re spending far more time on one client than you thought, you can start billing for that time (now that you’ve got hard data to back up your invoices). And if you notice that tasks you previously dismissed as “easy” are really eating up hours each week, you can re-evaluate whether and how much you should charge for them.
Once you’ve changed your habits, keep up with your time tracking so you can spot any slip-ups at a glance and correct your behavior.
With time tracking, how productive will you be? Very.
Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Google+ andTwitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website,SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva’s free TrendCast reports.