Spend 15 Minutes A Day To Stop Wasting Time
Portfolio workers, by nature, juggle more than one project. Knowing how to manage disjointed schedules with different workflows is tough. But the single best way to figure out how to use your time is to know how you actually use your time.
Maybe you already track your hours for billing purposes. But even if you don’t, tracking time spent in your work day will be incredibly revealing. Demanding Twitter habit? Online shoe shopping? A little too much research?
Think of it like a diet journal, only a lot more profitable. When you spend 15 minutes or so a day tracking your work, you’ll see patterns in no time. (A project that might have taken an hour took two because you decided to check email halfway through, say.) And, before long, you can view where your time went over the past month.
When I started working for a group that paid me an hourly rate, rather than by the word or project, I felt empowered. I started using a free app called TimeSheet, which produced simple reports that I used to fill out my invoice. It was a little clumsy, but it worked. I’ve since heard great things about another app called Klok. Even the free version plots your time on a calendar view, so you can see how your day, and week, are stacking up.
But the tool I’ve used most is a basic Google GOOG +0.41% spreadsheet. I track my the time (in 15-minute increments) I spend working for up to a couple of dozen clients each month. I jot down how long I spend on each gig, each day, along with meetings, admin, training, and business development. Do I love it? No. Do I feel good after I’ve done it? Yes.
On the days I came up short on possible billable hours in the day, I decided to account for other ways I spend—and waste—my time. Volunteering at school and local community projects, field trips, coffee with peers, social networking, lunch—these all helped paint a picture of a full life. Time I couldn’t account for? Not so much. So I had to figure out how to balance my work and non-work commitments.
The process also helps me calculate the true hourly rate I earn on each gig, based on the time I invest in each. Different jobs pay different rates. You may decide that the ease of working with a lower-yielding gig that’s creative and fulfilling is more than worth the tradeoff. On the other hand, a stressful and contentious one may not be. Eventually, this information will even help you project how much time future tasks will take.
Knowing how much time you spend on each career, serving each client, and doing varying types of work (paid or unpaid) will help you set goals for how much time you can afford to devote to each. If the devil is in the details, tracking your time is manna from heaven.