Time Tracking – Getting It Right

As a self-employed writer, it’s important to be able to track your billable time. Even if you charge per-project rates instead of hourly, you need to know how much time each step of a project takes.

Of course experience is the best teacher. How many of us have confidently been able to say, “It will take me 2 hours to create xxx for the client.” And then when the asset (document, powerpoint, etc) is delivered, we realize it took the better part of a day to finish the deliverable?

Time tracking is much more than the time between start and finish.

You need to find a method that works for you, is easy to manage, translates well for billing/invoicing purposes, and doesn’t take up MORE of your time.

Here’s something that may work for you. I know it’s changed how I track time.

Use paper or an online document or worksheet and create 4 columns for your current project (i.e. a Success Story for Company Y). Label them: Task, Estimate, Actual, and Tracking. (The Task and Tracking columns will be the widest)

Each row is going to be a task for a current project.

For the Task column, fill in a task in each row. Example, if you’re to write a success story, tasks can include: “Schedule interview with subject matter expert,” “draft questions,” “outline story,” “write story,” “edit story.”

Tracking timeIn the Estimate column, fill in a number for how long (total time) you think each task will take in minutes.

I bet you think the Actual column speaks for itself and it involves setting a timer or watching the clock. But I’d like you to try something new.

  • Select a ‘time interval’ — 5 minutes, 10 minutes, 15 minutes, etc. (5 or 10 minutes work well as manageable intervals). Note the interval beside the Tracking label (ie. Tracking – 5 min intervals; or Tracking – 10 min intervals).
  • Now find a timer, use your watch, or find an app that counts down. (This is the ‘something new’ – Counting Down). Set the timer/watch/app for the interval you chose, say 5 minutes, and start the countdown when you start the particular ask.
  • As you hear the bell, buzzer, alarm go off at the selected interval, make a mark or fill in a ‘1’ in the appropriate task row under the Tracking column.
  • When you finish the task, add up the tick marks or tally the total number of 1’s from the Tracking column and multiply that by the time interval you selected (i.e. 5 minutes) and fill in the Actual column with the total time.
  • Review the variance(s).

More often than not, tasks take longer than we expect, and tracking time shouldn’t involve a lot more time out of your already full day. By having a timer that counts down and sounds off every 5 or 10 minutes, you can be focused on the task and simply take a second to note the alarm, then continue working until done.

Getting time estimates correct is an important part to your overall success.

What do you think about this time tracking idea?

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with businesses of all sizes. She loves researching topics, interviewing experts, and helping companies tell their stories. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

8 thoughts on “Time Tracking – Getting It Right

  1. Interesting but couldn’t it also be distracting? I need total focus when I work on projects. However, you are right, they always take longer than expected (=longer than estimate= less than billed). I find perfectionism gets in the way of keeping to a timetable.

  2. Pingback: Working on the Weekend: Where does the time go? – Kate Ringland

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