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.

Grammar-ease: Showing Possession with Words Ending in ‘S’

If a word already ends in an s, do you add another to make it possessive? Or can you simply add an apostrophe?

Let’s look into the case of plural possessives today.apostrophe

To start, know that you want to use an apostrophe to show that a thing or person belongs to or relates to someone or something.

For plural words that end in an s, add an apostrophe to show possession:

  • Boys’ bunkhouse  (singular possessive: one boy’s bunk)
  • Girls’ school (singular possessive: a girl’s school)
  • Ferrets’ anctics (singular possessive: the ferret’s anctics)
  • Storms’ behaviors (singular possessive: the storm’s behavior)
  • Four-days’ journey (singular possessive: one-day’s journey)
  • Horses’ stable (singular possessive: a horse’s stall)
  • Countries’ laws (singular possessive: a country’s laws)

(Plural words that don’t end in s require the apostrophe s (‘s) to show possession: children’s, oxen’s, men’s, women’s, deer’s, mice’s, geese’s, and so on.)

*Proper names ending in s use the apostrophe s when you’d say/hear the extra ‘s’ in speech:

  • Thomas’s sister
  • James’s coat
  • Phyllis’s presentation
  • Charles’s truck
  • Dickens’s novels
  • Travis’s adventure

*Proper names ending in s use only the apostrophe when the extra s is not spoken:

  • Mr. Bridges’ complaint
  • Connors’ rendition
  • Socrates’ philosophy
  • Ulysses’ companions

Singular nouns that end in s, need the apostrophe s:

  • Boss’s anniversary
  • Bus’s axle
  • Witness’s account

*Note that style guides differ on whether to use an apostrophe s or only the apostrophe in regard to proper names that end in s. So if you’re working for a client that uses Chicago Manual of Style (add ‘s), Associated Press Style Book (add ‘), New York Times (‘s or ‘), or another style guide, check to see which format is used.

Have a great week!

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.

Milestones, Birthdays, and Other Reasons to Celebrate

As I celebrate another birth-year I’m thinking back at all that has changed in the past 365 days for me – good, bad, and other.

Let's Celebrate!In realizing personal growth, improved fitness and health, and the addition of more race bibs on my walls and books on my shelves, it dawned on me that birthdays are quite similar to business milestones.

Any date we choose as the date to pause, reflect, appreciate, and celebrate is a birthday, in a sense, isn’t it?

December 31 – a big party day to celebrate the end of a year; being grateful for it ending over if it wasn’t great and being excited for new possibilities in the next 366 (leap year) days.

January 1 – most notably to celebrate the start of a new  year – a blank slate, a way to start fresh. However you want to think of it. (September 1 feels more like a fresh start to a new year for me.)

July 4 – celebrating America’s birthday; reflecting on the history, how far (or not) we’ve come; where we can be in the future.

Think of all the activities in your life that have dates that involve reflections, evaluation, celebration… Annual physicals.  Twice-a-year dental exams.  School exams (weekly, quarterly, finals). Graduations.  Anniversaries.  Races.  Games.  Births.  Deaths.  Holidays.  Vacations.  Bucket list items.  First day of spring.  First day of summer.

In our businesses, we have goals we want to achieve and dates we want to achieve them by. They are dates where we evaluate our progress, celebrate successes, make changes, and pick a new date for the next evaluation. Those deadlines are random dates on the time continuum.

Each (and every) day is a milestone of some sort, isn’t it? A new day brings new possibilities. Yesterday is done. Whatever happened, happened. Today is new and full of possibilities.

Today, I get to take a few moments to reflect on all I’ve done in those years, celebrate with family and friends, and dream about what I’ll do in the upcoming years. I started the day listening to cardinals chatter (they weren’t singing, and I don’t know what to call their beautiful sound!) while I sipped my first cup of coffee and wrote this post. I’ve done a lot in the past year – some things I imagined, some things I didn’t. I’m where I want to be in some regards, and not in others.

It’s a Wednesday – not a day of the week that gets much respect other than for it marking the half-way point of a common work week, but still a new day with a lot of potential.

And it’s time to get to work — deadlines to meet, don’t you know? I’m raising my cup (of coffee) to you as I wish you another fabulous, productive day in the spectrum of your life.

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.

Are You on LinkedIn Yet?

LinkedIn_logo

If you haven’t heard, LinkedIn is a powerful marketing and networking tool. It offers a lot of opportunities for writers of all calibers and in all industries.

You can be starting your own business or be self-employed for numerous years. You can be a multi-published author writing fiction or non-fiction; long or short. You can be any type of writer with any level of experience and benefit from the power of LinkedIn to find jobs, connections, and resources. Resources that can gain you new clients and help you improve your craft.

I posted about Getting Started with LinkedIn a few months ago. Check that post if you haven’t delved into LinkedIn yet.

Your profile is a powerful marketing tool. Make sure you have it as complete and relevant as possible — to the type of work you are seeking, skills you can offer, and connections you want to make.  (Avoid diluting it with too many interests that are unrelated to your career.)

Connections are important. Decide if you want to be an open networker (keep all your connections visible) or private (hide connections). There are benefits to each – for instance, if you currently have a job and are seeking another, you probably don’t want your employer to be able to see you connecting with recruiters. (I prefer being an open networker and generally accept all requests as long as there is a profile, photo, and introduction in the Request-to-connect email.)

Building your platform (name recognition). By joining groups related to the industries you want to write for, types of communities you think will help you grow your business, and writers’ groups, you can comment on discussions and start your own. And since you will have a complete profile (with photo), people will be able to follow up with you as they see your name/photo appear in their feeds.

A venue to show your talent. There are multiple ways to share your talents with the world:

  • Publish your own posts on your own feed.
  • Upload samples of your writing.
  • Use Slideshare to share information.
  • Link to your website, Twitter, and other social media accounts.
  • Start your own group.

Use the multitude of opportunities on LinkedIn to get your name (and face) known by offering useful feedback, tips, references, and commentary whenever you can and watch your business grow.

**It takes a while to build up your network, so there’s no time like the present to get started if you haven’t already! Don’t wait until you are self-employed or are seeking clients to start on LinkedIn.

If you have specific questions about LinkedIn, feel free to ask in the comments. If you connect with me on LinkedIn, personalize the e-mail and let me know you read this blog.

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.

What’s Your Most Productive Time of Day?

There are those of us who love mornings, those who love staying up late, and those who find the 10AM-2PM window their favorite time of day.

TimeWhen we hear “work hours,” the tendency is to think “8 to 5.” And that may be the case more often than not (especially when juggling your business with a family that has a set schedule), but when working for yourself, the hours can blur into each other, and it can be easy to work long hours every day.

As a writer, I think it’s crucial to find the times where you  are most creative — those sweet times where you and your muse are working in tandem. There is definitely something to the mantra of “show up at the keyboard every day” in order to build a habit. If you show up ready to work, you’re going to pull your muse in, too.

If you show up at the keyboard during your ‘peak’ creative times, just imagine what can happen!

For me, early morning used to be the best for creativity. Now it’s more 10-2. After 3PM and I’m not very creative. I plan my writing accordingly.

If you’re finding yourself struggling to meet deadlines or finish projects, test out new schedules. Start by trying various 2-hour window combinations to see if there is some chunk of time where your productivity soars. (Note where your productivity wanes, too.)

If you’re running your own business and have flexibility in creating your own schedule, you owe it to yourself to find the timing that works best for you. There is nothing that says you have to run your business “like everyone else.”

By improving your productivity, you’ll be able to make more time for billable hours and achieve your writing goals with a little more ease.

Do you know when you’re most creative?

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.

It’s February 29th – An Extra Work Day – or A Day to Play?

Leap-year-daySo today is February 29.

2016 is a leap year and has 366 days instead of the typical 365. Apparently, if we don’t add an extra day to the calendar every now and then our seasons would morph into each other and lives would change dramatically.

I’ve always thought of February 29 as something fun and unique – not that I’ve treated it any differently than any other day, but, since it doesn’t come around every year, it’s an anomaly.

If you were born on Feb 29, you finally get to celebrate another birthday on your actual birthday! People born around Christmas think they have it tough, huh? Imagine having to pick a day each year to celebrate your birthday because it only comes around every 4 or so years?

In the grand scheme of life, today is an extra day, an extra 24 hours to do as you please. Will you use it toward achieving goals, or will you be taking it as a ‘freebie’ day and doing something entirely unique?

I’ll be working as it’s ‘just another Monday’ for me, and another day to work toward my 2016 goals! Wishing you a great week with a lot of writing success.

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology 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.

Grammar-ease: When to Use ‘Nor’ or ‘Neither’

This post is inspired from a recent reader’s comment: when do you use ‘nor’ or ‘neither’ in a sentence?

In using neither/nor construction, it’s important to keep the sentence parallel. An example:

  • Incorrect: She will cook neither her apple pie nor do her laundry. [The part that follows “neither” is a noun (“her apple pie”), and the part that follows “nor” is a verb phrase (“do her laundry”) — so they aren’t parallel.]
  • Correct: She will neither cook her apple pie nor do her laundry. [Both parts are now verb phrases.]

Neither (1)Also, it’s important to watch for verb agreement when there is a mix of singular and plural. For instance, Neither the teens nor the teacher was excited about the fire drill. (singular was for ‘teacher’) Switched around, this is also correct: Neither the teacher nor the students were excited about the fire drill. (plural were for ‘students’)

If the second part of a negative construction is a verb phrase, it’s your choice whether to use ‘nor’ or ‘or’. Both of these examples are  correct:

  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct nor consider awarding good behavior.
  • The coach will neither allow unsportsmanlike conduct or consider awarding good behavior.

When using ‘neither,’ make sure there are no negative words preceding it. You would use either/or instead. For instance:

  • Arnold had seen neither the grandbaby nor the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • Arnold had not seen either the grandbaby or the grandbaby’s rattle on the couch, and was ready to enjoy a quiet evening.
  • (it would be incorrect to say: “Arnold had not seen neither the grandbaby, nor the grandbaby’s rattle…)

And to add just a little more… when you have a negative sentence with ‘not’ (instead of ‘neither’) use ‘or’ in the second part of the sentence (i.e. “Not A or B.”). Examples:

  • She is not interested in Bob or Rick or Peter.
  • He didn’t (did not) speak hesitantly or softly.
  • They are not excited about horror or romance or comedy movies.
  • She does not want apples or oranges.
  • He does not enjoy walking or cycling or kayaking.

You won’t ever pair ‘either’ with ‘nor.’

You won’t see ‘nor’ without ‘neither.’

I hope that helps clarify the neither/nor topic. Happy writing!

Lisa_2015Lisa J. Jackson is an independent writer and editor who enjoys working with manufacturing, software, and technology 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.