4 Simple Time Tracking Tips to Work Smarter, Not Harder
As a web designer who runs her own business, runs a web design school, and is also a mother, my time is precious. The more efficient I can be, and the more accurately I can estimate my time needs, the better off my business — and my stress level — will be.
If you have ever underestimated the time it takes to build a website or add a new feature to your client’s website, you know the importance of an accurate estimate. I have found that tracking my time, although it takes a few extra moments, is an amazing practice that keeps me on track and helps me better estimate my rates.
#1: Plan for It!
Instead of relying on a simple to-do list, I set up my calendar to block my time each week. I allot a certain time block for each project, and I add blocks of time just for “busy work” such as checking emails, or taking care of all those little 5, 10, 15 minute tasks that add up in our inboxes.
I have experienced much greater productivity from this time management tool because to-do list items all have the same weight as a list, whereas blocking time relative to each task forces me to plan my days in accordance with how long I estimate a task to take. For example, I might have three tasks to complete today: pay a bill, write a blog post and a design a website. In a list, they all have the same weighting. As a block of time in a calendar, they may span several days.
Naturally, I don’t always stick to the original schedule, but when I do go off track, I adjust the calendar to reflect what I worked on. Adding time blocks to my calendar helps me set up a plan for my week. And it gives me a check point for the time tracking I do in FreshBooks.
#2 Track It!
There are many programs available to help you track your time (such as toggl). You could even create a spreadsheet or track your hours with pen and paper. Using a program to track your time is great because it gives you the ability to collect data.
I use FreshBooks to track my hours, project by project, task by task. For example, general tasks for each project might include:
- Project management/meetings/email correspondence
- Graphic design
- Website development
- Email design/development
- Course development
- eStore development
- Security and maintenance
Using a program like FreshBooks (Pancake app is another) will allow you to run reports that show you how long it takes you to do certain tasks. These reports can be eye-opening! The tasks I find myself spending a lot of time on usually prove to be time sucks. Others are surprisingly quick and easy. By breaking my time into tasks like these, I can get a good idea of how much time it takes for me to add a course or a store to a website, or how much time I spend corresponding.
If I find that I spend more time on a task than is reasonable — or that I’m continually not planning for enough time on a task — then I know a change needs to be made. That task I keep avoiding? I can delegate it to someone else. You will likely find yourself adjusting your business so that your tasks are aligned with your strengths. You might even come up with a whole new offering based on what you learn. If you love creating social media graphics and know you can do them quickly, why not offer that service to your clients?
#3 Refine It!
Time tracking reports help me better understand how much time I spend on each project so that I know what to charge, confidently, next time a similar project comes along. It also gives me an idea about how much time I will need to spend on each task.
Although I do not charge an hourly rate for larger projects, targeting an hourly rate helps me accurately estimate my project rates. Brennan Dunn from Double Your Freelancing made a point about value pricing and hourly pricing that has stuck with me and that was that he anchors his costs: “my rate multiplied by how long I’ll be on the project — against the upside of the project.”
#4 Cushion it!
No matter how accurate your web design project time estimates, you will always need to build in extra time for unexpected tasks. Certain projects will use up this cushion of time while others finish early. It’s for this reason that project fees should account for some scope creep. By cushioning the costs, I am less likely to feel bitter toward a client if the project changes course a little. I also ensure the client is on the same page by including a few disclaimers in my proposals:
We work together in a highly collaborative, flexible, and organic process. Sometimes the phases described in this document intersect and overlap—and that’s part of the process!
The proposed project total reflects a good faith estimate based on existing understanding of the objectives and priorities of your website. If the project scope changes to an extent that substantially alters the specifications described in the original estimate, a proposal revision memo will be submitted, and a revised or additional fee must be agreed upon before further work proceeds.
All the planning in the world cannot account for the inevitable twists and turns your projects will take, but tracking your time will definitely help you get a better handle on your time patterns so that you can work smarter.
In the comments below…
We’d love to hear from you about what time management and time tracking practices have worked – or not worked – for you! How do you estimate how long it will take to complete a web design and/or development project?