How Tracking My Time Changed The Way I Work
My friends think the life of an entrepreneur starts by waking up to the sound of birds chirping or at least snoozing the alarm until you feel like getting up, leisurely walking to a nearby coffee shop for breakfast (or even lunch if you snoozed your alarm a little too long), working for a few hours and then having the rest of the day to yourself. Essentially, it’s a perpetual vacation with minimal working. I’ve learned that’s not the case.
I’ve found myself pushing back on my friends who believe that I don’t have to go to work tomorrow because I don’t have an official boss. I’m my own boss and therefore I am only accountable to myself. I remind them that yes, I technically don’t report to a “boss” but no I can’t just skip work every Monday because I’m tired or don’t feel like it.
Now, working for yourself is not for everyone. Some people love having a full-time job with a steady paycheck and that’s awesome. You should do whatever makes you happy.
One day, I realized that I was overworking myself, trying to do too many things at once, and the worst part was that I didn’t see a difference in my bank account that showed the added effort. It was at this point of frustration and excitement at new projects I’d missed because I didn’t have time, that I decided to go out on my own and start my own company.
As an extrovert, it took me a while to get my bearings on working alone. You don’t realize how much of your daily socializing comes from interacting with your coworkers until you don’t have them. As I went out into the great unknown of remote consulting work, I realized that I was going to need to take control and ownership of my work hours.
I’d had experience tracking my time at my old companies and I liked the clarity I felt when I could look at my weekly and monthly timesheet. I decided that I would track my time in fifteen minute blocks. It was specific enough to catch the small tasks but wasn’t too overbearing that I wasted valuable time tracking my time.
I track my time based on the project, splitting up my different client work, volunteer gigs, and the administrative and marketing time I spend on Logan Strategy Group. Each row is a different project and each column is a different day so at the bottom of each column, I add up all my hours, for daily, weekly, and monthly totals. I also list my project and hourly rates so I can see if I’m going over the hours I built into my scope.
By tracking my time and seeing exactly where each of my days go, I’m have invaluable data about how I work and where I can improve. I quickly realized that I wasn’t tallying the normal 40 hour work weeks. My weekly totals were closer to 30–35 hours with a few very productive weeks coming in closer to 25 hours.
I was still a little confused with my actual time spent working because I felt like I was working my tail off and yet I had proof that I wasn’t working a schedule like some of my friends who loved to talk about their 45, 50, or even 60 hours-a-week jobs.
The longer I’ve been working on my own, the more I realized how much we love to sound busy. Some weeks you might fill your 50 hour work week with 50 hours of work but some weeks you’ll waste of few of those hours on Facebook or taking a long lunch.
It might look like I am living a laid-back work style, which is exactly what my friends suspected. But working in sports events management, I use those 25–35 hour weeks to balance out the 90–100 hour weeks I work when I’m with a team on their trip to China.
At the end of last year, I added a new row to my tracker, which I call Personal Development. It’s the catch all for the hours I spend investing in myself, which includes anything from networking events, Chinese language lessons, and taking advisors to coffee.
By tracking my time, I’ve learned that busy doesn’t always mean better.
There were a few months when I first got started that I realized my hours were higher than the 35 hours a week that I normally put in. I also saw that my revenue hadn’t really increased compared to my lower hour months. I was working longer and (in my mind) harder but I wasn’t generating any additional income.
That’s when I decided I needed to work better, smarter, and more efficiently, not longer. I took a hard look at where my time was going and evaluated why I was spending so much time on each project.
Some projects I was really interested in the work and so I enjoyed spending more time. Others were because the client frequently changed their mind, their budget was too small but I thought I could make it work, or I didn’t accurately project the amount of time I’d need to spend on the project.
I slowly worked to reduce the projects that ate up all of my time (unless I loved them) and began to say no to smaller projects that weren’t going to be worth the time spent.
After making these two small tweaks, I found that my hours were more manageable, I was able to devote more time to the projects that paid well and were interesting to me, and most importantly, I was happier.
No matter if you’re a solo entrepreneur or full-time employee, try tracking your time, not for your manager but for yourself. It’s easy to set up a template in Excel, I use mine in Google Drive so I can access it from wherever. I then use a digital Sticky note on my computer to track my time. It’s ok if you’re not exact down to the minute and it’s ok if you forget a day and have to guess but try your best to stick with it.
If you track your time for a month, you can start to adjust your schedule to better fit your interests. I know stories of other freelancers and full-time employees using their timesheet as an example of why they should be promoted or start working remotely. You might be surprised what a little data around your time spent working can do for you — time data can do for you.
If you don’t know where to get started, you can download the template that I use below and let me know what you think about tracking your time. Were you surprised or did you dread the task of recording how you spend every hour?
Logan’s favorite memories growing up include camping out in bookstores waiting for the next Harry Potter book, cheering on her Philadelphia sports teams, and planning any and all kinds of events. She loves reading and listening to podcasts, which started her interest in writing and telling stories. In her four years in China, she’s drank too many cups of coffee to count, developed a new love of CrossFit and is forever in search of the perfect jianbing (Chinese breakfast pancake — it’s delicious!) Connect with Logan on Twitter and LinkedIn.