I’ll have to admit, when I first started Freelancing, I was completely against time tracking. To me, time was my most important resource, and the last thing I wanted to do was waste it doing self-help exercises. But as my freelancing continued, I found myself becoming short on time constantly. I often found myself miss-judging how long projects were going to take. As a result I found myself walking back to my clients with my tail between my legs to ask or sometimes beg for extensions on due dates.
This process was becoming quite frequent and embarrassing. I was started to create a negative reputation for myself. Clients were beginning to post bad reviews about my work and it was affecting my bottom line. And the most frustrating part of all was that the quality of work I was producing as excellent. And yet, my lack of effective time management was what I was quickly becoming known for. I knew I had to slow down and make some changes, but I didn’t know where to start.
The Unproductive Wood Cutter: A Cautionary Tale
It wasn’t until I read through The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, that I changed my mind about time tracking. In his book, Franklin Covey tells the fictional story of a wood cutter who is falling behind on his job. The reason for this is his axe is physically becoming dull. But the Wood Cutter is already behind on his work, so he continues to cut wood with ever decreasing efficiency. As his axe becomes duller and duller his productivity goes down. But the Wood Cutters is too afraid to stop and sharpen his axe. As his orders become later and later his customers become angrier and angrier.
The Wood Cutter is now working at a feverish pace and making mistakes along the way. Quality suffers and his reputation in the village is damaged. And then one day he exhaustedly swings his axe the wrong way and breaks the dull axe head. Winter is around the corner and the woodcutter has officially lost his business. The woodcutter’s world comes crashing down around him and the story ends badly for him.
Now looking back at the example above, this all could have been avoided if the Wood Cutter had just stopped and sharpened his axe. But he refused to because he didn’t want have the time to do so. He thought he could just work harder through the problem. That more effort was going to save him from his situation. But all he really had to do was take a day off of cutting and sharpen his axe. One simple day off could have saved his entire business model.
Time Tracking: Sharpening Your Axe in the Modern Area
While most of us aren’t cutting wood for a living, we can definitely learn from the Wood Cutter’s timeless example. We need to sharpen our axes. We need to make sure that we are setting aside the time to seek out ways to be more productive. One of the most effective ways to do this is to start tracking your own time.
We can make the same excuses as the Wood Cutter. “I’m too busy,” or “I’ll start after this one big job,” but inevitably we never get around to it. And by not getting around to it, we’ll end up exactly like the Wood Cutter. We will get rushed, quality will suffer, your reputation will decline, revenues will decline and you will make a mistake that will cost you your business.
Time Tracking is a way to avoid all of that. It’s the modern day equivalent of sitting down at the grind stone and sharpening your chosen tool. With time tracking you are tracking exactly where your time is going. How much is being spent on various projects, client communication, and your effectiveness in your field.
Time Tracking as an Investment
Time is your most valuable resource. It’s the one resource you can never buy more of. Time Tracking is one of the few ways that you can actually “find” more time. By using Time Tracking you can start to see patterns in your own workflow. You can see how what tasks are taking longer than expected and what tasks you are completing with ease. Time Tracking will enable you do help you better plan your days and accomplish more.
Once I started Time Tracking, I found that I was spending way more time on tasks than I thought I was. Within a few short weeks I had an entire picture of productivity. I saw not only how much time I was spending on tasks but also which ones I needed the most help with. My creativity was always my most powerful skill, but it brainstorming was taking way more time than I expected. While the actual act of website construction was taking for less time than I expected.
Armed with this knowledge, I began to re-develop my business model. I knew that brainstorming for clients was a “black hole” in which time just magically disappears, never to be seen again. So to correct this I started requiring my clients to do most of their own brainstorming. This cut down on a lot of unnecessary emails and phone calls back and forth. I suddenly had a lot more time on my hands than I used to.
Time Tracking your “Opportunity Costs”
Another great benefit of Time Tracking is learning about your own “opportunity costs.” Opportunity cost is a phrase that refers to how much “opportunity” you have to sacrifice to complete a job. For example if a Client is interested in hiring you for an exclusive contract, this means you won’t be able to work on any other work. Before you agree to the job, you first need to calculate the opportunity cost. Meaning how many other jobs are you effectively “giving up” by accepting an exclusive assignment.
By having this “cost” in mind, you can use opportunity cost as a form of leverage. You can make an effective case for maximum payment for whatever service you are providing. You can use opportunity cost as a form of leverage. And this is exactly where Time Tracking comes in.
Through Time Tracking, you can get a clear picture of exactly how much time a task it going to take. You can calculate exactly how much time this exclusive contract is going to take. Then you can compare that how much money you could earn if you focused on other contracts. Knowing this information can help guarantee you’re pricing your services correctly. And if a client ever tries to get you to work for less, you actually have hard data to defend your claim.
As I said in my original statement, I was never a big fan of time tracking. But after engaging with the practice for just a few short weeks, I’ve already seen the benefits.