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Time tracking as a freelancer

A freelance writer might get paid at a certain rate per word rather than for the time spent pumping out an article. A freelance graphic designer might charge a flat fee for creating a logo instead of receiving compensation by the hour.

And both of these payment models work—often better than hourly rates. But even if you get paid by the project, it’s important to be aware of the actual time spent to better manage your workload and ensure you’re making a reasonable wage.

Understanding how you spend your time is one of the most important aspects of project management as a freelancer. Time is money, after all.

Reasons to Start Time Tracking

Tracking your time has benefits that range from improving your focus to increasing the cash in your wallet. And if you haven’t started doing this yet, I promise you’ll thank me once you’ve read through these top benefits that come from learning to track and manage your time effectively as a freelancer.

More Accurate Client Invoicing

Trust is fundamental to any client relationship. By logging your working hours, you have the ability to show the client how your time was spent and remove any room for questioning or ambiguity about your process. This is a must for any time-based payment method, but it’s also important for billing your client in other formats.

You don’t need to rely on self-reporting, either. Many time tracking apps let you download reports for specific date ranges or specific projects to show exactly where your time was spent. Sharing these reports with clients helps them see what projects you worked on over the billing cycle and how many hours it really takes to perform certain tasks.

Time tracking software makes your (and your client’s) life simpler when it comes to invoicing. There are a couple of reasons here:

  • With the knowledge you gather from the software, you’ll be able to give more accurate quotes on future projects
  • Having logged hours of work in documentation certifies the accuracy of your project durations when you report them

Efficiency and Productivity

I’ve spent a lot of time getting distracted in between (and during) client projects. Being in an office surrounded by team members encourages you to stay focused. Being a freelance worker from home (or anywhere else) leaves you prone to distraction.

In fact, according to Rescue Time, we check our communication apps 40 times a day, or once every 7.5 minutes during five hours of daily digital work time. That’s a lot of wasted time! But when you have a timer running on a project, it’s harder to start and stop constantly if you get distracted. So subconsciously, using a timer can keep you on task by helping to curb distractions like social media, chats, and unnecessary emails.

Plus, once I started tracking my time and I could visually see how much time was passing per project, I was motivated to put the distractions away and instead work with the clock to make my time more valuable and get my work done more efficiently. It was a new measure of accountability for me, and now I can’t imagine working without some sort of time tracking tool.

Understand Your Limits

We all know that with more projects, we can make more money, so we inhale them as they come and get excited about building our clientele. But without time tracking, you may fail to accurately evaluate how much time a project will take. And even if you get everything done in time, the quality of your work might take a big hit, and exhaustion isn’t the feeling you want to start a new week with.

Track your time as you take on more work. Look at the numbers in front of you and use that data to gauge how you feel and measure the quality of your output. You’ll better understand if you can undertake more work or if it makes more sense to hit the brakes a bit.

Improve Your Estimates for Future Projects

If you make it a habit to accurately track your hours on projects, you can use that data to estimate how long similar projects will take in the future. This way, you’re less likely to overextend yourself or promise fast, unreasonable timelines—and that keeps both you and your client happy.

Being able to predict how long a project will take is also key when you’re working for a fixed project rate instead of an hourly rate. This way, you won’t underestimate your timing and leave valuable revenue on the table.

Increase Your Bottom Line

Freelancers are small business owners. And at the end of the day, no matter how much we love the work we do, we have to make sure we’re not struggling to barely scrape by. Time tracking can play a big part in this.

Here’s an example: You have two clients who have hired you to redesign a company website, and they both pay you $1,000. But after using a quick check with your time tracking app, you’ve seen that Client A’s website took you 10 hours total and Client B’s website took you 6 hours total, due to their different levels of requirements.

Without tracking your time, you may have thought that you were making the same amount of money from each project, but it’s ultimately clear that while you’re making $100/hour with Client A, you’re making just over $166/hour with Client B. The difference is drastic, and you may not have even realized it without time tracking.

Track and Manage Projects

Time tracking apps let you label the hours you’re tracking by task and even link hours to specific projects. By having all the relevant project information in one place including billable hours, you and your clients will get a more comprehensive overview of the progress you’re making. Accurately tracking hours also gives you an idea of when a project may go over the initial scope, so you can communicate with your client before you go out of scope and over budget.

Time Tracking Is a Learning Challenge

As you continue to time track, you’ll better get the hang of managing your own business and working with different clients. You’ll become more efficient and productive, and life as a freelancer will be that much easier. Work smarter, not harder.

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