Monday, January 21, 2008

Serenity Tip: Track Your Time

As a self-employed person, you probably feel like you spend every spare minute of your time thinking about work if not actually doing work. There's that invoice to send, that marketing effort you are waiting for a response on, the work in progress and the work recently submitted. It's a lot to deal with and it can feel exhausting.

Recently I was telling some self-employed friends how much I felt I was working--all the time. And they suggested I try tracking my time. I hesitated.

After all, do I need to add something else to my to-do list?

Well, it turned out to be a valuable exercise and one that didn't take more than a few seconds of my time.

First, a word about how to do it: There are lots of programs to help you track your time, including, TaskTime, Tick for Mac and Clocking It, TimeTrax, among others, for PC.

But I'm old school. There's a reason I worked at newspapers for years and that I still plan my day with an old-fashioned paper planner. I like to be able to hold it in my hands. So I bought a tiny notebook at Walgreens and every day, I just write the time spent in this way:

1.5 hrs. spirituality
.5 food
3 non-income work
1.5 income work
.25 personal
.5 income
.75 non-income work

Those are just examples, of course. You'll notice a few things right up front:

I'm not specific about time breakdowns--like "9-9:45: marketing; 9:45-10:30 a.m.: Client X."

The reason for this is that I didn't want to make it so onerous that I didn't do it. Remember, I'm just starting. I may eventually get to that level of specificity and I see the value in it. But for right now, I just wanted to start with something manageable.

I divide work into "income" and "nonincome" work.

Recently a friend asked me if I felt I was devaluing my marketing, admin, IT and other projects by calling it "nonincome." The answer is that I don't. For me it's a matter of getting clarity about what's work that's got a formal assignment and contract (income) and what's work that supports the income-generating work, such as admin, IT and most importantly marketing (nonincome).

I wanted to see how much time I was spending on income and non-income work for two reasons:

1. I want to know my hourly rate.
Knowing my hourly rate requires me to know exactly how much time I spend earning income.

2. I wanted to see how much time I'm working overall.
One of my goals for this year is to increase marketing efforts to select clients and to increase my proportion of marketing-to-income work. My theory is that it will increase my income overall without substantially increasing my income work time. Why? Because it will create steady work over time instead of the boom and bust cycle that's so common for self-employed people.

You'll also notice that I put space for "spirituality," "food" and "personal." I also include categories like "health" (for gym and doctors' visits). I do this because I want to see how much time I'm spending away from work. This isn't to berate myself for not working but to see on paper where my boundaries are. I find that taking breaks for meals, taking time for the gym and for meditation and other spiritual work improves my concentration and work. But looking at it, I definitely see how my priorities show up in my work. It's more balanced than it once was.

Now my work is to figure out how to create more high-quality work time while keeping my serenity.

1 comment:

Bill Tyler said...

I agree with you. I think an Activity Log is indispensible in being productive. For me, paper is the only way to count everything. I've tried the software in the past, but I kept forgetting to record things.