Is it time to track your time?

When I have my writer hat on, I don’t bill hourly. I always quote a flat rate, based on an estimate of the time, difficulty, and expertise needed to deliver what the client wants. So, when I’m working on content marketing articles, I don’t track my time. Why would I? Tracking your time takes time and, also, I hate doing it.

Then someone asks me how much my effective hourly rate is… and I can’t answer. Sure, I might know what it is for some specific recent assignments, because I happen to remember how much time I spent researching, writing, editing, and revising that particular piece, but beyond that? No dice.

Yet, when I talk with busy writers about how to grow their business, one of the first things I ask about is their average effective hourly rate. That is – across all their assignments, across all clients, across all work time. And I can’t even answer it myself. Oops.

It hasn’t always been this way. Actually, it’s only gotten away from me this year. I used to track my time and calculate my hourly averages about once a quarter, but my business has grown exponentially this year and, honestly, I’ve been too busy to properly manage my time, even though I think about productivity a lot. Once I saw how much more I’m on track to make this year vs. last year, I immediately knew it’s time to get serious about the value of my time and my work. The only way I can do that is by tracking my time and crunching the numbers to find out what’s actually happening, so I can make plans to secure my future and my sanity.

Next week, I’ll start tracking my work time for two weeks. I’ll track everything: client work, marketing, administrative tasks, plus all the in-between time that I spend shifting gears, getting distracted by social media or my email inbox, and procrastinating work by doing house chores and talking to my cats. It’s not going to be easy, but there are so many things I want to know that I hope that will motivate me to keep it up.

Here’s what I want to know: 

  • The total number of hours per week I actually work (spoiler alert: I have no idea) 
  • The total number of hours per week I spend on client work (i.e. ‘billable time’)
  • My average hourly rate (total weekly billing/total work hours as well as total weekly billing/client work) 
  • What tasks I can outsource (to a virtual assistant, accountant, or other)
  • What non-work tasks need to be batched more effectively to save time
  • What non-work tasks I just need to cut the heck out

I’m excited to get to the end and learn these numbers, but I’m not super excited about the time-tracking process, to be honest. I’m not great at sticking with repetitive tasks. But the good news is that I won’t be doing it alone. I recruited about 20 writers from the Freelance Content Marketing Writer group that I help admin on Facebook to track their time over the same two weeks. At the end, we’ll pool our data so we can each find out how we’re doing and also get a sense of how we compare against once another. Of course, it’s not entirely apples to apples, since we write in different niches, have different levels of experience, and most likely, different approaches to how we prioritize work. I frequently pass up rush jobs, for example, because I can’t typically fit them into my schedule (raise your hand if you’re also juggling work and parenting!), while other writers who take rush gigs on a regular basis may see a higher average hourly rate as a result. But in terms of giving us each the data we need to make some smart decisions about how we run our businesses and how we manage our time, I’m happy to have some peers on board to keep me accountable. 

I’ll post again next week to share some details about my time tracking experiment, starting with how the heck I’m going to even do it. 


Do you track your time, even if you don’t bill hourly? Any tips for me before I start my time-tracking experiment?

2 thoughts on “Is it time to track your time?

  1. Cat,

    The idea of tracking your time can seem overwhelming at the beginning, but I’ve heard (mostly) only great things about the outcome. I think you’ve hit the nail on its head by laying out the goals (the insight you really want to get from tracking your hours), and that you’re going to learn quite a bit about yourself in the process. Thought I’d share this link too, for a little inspiration—what real people learned about themselves once they started tracking their time.

    Looking forward to following along!

    1. Hi Katie,

      Thanks for your encouraging comments and for sharing that great article! There are so many great points there about our productivity killers. ( already try to avoid the email trap by closing my email tab while I’m working on other things, and I highly recommend that approach!

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