Oh man, I’m almost embarrassed to write this post. Not because it won’t be a good post or anything. In fact, this advice has had such a massive impact on my business, I know it'll be useful for anyone who works with clients.
No, I’m embarrassed because it’s so obvious. And yet it took me months to really figure it out. What’s worse, I didn’t even figure it out by myself-- another consultant I know had to basically smack me over the head with it. Our conversation went a little something like this:
Her: So are you tracking your time?
Her: Elissa, please don’t tell me you’re not tracking your time….
Me: I mean, I keep track of the time I spend on client work.
Her: Oh, ok. So how much time did you spend on client work last week?
Me: Cute shoes! Where’d you get ‘em?
Not my best moment. The silver lining is that my embarrassment motivated me to start tracking my time, which has profoundly impacted my business-- and most importantly, my income. For anyone struggling to make enough money or stay motivated, listen up: tracking your time is a game changer.
1. Set goals around your time
An executive I used to work with once told me something that has shaped the way I work-- and really, the way I live: "When you don’t have a clear goal, every option looks good."
And it’s true. Unless you know exactly what you’re working towards, you waste so much time, energy and money going in the wrong direction.
What’s true in life is also true in business. If you don’t know how much money you need to make and how you’re going to make that amount, how on earth do you expect it to happen? Without clear goals around your time, how will you know you’re spending your time the right way?
So that’s the first step:
Before you start tracking your time, get clear on how you need to spend it to meet your financial goals.
For example, when I first started my business, I knew approximately how much money I needed to make each month to pay my bills-- and I thought that was good enough. Yet month after month, I wasn’t hitting my goal.
It wasn’t until I started tracking my time that I realized why: a financial goal is a result, not a strategy.
It seems like such a small change, but when I turned my financial outcome goal into actionable time goals around client work, my income soared. Instead of saying, “I want to make XX this month,” I was saying, “I need to work XX billable hours this week.” It was the perfect SMART goal: clear, actionable and measurable. And the results were in my bank account.
But, like any goal, just setting it isn’t enough-- you also need to track your progress.
2. Track your time
Here’s the thing: even before I had clear goals around my client hours, I knew tracking my time was important. And I was kind of doing it in a vague, half-assed way.
I had an excel sheet.
A f*cking excel sheet. In 2016.
If you too have an Excel sheet to track your time, let me introduce you to Toggl. I can’t say it enough: I love Toggl. Using it has increased my income and decreased my stress levels. It’s helped me stay on track, organized and sane (which is obviously relative-- sanity has never been my strong suit.)
Oh, and it’s also helped me raise my prices. Tracking every minute I spent on client work-- not just the strategy calls and copywriting, but everything I do for each client-- made me realize how much I was underestimating the time I spent on projects. When I looked at the “invisible” time I was giving away for free, raising my prices on new projects was the most natural thing in the world.
So, for the love of god, get on it. Start using Toggl (or another free time-tracking tool) and get in the habit of capturing how you spend your time.
3. Track ALL of your time
Yes, all of it. Sure, it might seem obsessive, but let’s be honest, if you’re running your own business, chances are you’re a little obsessive anyway.
So I mean it: track how you spend every minute of your work day.
Taking 10 minutes to clean out your inbox? Track it. Jumping on Instagram to post a pic? Track it. Taking a long lunch with your mastermind group? Yep, track that too.
Because here’s the thing: what gets tracked gets managed.
Seeing how much time you spend on each task is the only way to really understand where your time goes-- which is the first step towards better time management.
When I looked back on my first weekly report after tracking every minute of my work day, I was horrified. I couldn’t believe how much time I had spent on my blog post (9 hours!) and social media (I can’t… I’m too embarrassed) compared to how much time I’d failed to spend on client hours that actually pay my bills.
I’ve said it before: awareness is the first step to making a change. So start being aware of how you spend your time-- every single minute of it.
4. Analyze and adjust
Ok, before you start believing time-tracking is the magic bullet that will make it rain dollah bills on your business, know this:
Information is worthless unless you use it.
Now, normally this would lead me to an angry rant about how our culture’s obsession with acquiring information that we never actually use is ruining societal engagement and productivity, but I’ll spare you that one today.
Just know this: tracking your time isn’t enough. You need to DO something with your newfound awareness. You need to analyze the results of your tracked hours and see where you need to make adjustments to hit your goals.
For example, I know I need 12 billable hours a week to hit my financial goals. So every Wednesday afternoon, I look at my Toggl report to see how many client hours I’ve worked. If I’ve already worked 12 client hours, I can focus on marketing, strategy and admin without feeling like I “should” be hustling for billable hours. Conversely, if I’m nowhere near 12 hours, I know I need to get my ass in gear and proactively push client projects forward.
When you work for yourself and have little outside accountability, it’s too easy to spend your time on the fun stuff instead of the work that actually pays your bills.
I know, I’ve been there. I spent the first four months of Favor the Bold blogging, working on branding, dreaming up product ideas, rearranging my office and about a million other things that didn’t bring in any money.
But since I began setting clear goals around my time, tracking my hours and adjusting my schedule based on my progress, I’ve nearly doubled my income-- all thanks to one embarrassing conversation and a free online tool.
And yeah, finding out exactly where all of your time goes might be a little scary and embarrassing.
But come on, fear and embarrassment? That’s just called being an entrepreneur.