Why It’s Important to Track Your Time

by laura9
on August 2, 2012

Freelance design is a popular and lucrative career. Freelance designers enjoy the freedom of choosing their work place, projects, and work hours.

However, along with that freedom comes some added responsibility. As a freelancer, typically no one is looking over your shoulder to make sure that you get your work done. For some freelance designers, especially ones who are new to freelancing, time tracking is not something that they are used to doing.

In this post, I explain why freelance designers and other freelancers need to track their time carefully. If you enjoy this post you may also like Ten Terrific Apps to Help You Keep Track of Your Time.

Time Tracking Helps You Plan

One advantage of tracking your design project time is that it helps you to plan ahead. If you track your time, you know how close you are to completing a project. You will be able to tell whether you are ready to schedule another project or do something else.

Also, every freelancer needs to take personal time off occasionally. If you track your time carefully, you will know when you can safely take a personal break.

Over time, you can use the project time figures that you’ve tracked to improve your project estimates. Better project estimates will help you to schedule future projects. In fact, our next point discusses how time tracking can help your charge the right amount for your projects.

Time Tracking Helps With Pricing

Another advantage of keeping good records of how you spend your time is that it can help you make sure that you are getting a fair hourly rate for your work. This is especially true if you charge a flat rate for a project.

If you charge a flat rate and you underestimate the amount of time that a project takes, your actual hourly rate will be less than you planned. Let’s see how this works.

Let’s say that your goal for an hourly rate is $50 per hour. You are asked to design a brochure, which you estimate will take 20 hours of effort, so you quote a flat price for the project of $1000. (These rates are an example only.) So far, so good.

However, after tracking your time you discover that instead spending 20 hours of effort on the work, you spent a full 40 hours! Now your hourly rate is down to $25 per hour–far below what you had hoped to earn.

Time Tracking Helps You Meet Deadlines

Meeting deadlines is a crucial part of freelancing. Time tracking can also help you with this important task.

If you’re not tracking the time you spend on a project, it’s easy to misjudge your progress. You may think that you’ve allowed yourself enough time to do the work, when in fact, you haven’t. Of course, if you have multiple projects going at one time, the confusion is multiplied.

Let’s say that you’ve allowed yourself a week to get a project done. Since you’ve estimated the project will only take eight hours, that may seem like a lot of time. Subconsciously, you may put doing the project off until right before it’s due.

Then, when you finally do start the project, you discover that the eight hours you estimated is not enough time. Unless you put in some serious overtime, you’re going to miss the deadline. The whole scenario could have been avoided if you’d been tracking your time because you would have seen that you were falling behind.

Now that we’ve discussed how time tracking can help freelance designers, it’s time to give a brief overview of how to track your time.

How to Track Your Time

There are basically two ways to track your time:

  • Automated tracking–There are many excellent software tools that you can use to track your time and make projections. Several are available for a low cost and a few are even free of charge.
  • Manual tracking–A freelancer can also use a manual method to track their time such as writing their work times onto a planner or entering hours worked on a spreadsheet. You can even use a kitchen timer.

What Do You Think?

Does your design time get away from you, or do you track your time?

About laura9

Laura Spencer is a freelance writer from North Central Texas with over 20 years of professional business writing experience. If you liked this post, then you may also enjoy Laura’s blog about her freelance writing experiences, WritingThoughts. Laura is also on Google+.