tracking time

The workflow of a freelancer has a fluid nature. Some days are banner days of productivity and innovation, while other days may be dry and slow. While this is somewhat inherent to the lifestyle, it helps to even out our weekly output. I’ve found that using a time log has helped me become much more productive.

A time log can help us to significantly harness our creativity and productivity on a regular basis. How does a time log work? There are five steps:

1. Write down What You Would like Your Ideal Day to Look Like

Be detailed. Include hours, activities, feelings, and more. It is important that you don’t create a “realistic” day – you’re not supposed to describe what you’re already doing. Instead, think big and create a schedule that would signify your “perfect” lifestyle.

You can even include hobbies or relationships that you don’t currently have. Think big.

2. Leep a Detailed Time Log for Three Days

Once you’ve written down your ideal day, keep an actual journal of your activities for three days. Just like with your “ideal day,” include times, activities, and feelings. Don’t worry if it diverges significantly from your ideal!

It’s important to be scrupulously honest in this stage, even if it hurts. The goal is to get a realistic picture of how you spend your days so that you can take control of your schedule.

3. Using a Time Log Compare the Two

Once you’ve kept a time tracking log for three days, line up your results. How did your actual schedule and activities compare to the “ideal” day that you created?

Most people are alarmed at the sheer amount of time that they waste. For some people, recreational social media amounts to a part-time job. Ask yourself honestly, “What can I change to make my lifestyle more like my vision?” For some people, it may be small shifts. For others, it may be dramatic changes.

4. Create a Realistic Schedule That Includes Your Ideals While Accommodating Your Current Needs

When analyzing your idealized schedule, ask yourself, “What is of most importance to me?” You can’t change everything at once, so what are the most crucial aspects of your vision for yourself? Maybe you don’t need the tango lessons on Wednesdays, but you do want to spend more time prospecting new clients each week.

Be detailed – even include your bedtime and your rising time in your new schedule.  Budget in time with friends and family. Break your work into categories – creating, selling, managing, and more.

5. For the First Week, Set Alarms to Signal a Shift into a New Activity

Habits are hard to break. If you typically shifted into recreational social media when your work was done for the day but you want to go for a run instead, you will need some external feedback to help you develop new routines.

Set alarms on your phone or computer that will help to remind you to switch activities, and stick to it.

Taking control of your workflow will not only help you to improve your mental health and work-life balance, but it will also increase your productivity and help you to connect with new customers by engaging in a wider scope of activities.

William Lipovsky owns the personal finance website First Quarter Finance. His most embarrassing moment was telling a Microsoft executive, "I'll just Google it."

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