Everyone wants to make more money in less time. It is common to track and analyze a wide variety of key performance indicators that affect profit over time, but ironically time is often not one of them. Do you know how you spend your hours and how well they are spent? Where do you achieve the most or make the highest profit per hour? Chances are, you could do more in less time.
While Amazon and a range of companies in Sweden are experimenting with the 30-hour workweek (further links: NYT, The Independent) with very promising results, most entrepreneurs believe that the harder they work, the more they achieve. For contractors, this is obviously true. The more hours you work the more you can bill. But what if you could become more productive, raise your hourly rate and earn the same in less time? You would actually have more time (and hard-earned money) to spend on the things you truly love.
At this point, you will already have understood that the key is productivity, being defined as the efficiency of creating something. While there are thousands and thousands of productivity tips out there, it’s hard to filter which ones apply to you as an individual – especially since you may not know in which exact area you personally have to become more efficient. You can’t improve what you don’t measure; as such, a time log can help to get you started.
Be aware of how you’re spending your time
Toggl found that time tracking saves teams an average $12,441 per year. Besides the cost savings, time tracking is creating an awareness for how time at work is spent and how much is just wasted on e.g. multitasking, meetings, perfectionism and distractions.
Furthermore, knowing how long past tasks have taken, is the best indication of how long the next similar one will take. Whether it’s giving estimates on time or costs or whether it’s for billing your clients accordingly, you will improve both over time.
As you see, being a time-tracking hero has many benefits, but must first know how you have to know how you are spending your time.
Many of us believe they know exactly how long things take, but this is actually only true for some of us. Similar to a sense of rhythm in music, some people have it naturally, but many people have to get there by training. Remember sitting at school, staring at the clock and feeling like every minute lasted an eternity? On the other hand, think of your last holiday, when a week felt like two days…
As humans, we most likely have an individual perception of time, which is natural, but this should be taken seriously when it comes to business. According to Darren Rhodes (University of Sussex), ‘we hear, see and feel what we think we should be experiencing, not what is really happening out there.’ On the bright side, time tracking helps us to learn and train our perception of time.
How to get started with time tracking
Let’s be honest – time tracking isn’t easy because it’s not natural to do and it requires some effort. Luckily there are many solutions you can choose from, but you should consider the following:
- Flexible time-tracking options: daily workflows vary a lot and may change over time. Therefore, there should be multiple options to track your time, e.g. desktop apps, mobile apps, hardware etc.
- Ease of use: if a system is not easy to use and does not have a clean interface, you’re going to dislike it and ultimately not use it. Thankfully, modern solutions have made this a major focus point.
- Integration options: tracking your time is one thing, but in the best case you can integrate it into your payroll system and project management tools. Some payment solutions like Due have time tracking built in.
- Supportive alerts: as time tracking is really unusual, you will end up forgetting to do it many times. A solution which supports you with smart notifications or something similar will save you some hassle.
All you need to do now is choose a time-tracking solution that aligns with your needs. You can start by looking at common software solutions like Toggl, Harvest or Freckle. If you’d like to have something physical you should have a look at this unique piece of hardware called ZEIº.
With ZEIº you’ll be able to assign an activity to each face of the 8-sided polygon, and immediately begin tracking how much time you’re spending on a task with a simple flip. And you can customize the device by writing, sticking, or drawing something on it. You can check out ZEIº’s Kickstarter campaign.
7 things you can do to achieve more in less time
The obvious benefit of tracking time is that you can bill your hours. But that’s not all: no matter whether you want to have more time off or make more money, the key is always to become more efficient, and here is how.
Target performance comparison
Just look through your reports. You will be surprised at how many things take more time than you thought. Surprised how fragmented your daily activity actually is. The goal here is to constantly review these assumptions and adjust your own perception of how much time your tasks take.
Cut out time wasters
Besides getting a better feeling for time, it is important to hunt and cut down time wasters too. This can be many things: emails, meetings and procrastination are the most common. Don’t get this wrong – emails, meetings and even some time off are important, but are they all needed? Could you shorten some meetings? Remove yourself from many CCs? Instead of procrastinating, how about taking a walk and having a real break? And if building your network is one of those time-consuming tasks, you may want to learn how to save time while networking.
If multitasking is one of the things you see in your reports then find those tasks. Next, create an alert in your mind and avoid them in the future. What you’re actually doing when you multitask is switching back and forth between multiple attention-demanding tasks. Every switch requires you to familiarize yourself with the tasks over and over again. That takes up a lot of time that could be spent working while focused on one thing, thus being much more effective.
Prioritize and avoid interruptions
Some tasks are easy to do in between others, but some require your full focus. Give them a high priority and schedule them at a time where you won’t get interrupted. After an interruption, it takes you 23 minutes to get back to the task at full concentration.
If you have a look at how you’ve spent your last few weeks, you may find many tasks that are perhaps not worth your time, because someone else may get it done faster or cheaper. A common example is travel organization. Do you remember the last time you were looking for the best flight and lodging deal? A virtual assistant could have done that for $5. Tim Ferriss built many reasonable businesses with a 4-Hour Workweek by mastering the art of delegating.
Remember, perfection is subjective. You may know from the Pareto-Principle that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts. But here is the thing: most of the time what seems to be 80% to you may already be 100% for your customer. That being said, you can use the remaining 80% of the time to work on something else. Obviously, this is not always true; therefore, it’s really important to understand where the sweet spot – your customer’s 100% – is, so you can work more goal-oriented and avoid “useless” work. This may apply especially so if you are a writer. Have a look through your recordings and find the entries you could have avoided by doing so. You will be surprised.
Last but not least is some common knowledge. Defining goals is the best way to move forward, but setting clear goals is not easy. Start small, e.g. “I want to spend no more than 1 hour per day answering my emails”. Define, track, analyze, improve, repeat. You will get used to it pretty soon.