One of the biggest shocks I had when I started my first agency job was when I sat down with the senior designer and they explained to me that being a part of the team meant that I had to start tracking my time.
Everything was billed back to the client. Every minute that we spent on a project was tracked. I had to report my time and show that I was staying on task and within the amount of time that we had estimated to do the project.
Prior to this in college, there was no such thing as time tracking. Time tracking in college meant that I was doing my homework at the last minute and hoping to get it in on time. There was no thought as to how much time I was spending in Photoshop, or how much time I was spending at our local copy center waiting for copies to spit out of a machine.
Over the years though, I began to realize how much time tracking mattered — especially while freelancing. One of the biggest hurdles I had was estimating projects. It was difficult to figure out how much time it was going to take to do something, because I had no idea where to start.
When I finally started taking time tracking seriously, it was a surprise at how far off my “from the gut” estimates were.
Certain things that I would have quoted an hour or so for, really took a few minutes once I got into the swing of things.
On the flip side, there was things that I thought would only take five or 10 minutes that took an hour. It was so easy to stop paying attention to the clock, that I was losing money by not keeping track.
One of the other benefits was gaining the ability to set a schedule and plan ahead.
When you make from the gut estimates like I did, it’s a very daunting task. Take a website project for example. There’s a lot of moving parts that go from planning, to content, to design, to development, and launching. If your estimates are off even a little bit, something small can bloom into a giant mountain. In some cases, missing my estimated times meant that I was effectively working for free to finish the project. Obviously, that’s not a good thing.
All that said, the best thing time tracking did for me was learning how to become more efficient with my time. By knowing the time it took to do certain tasks, I could start finding shortcuts. I was able to automate things or even build out pre-made resources to speed up my work flows. For branding projects, I started building asset libraries. These usually include colors, logos, fonts, and commonly used graphics or photos.
Being able to utilize these made me much more efficient as I worked!
For a lot of people, time tracking is one of those things that sounds like a bigger deal than it actually is. I could point out numerous apps out there that can track your time. But frankly, you have to find what works for you.
At the end of the day, whatever you find, make sure it’s easy to use and stays out of your way. Out of all of the apps that I had tried, being able to click a button and stay out of my way was what I needed. I didn’t have to think about it and could focus my time and energy on what mattered. The best part is, I was able to start building up data on how I spent my time, which made quoting future projects much easier.