Over the next few weeks I will be sharing the tools I use to run my freelance business. Today, I am going to share the most important productivity tool I have in my toolbox. It has transformed the way I work and, more importantly, increased my income.
Let me start by sharing a story about a recent coaching session I had with a Freelance web designer. Let’s call her Jennifer. Jennifer was concerned about pricing for a service she provided. She wanted to know what to charge.
Being the numbers guy that I am, I asked her how long it took her to provide that particular service. Without hesitation she said it took her a “few” hours and she charged $300.
Now if a “few” hours meant three hours, that would be a nice profit. But, I had a hunch she was spending more time than she realized. I dug a little deeper and she admitted that it probably took her at least 10 hours to complete the project.
So we went from what Jennifer thought was $100 per hour to only $30 per hour. Still decent money, but it uncovers one of the biggest mistakes freelancers make. Not tracking their time.
In fact, that may be THE biggest mistake freelancers make.
I know for me tracking and managing my time has had the biggest impact on my income. I used to work 60 – 70 hours a week, making $20 an hour.
Once I started tracking my time, everything changed. Since then it has taken years to refine my process and find the right productivity tools. And, it has been by far the hardest habit to form. But, it has paid off. For example, last month one project I worked on generated $157.88 per hour.
Do I make that on every project? No. Sometimes it’s less and sometimes a bit more.
Here’s how I do it.
Over the years, I have tried a number of different productivity tools and time tracking tools. Anything that has a start and stop button will work, including an old fashioned stop watch.
The key is to consistently track your time as you are working.
Accuracy is critical to your success.
Word of warning – THIS IS HARD. It will take time to form this habit. You will want to give up. You will convince yourself tracking time is taking time away from actually working.
This is the biggest excuse I hear: “I’m going to spend 30 minutes a day tracking my time and that is 30 minutes wasted.” First of all, tracking your time will only add 15 minutes, at most, to your work load. More importantly it will show you the 30% – 50% of your time that is unproductive.
Yes, that is not a typo. Right now you are spending 30% – 50% of your time on unproductive or low income producing tasks. Tracking your time will help you find those time wasters and replace them with productive tasks.
Let me put this another way: If you use this one productivity tool and track your time meticulously for one month, you will instantly see a clear plan of how to work less without losing any income. Imagine keeping your income and working from 9 to 3 instead of 9 to 5. Or taking Fridays off completely!
That translates to 52 additional vacation days a year!
The time tracking and productivity tool I currently use is Harvest. It is much more than just a stop watch app. It has quite a few bells and whistles like organizing time by client, project, or task. It also includes invoicing and some pretty robust reporting features. If you have a team, you can also track their time – which is important for larger projects.
For a free trial of Harvest click here. You’ll also get a free $10 credit to Harvest if you choose to upgrade later. (Harvest also offers a free plan for those with fewer projects.)
Have a favorite productivity tool, time tracking tool, or freelance success story? Let’s talk about it in the comments below.