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Online time tracking is seriously one of the best kept secrets. It’s by far the easiest way to accurately price your freelance rates as well as work towards being more productive.
I mean, how will you know how long a project takes you (and thus, find ways to improve) if you don’t know how long it takes?
Keeping a time journal has been a vital part of running my business for many years now. And it should be for you too!
When I first quit my day job to break out on my own, my schedule was all over the place. I was trying to balance my social life on top of keeping my business running.
But it was a losing battle — that is until I started using Google Calendar like a time journal.
How exactly? You can opt for one of two choices, both of which use Google Calendar:
- Manually track your time by using time slots and weekly reviews
- Use an app like Focuster to automatically sync your calendar and to-dos
Before I explain how to use a time journal for manual online time tracking, let’s first talk about what exactly a time journal is and the benefits it provides.
What is a time journal?
A time journal is a way for you to see how much time you spend on a particular task. It can also dictate how often you’re distracted so you can organize your day to better serve you.
Think of a time journal like a food journal!
It’s a place where you record everything you do, read, consume and think about. It reveals your strengths and weaknesses so you know what you can improve on in order to be more effective at reaching your goals.
After using an appointment calendar to help monitor my daily tasks and activities, I could really see where I was spending my time. Here is a screenshot of what my Google Calendar looks like every week. Notice how I have multiple types of projects coded with different colors.
Each color represents a different task or category. Light blue is for personal tasks and goals (like working out, taking a lunch break, etc). Green is for writing tasks, blog posts, and guest posts. Yellow is for VA work for clients and orange is for budgeting and bills that need to be paid.
My calendar is also synced to a team calendar (purple) that’s for conference calls and collective projects with brands and other biz owners. I work on a system of focus management versus time management, so every day is a bit different depending on how I’m feeling.
For example; some afternoons I get the writing bug and can pump out several articles for this blog or freelance clients. Mornings are usually spent working on business admin tasks like social media updates, team emails, answering questions, etc.
Why Google Calendar?
I love using Google Calendar because it syncs with not only my smartphone but my Chromebook and iPad. I can easily create tasks and reminders from emails I receive and it seamlessly syncs with scheduling tools like Calendly.
The reason I chose Google Calendar is because it syncs with other calendars, you can share it with team members, clients or your spouse. Plus, it’s free! You can’t go wrong with it.
Before making any decisions about my workday schedule I check the Google Calendar app on my phone. Sometimes appointments are changed, or assignment deadlines are reschedule by others.
In other words, a quick check in the evenings before I got to bed and when I wake up in the mornings means I never miss important phone calls or to-dos.
Can you use a paper planner instead? Yes! Obviously, you don’t have to use Google Calendar — I just enjoy using it for online time tracking and digital organization. Having a visual time slot, that’s color-coded, for each thing is very helpful.
However, if you prefer, you can use a paper planner or a business calendar. I actually used to use a desktop calendar to organize my workday, so that works too.
A couple of paper calendars and planners you can use include:
- Brit + Co planners from Target
- Badass Blog Planner
- EPIC Blog Editorial Planner
- The Next 12 Months Planner
In order to use your time journal successfully with a paper planner, make sure it works effectively. Utilize it every day and take it with you every where so you can make changes and updates on the go.
And make it fun by using colored pencils or highlighters!
Doing all of this means will mean that you’re well on your way to successfully tracking where you spend your time — no matter what kind of time journal you use.
How to use a time journal for your biz
Using a time journal for your business means planning your work week in advance. Before next week begins, spend about 10-15 minutes organizing your calendar. Block off time for upcoming interviews, appointments, freelance deadlines and any other social events that you have planned.
Don’t forget to create time slots for lunch breaks, nap time and even family events if necessary. Self-care is a vital part of creating a good work-life balance, so don’t forget to make time for them. Work in time to care for yourself first, then your business and your clients (in that order).
Keep in mind that every time slot is non-negotiable. It can be moved around, yes, but not only as if you’re rescheduling it. Don’t let yourself procrastinate or put off important to-dos.
That’s the key to a disciplined and productive workday! It’s okay if you move your lunch break from 12:00 to 1:00, but the point is to force yourself to take one, no matter what time of day.
Review your calendar weekly
Now that you know how to organize your calendar and use it for effective time tracking, the next step is to review everything. At the end of each week, look over your calendar and make note of how each day ended up.
It’s one thing to create the perfectly scheduled day that you wish you could stick to. The idea is to see how things actually happened and how you can improve on making them fit more closely to your vision. Why do you want to do this?
- Know which projects you’re spending the most or least time on
- Can properly bill your hours to clients for your work
- Spend more time focusing on YOUR business projects
- Allot more time for self-care or a social life
A weekly review of your time tracking could reveal some surprising insights. You might be surprised to find that you spend waaaay more time answering emails than you should. Or maybe you’re not spending enough time on your own projects (since they tend to slip through the cracks).
Sometimes I even make notes on my calendar for things that made me more or less productive (didn’t get enough sleep, got a phone call, drank coffee, etc). Be honest with your time journal (no one’s going to see it except you) so you can make room for improvements.
Add up each task for accurate time tracking
Now this is the most important step in using Google Calendar as a time journal. At the end of the week, add up exactly how much time you spent on each colored task.
Add up each colored time slot so you can calculate how much time each task took to accomplish. For example; tasks in green are usually related to freelance writing work. By using this online time tracking system I can accurate see how long a specific assignments takes.
A simple trick to do this is to click on the colored blocks on the left of the calendar to “remove” a certain color or task from the calendar.
With this information I can see whether or not I should increase my per project rate, or if I need to work on completing the work faster (limiting distractions, working at different times of the day, etc.).
Some weeks are busier than others, but the goal is to spend 5-7 hours working efficiently everyday. If you’re doing it right, you should be able to accomplish everything within this time frame.
There will always be more work that can be done, and there will never be enough time. So come to grips with this fact, and manage your time accordingly!