Unlike standard work clocks, where workers clock in and clock out, time trackers are more detailed.
Each section of time can be assigned to a category for a client or a specific task. This allows you to see detailed metrics, such as how long you spend writing emails, in meetings, or working on a specific project over several weeks.
Popular features of time trackers include:
- Precise time tracking with categories for clients, tasks, etc.
- The ability to sync tracked time to invoices to easily bill clients.
- Reporting tools to gain valuable insights into where your time goes.
- The ability to manually adjust tracking.
What is the purpose of a time tracking tool?
The core purpose of time tracking tools is to record how you spend your time. Did a recent project take twice as long as you anticipated? Does one client eat up the majority of your time? Are there inefficiencies in your workflow you could improve?
Tracking your time provides data that can help you bill more accurately and streamline workflows.
Why Use a Time Tracker?
There are tons of reasons to use a time tracker. As Peter Drucker (supposedly) said: If you can't measure it, you can't improve it. Time trackers allow you to track time so you can improve your productivity.
For example, you might find that you spend an inordinate amount of time entering data into your CRM. Automating this process could drastically improve your efficiency.
Freelancers often use time tracking management software to make invoicing easier — simply turn on a tracker when you start a client project and turn it off when you're done. Then, label who you were working for, and you'll easily see how long you spent working for each client.
If your time tracking tool integrates with your invoicing system (like in Clarrow), you can export tracked time to an invoice — and your end-of-the-month paperwork just got a lot easier.
Here are a few more benefits of using a time tracking tool:
- Improve profits by making sure you bill for hours accurately.
- Increase productivity by helping you stay on task. (It's much harder to get sucked into a Twitter argument when you know you are on the clock!)
- Provide transparency with clients by showing them exactly how long each step in the process took.
- Improve project management by tracking how long tasks take. (Which makes it much easier to estimate future projects!)
Time Tracking Best Practices
Now that we've covered the benefits of using a time tracker, let's talk about how to make the most out of them. Here are four time tracking best practices to improve productivity and profits.
Get Clear on Your Purpose
What is your main goal for using a time tracker? This will impact which time tracking tool you use, what features you want, and how you integrate the time tracker into your workday.
For example, if your goal is to make invoicing easier, choose a tracker that integrates with invoicing and allows you to create client profiles. If your goal is to see where you are wasting time, consider a tracker that records what websites you are visiting to see how long you spend on email, social media, or research.
Other reasons to use a time tracker might include:
- Increase billing accuracy.
- Make it easier to predict project turnaround time.
- Improve productivity.
- Improve time management.
Your core purpose for using a time tracker might change over time, so reevaluate your purpose every few months.
Keep it Simple
Changing habits can be a struggle. If your time tracker is hard to use, takes too long to load, or requires a lot of manual additions, you are unlikely to use it regularly.
To reap the most benefits, make sure time tracking is easy to use.
For example, Clarrow's time tracker makes it easy to track time by pressing a button to start tracking. When you complete a task, simply press the stop button and record the project, add a description, rate, and adjust the time manually if needed.
Take a few minutes to set up client profiles, organize your tags or labels, and get clear on how you will track time. Decide what increments of time you will track.
If you are using an automatic tracker that you can easily turn on and off, tracking time to the minute is simple. However, if you are using a manual tracker, consider rounding time to 30 or 60-minute intervals.
When in doubt, keep it simple. The easier your time tracker is to use, the more likely you are to actually use it!
Make the Categories Easy to Remember
Think about how you spend your day — between emails, client work, research, and meetings, it is easy to get overwhelmed trying to figure out how to categorize time.
The reality is, the categories you use to label time will vary based on the number of clients you have, your industry, and how long tasks tend to take.
For example, if you have two clients but work on several projects, you might choose to organize your time categories by projects rather than clients. If you are working on just one project for several months, consider breaking your time tracking down into tasks such as research, coding, writing, and administrative tasks.
Make sure to break down tasks into smaller blocks of time when possible. For example, if you find administrative tasks take up a quarter of your work week, you might need to break it down into smaller tasks like training, prospecting, and client onboarding.
Don't forget to create a category for your own business. Track time spent networking, sending out cold emails, or onboarding new clients. Understanding how much time you spend marketing and building your own business can provide insights into how to expand your business.
Make Use of Your Time Tracking Data
One of the biggest benefits of using time tracking apps is the amount of data you can gather about how you spend your time. (Which is one reason you want to make sure those categories are easy to remember and use!)
Revisit your purpose for using the time tracker — did you want to understand how long you spend on a specific client, find bottlenecks in your workflow, or understand where you waste time?
After a month of using your time tracker, review where you spend the most time. You might find that a client you thought only took up five hours a month actually requires close to 10 hours of work when you factor in email and meetings.
Or you might find that you are spending hours a month "networking" on LinkedIn with few new leads to show for it. Maybe it's time to limit time on the platform and try a different strategy to find new clients.
Being a freelancer means being in charge of your own time. There might not be a boss to micromanage your time — which means it's up to you to ensure you are using your time effectively.
A time tracker can ensure you know where your time is going to improve productivity, better serve your clients, and (hopefully) increase profits. Once you get your time tracking app set up and outline time categories, it will quickly become second nature to use.