Today’s guest blog post is by Jocelyn Mathewes, a wedding and lifestyle photographer who works in both Boston and Baltimore. Given that it is a Monday and the start to your work-week, I figured her topic was highly appropriate. Follow her on Twitter and read her blog.
It’s happened so often now, I’ve finally taken the time to listen: when folks look over my shoulder and see me taking notes, or have a chance to glance at my work notebook, they all say the same two things: “My, you’re organized!” and “I love your handwriting!”
Yes, it’s important to be organized (and there are several wonderful resources you should make use of below), but I’m here to tell you one thing that will be utterly amazing if you don’t do it already…
Keep Track of Your Time
Much like the way financial advisers tell you to track every penny so you know where you’re spending your money, track every minute of your work so you know where you’re spending your time.
When I worked as a graphic designer in-house at a non-profit, I had to keep detailed records of all my activities and projects we worked on. The design department didn’t really have a budget on its own; all of our work was funded by other peoples’ budgets. When the end of the week came, we had to enter every increment bit of time we spent on a project to keep the engine going. My timesheet was a patchwork quilt of craziness!
This sounds daunting, scary, and annoying as hell, doesn’t it? I’m going to tell you why it’s SO IMPORTANT that you do this in your own business.
As it turns out, knowing where your time goes is an incredibly valuable thing, because it gives you feedback on how your business functions, and what (and how much) activity it involves.
I’m a mom with small children, and this is my part-time full-passion business. I know many others are in this very situation, or similarly restrictive ones. The moment they step away from the computer or return home from a shoot, they’re flooded with the patter of feet, the dishes in the sink, or some party or practice to get to.
Having that restriction is a huge motivator to know where my time is going. Every minute I get to spend on my business is absolutely precious, because there’s no guarantee I can make up work later in a day without sacrificing some part of my personal life or leisure. (I mean this literally! Have you seen the cost of childcare lately?)
Tracking your time reveals:
– inefficient processes that need to be refined.
– large chunks of work that could possibly be outsourced.
– repeated tasks that could be batched together for more efficiently.
Tracking your time also:
– shows what percentage of your effort going in to each area of your business.
– lets you estimate future task lengths based on past experience.
How I Do It
I have a notebook that I keep by my desk. Each spread is a week in my work life. Early in the week I enter in my tasks and prioritize them. As I go day by day, I write down the times I worked on certain projects, and tally the hours. I have set categories of activities that I keep track of in a separate tally.
Every so often (and this isn’t entirely regular), I take all these numbers and enter them into a simple Excel spreadsheet. The spreadsheet tracks number of hours worked on each of the days of the week, and the number of hours spent in particular categories I’ve determined are of interest to me. It then tallies the averages and spits out percentages: the heartbeat of my work.
The categories I’m interested in tracking are:
– shooting (time spent behind the camera or on my way to/from a shoot)
– editing (time spent in Lightroom or Photoshop, working on a shoot)
– correspondence (e-mail, phone calls, snail mail, and the like)
– marketing (social media time, designing marketing materials, distributing materials, and blogging)
– meetings (viewing sessions, prospective client meetings, conference calls)
– design (album designs as well as general in-house design work for my branding)
– administrative (filing, Quickbooks and accounting, analyzing my SEO, anything introspective)
Looking at all these tasks and percentages and numbers can make a person cross-eyed! But I’ll tell you: it sure helps me to understand and the weeks where I worked hard and felt extra pressure, and where that pressure went (was I designing a lot, or was it a heavy shooting week?).
Also, knowing that particular kinds of activities take up a certain amount of time helps me designate days that I devote to that activity. Things that require minimal interruption (like editing and admin tasks) will happen on different days from more interruptive activities (like correspondence or social media tasks).
If you like, feel free to download my little hackneyed spreadsheet and re-purpose it to your liking.
Of course, there are plenty of other electronic-based time tracking resources out there, but I prefer the paper version, because it forces me to take time and examine my priorities in a deliberate way. I also prefer to keep my work tasks and personal tasks in separate physical places, so that when I’m off work, I’m off work (a tough thing to do when running a business out of your home!).
Make it Yours
My system won’t work for everyone, of course. The important thing I want you to take away is this: find a way to track your time. Build a system that works for you, and that gives you the insight into your activities that you need! Your life will thank you.
Making Ideas Happen
Scott Belsky of Behance.net, writes in an inspiring and clear way about what makes creative people (or teams) productive and effective.
Getting Things Done
David Allen’s classic is a must-read for anyone who wants to get a little more task-oriented. Read more about it here.
Merlin Mann has an amazing set of articles available. Be sure to read his treatise on how to set up a “tickler file”.
Beautiful planners and notebooks that are just hecka fun to use.
Time-tracking software for the iPhone and internet, also with invoicing capability (seems super useful for graphic designers).
So, tell us … do you track your time like Jocelyn? Do you have another system? What has worked for you and why?
Frederica Mathewes-Green says
wow, this is so helpful!
I like this idea and the method is sound, I would take it a step further though. Track the outcomes of each batch of work or task, review that outcome periodically and assess the lasting value of it.
Did work have to be repeated? Did the clients needs get first time? The questions almost write themselves, it will add to the ‘tracking your time reveals’ and reveal more.
Lisacour Dayspringphoto says
I struggle so much in this area (for instance, I have no business being on Twitter right now :). I’m going to look at those resources and take some of this advice…certainly worth trying!
Thanks for sharing such a great blog post. I really appreciate it. I have been using Talygen for tracking time. Its task and resource allocation aspects are innovative enough that gives full privileges to the administrator.