Exactly How Much Time Are You Really Spending Writing?

in Getting Started & Getting It Done

Yesterday I was focused. My writing went well. I spent the first two hours truly being productive.

Then the 5 Buck Forum broke. We got it fixed in a hurry, but it also broke my rhythm and my concentration. Although I did a bit more writing, after sending out two emails to members, and doing all the other tech and non-techie things one does when technology lets us down, I didn’t do much. In truth, yesterday I spend just two hours and 11 minutes writing.

How do I know this so exactly? I track my time.

I track my time to keep myself honest. It’s so easy to think I’ve spend much more time writing than I actually do. And sometimes I think I haven’t spent much at all. By tracking my time I know.

I track using Toggl. It’s an online tracking tool that’s so easy I actually use it most days. And it has a free version.

It not only tracks how I spend my time, but I can use that tracking for generating invoices. There are all sorts of other services and methods out there. I suggest you find one you like and will use.

Wasting time isn’t the real issue

Although some would disagree, the real issue for me isn’t about wasting time. I need down time or time when I’m fiddling with graphics instead of words, or time to stare out the window or pace while I work out something about the words I want to write.

You can’t always tell by watching me what I’m doing. The typing on the keyboard usually means I’m writing. The staring out the window is much harder to decipher.

It’s more about self-discipline

Since I don’t have an employer who can fire me, I’m the one who has to get the work done.  Even though my clients can fire me, I’m still an independent contractor, a freelancer who is responsible for my own success or failure.

That’s a matter of self-discipline more than anything else. Sure, not wanting a commute and looking forward to a check from a client do motivate me, but habit more than motivation gets me to the computer five days a week.

I build in time wasting. Most weekends you’ll find me lolling around reading a novel at least half of either Saturday or Sunday. Sometimes I take a whole day off during the week, and not always to do something like a mediation retreat. I may go to the zoo or an art gallery or… well, you get the idea.

The success or failure of my writing career depends on me. On my self-discipline regarding my writing, my marketing and my business as a whole.

Those are all reasons I time myself. If I’m wasting time, I want to choose it, not do it unconsciously.

How do you keep track of your real writing time?

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Image: Attribution Some rights reserved by Mark Turnauckas

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Paula December 20, 2012 at 11:28 pm

It’s all good :-) but I just want to point out that if you CHOOSE to take time away form your writing, time the refreshes you, makes you more a more productive writer and a happier human being — then “waste” is a poor word choice to describe that time. I’m not picking on you, Anne, this is such a common phrase in our vocabulary, we are all guilty of using it! However, I am on a personal crusade to shift this bit of language.
I think it is actually harmful, especially to freelancers, to call that sort of time wasted.
As writers we all know that words are very powerful things, so am am inviting everyone here to find a more positive, more accurate way to express this very necessary and useful way of spending our time! :-)

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annew December 21, 2012 at 7:58 am

Totally agree, Paula, and also willing to be busted on word use for sure. And I agree that when I or another writer chooses to not write it’s anything but a waste of time. Thanks.

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Carmen Rane Hudson December 20, 2012 at 3:11 pm

I’m not always sure time tracking is a good idea for me. I’m a little ADD…sometimes to think through a problem I wind up flipping to another window or walking around the house in a stupor picking up all the garbage! Does it count?
Carmen Rane Hudson recently posted..Looking Forward to Enjoying the DayMy Profile

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annew December 20, 2012 at 3:14 pm

lol, I recognize that… distraction I think it is.

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Sharon Hurley Hall December 20, 2012 at 11:28 am

I have used tools like RescueTime to track productivity but I’m not using any at the moment. I just need to have the discipline sometimes to avoid social media when I have a deadline. Getting off the net isn’t an option as I often research and fact check as I go, but closing down Twitter and Facebook (and sometimes email) tabs certainly helps.
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..The Difference Between Adoring And Worshipping Freelance WritingMy Profile

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annew December 20, 2012 at 11:39 am

Rescuetime looks like it allows you to shut down lots of things… just noticed that I get distraced when it’s something I either really don’t want to write or don’t know how to write.

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Sharon Hurley Hall December 20, 2012 at 12:10 pm

That will do it every time, Anne. Procrastination is a fine art! ;)
Sharon Hurley Hall recently posted..The Difference Between Adoring And Worshipping Freelance WritingMy Profile

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Neil December 20, 2012 at 7:50 am

Anne, as a writer I’ve often thought I should, in an attempt to be better at my job, track my time but I’m slightly worried about the results.

I think I’m efficient, I think I do a good job and get through a fair amount of work but as I write this I’m now also thinking about, the cups of coffee, the walk to clear my head, the housework while my wife does a ‘proper’ job.

I wonder now should I track my time and get a shock or carry on in blissful ignorance?

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annew December 20, 2012 at 8:24 am

Neil, I of course haven’t a clue what you should do! When you’re thinking about all this, consider how often people in offices are getting coffee, schmoozing, etc. I suspect your intuition about your own work habits are pretty accurate. You might be pleasantly surprised. Incidentally I don’t dock myself for getting coffee, doing housework etc. I just track it all so I know what I’m up to. Actually I don’t track getting coffee. Or tea or bathroom breaks etc.

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John Soares December 19, 2012 at 8:20 am

I use a little program that has a clock. I start it and then I close all my Internet connections for an hour or more as I work.

The key for me is avoiding the Internet. There are always interesting distractions there, but most can wait until later in the day.
John Soares recently posted..50 Ways to Beat Writer’s Block and Procrastination: A Free Special ReportMy Profile

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annew December 19, 2012 at 9:15 am

Good idea, John. Although I don’t close my ‘net connection because I often need to google something, I take your meaning. And it’s a good idea.

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Amandah December 19, 2012 at 4:40 am

I use Windows Calendar to track my time. I follow my schedule to a “T.” The only time I go astray is if an emergency “pops” up. Other than that, I’m disciplined. I guess that’s the business person inside. That and I’m an accounting major and had to adhere to deadlines.
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annew December 19, 2012 at 7:38 am

Good for you, Amandah… I’m pretty good, but not that good ;)

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Samar December 18, 2012 at 10:50 am

I’ve been having a miserable week writing wise. Haven’t written a decent article or blog post. And yet, I’ve been at my computer every day. Thank god I don’t have any deadlines this week because otherwise, I’d have been screwed.

Thanks for the tip about Toggl. I need to seriously start tracking my time online.

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annew December 18, 2012 at 11:04 am

Samar, sometimes we have to sit staring at the computer… bet you can write your way to good writing.

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