I just spilled a freshly brewed cup of coffee on my kitchen counter. (Why does a cup of coffee spilled seem more like a gallon? Sigh.)
As I was mopping up this thought came to me: Good thing I’m not billing by the hour at the moment; I’d lose the 15 minutes it’s taking me to clean up.
I continued to sop up the coffee and squeeze the sponge, and mop some more, and I remembered a time I had a non-writing job where I was paid by the hour. Sure enough, once I spilled a cup of coffee in the communal kitchen. As I recall it took at least 15 minutes, maybe more, because I also had to mop some off the floor. I wasn’t docked that time from my hourly pay.
Then I remembered when I was on salary writing for long-gone Kaypro Computers. No one there was every fired or had their pay cut because they spilled coffee or anything else. We were expected to clean up the mess, but the company paid for the time. It wasn’t an issue.
In fact, when I look back on the various times I’ve worked jobs, I’ve never worked every minute of the eight hour day. Not even back in the day when I was waiting tables at busy coffee shops. I suspect this is true for almost everyone. There’s always some downtime in any job. Sometimes it’s official. More often, I suspect, it’s not.
Down time isn’t always bad
That down time isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Sure I wasn’t being productive while cleaning up the coffee I spilled, or was I? After all, the counter is clean and I had the idea for a whole new blog post for freelance writers. (I am one who says ideas are everywhere.)
All this points to the real reason I like charging flat fees rather than hourly rates. I mean how would I bill a client for the time I spent both cleaning up a spill and having an idea?
Easy does it
What I’m really driving at in this round about way is to suggest you don’t have to drive yourself insane trying to track every moment you spend writing for a client.
Sure, you need to be honest and fair and maybe even generous with your client.
You also need to treat yourself fairly and well.
Track your time, and know that it won’t be 100 percent accurate. And it doesn’t need to be. You need to know about how much time you’re actually working and, if you’re charging by the hour, so does the client.
Am I suggesting you charge the client for the time it takes to clean up spilled coffee? Probably not. I am suggesting, however, that you relax a bit and be gentle with yourself. Both you and your writing, and therefore your client, will be better off for it.
What do you think? Do you charge by the hour? If you do, what do you do about the unexpected interruptions? If you charge flat fees, do you build in some extra time for the surprises? Tell us about it in comments.
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