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Time Tracking For Freelance Writers

Tracking billable hours and expenses is a vital part of running your freelance writing business. If you don’t track those you won’t know what to charge your clients, nor will you know what, at tax time, what you can deduct.

But tracking the rest of your working day can be truly helpful. I want to know how much time I’m actually working and how much time I’m doing other things, like gardening, talking with friends on the phone, looking at other blogs that don’t have anything to do with my business and playing computer games.

I’d tried various methods, including:

  • A piece of paper where I’d log the start and stop of each project. This drove me mad because I tend to let paper stack and I never could find the piece of paper I was using to track my time.
  • Various pieces of software. I had some luck with these but generally found it a bit too complicated to switch from what I was writing to the software and enter start and stop times.

I needed something dirt simple if I were to use it effectively.

I don’t remember exactly how I found toggl – yes, that’s how it’s spelled, all lower case and I guess it’s pronounced like toggle, maybe because it truly is easy to switch back and forth.

The whole thing is in the cloud on a web page. I use the free desktop version, but for not very much money a month you can go pro and use it via a smart phone, to do billing and other nifty tricks. A bit more and you can have toggl for your whole team.

It’s quick to set up, and pretty intuitive. There are projects and tasks – you enter the task your starting, choose it’s project or create a new one, hit start and you’re done. When you’ve finished that task you hit stop. If you forget either end, it’s pretty easy to go in and change the times.

You can tell at a glance how much time you’ve spent for the day and with a nice pie chart, how much for the week. There are more reports than I need, but it’s nice to know they are there.

Keep your categories simple

If you decide to try toggl, keep your projects or categories simple. If you create too many and you’re like me, you’ll get confused.

For example, I’ve got each blog I own as a project. I’ve also got coaching as a project and something I call misc. business which pretty much takes care of everything else. A sporadic client is showing signs of providing some consistent work – if he does I’ll make him a project.

I’ve also got a project called household because I sometimes do housework during business hours. I also have something I call self-care. It includes things like gardening, going to the store, etc.

toggle makes it easy to add and subtract projects so you can set it up exactly the way you want.

How time tracking is making my life easier and more profitable

I tracked my time for months without feeling I was getting particularly helpful information from it. My estimates were pretty close.

The exception is the coaching I do which is based on an hourly rate. I’d been tracking that with pen and pencil and that worked, but toggl makes it simple.

Then things changed.

I’ve recently become more involved in Awakening The Dreamer. My roll is as a volunteer and it is the type of volunteering that could become a full-time job if I let it. Adding a category for that activity and tracking it is helping me keep my time commitment down to a reasonable amount. In other words, time tracking is now working well for me and I see the point.

Organizing Your Writing For Profit and Balance is a post you might find worth reading.

How do you make sure you’re working enough but not too much?


Image by Anne

{ 12 comments… add one }
  • Albert Pinto

    Proofhub is also very beneficial for freelancers to track and manage time effectively. Take a look.

    • a bit pricey I think for individuals at $15/mo, but thanks.

  • jervic

    Great post Anne, time tracking for freelance writers sure is essential this way you can manage time. It happened that I also working as a freelance writer and I also read a lot about time management and one of it is David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Like you I also been using a tool that tracks time and this is what I personally use. Using this tool I list my entire tasks on it and break it to bits so that I can easily manage to work on each task. I also set an estimated amount of time when working on each task. The key that I can follow my scheduled task and finish it on time is with discipline. This way I can ignore work distraction that comes along my way. I would say that with the right tools and discipline you can easily manage time and improve productivity. I hope this can also help my fellow freelance writers on how to manage time.

    • Looks like TimeDoctor is more designed to report to a manager and there is a cost involved. Toggl has a free version that works well and allows you to earn free use of their pro version, or pay for it.

  • Thanks for posting this! I had been using iCal and trying to estimate. Just signed up…I’ll take it for a spin.

  • Ooh, I should try this. Maybe it will force me not to do seven things at once, when I see that one tiny project took eleven hours!
    Elizabeth West recently posted..Show vs. Tell RevisitedMy Profile

  • Hi Anne,
    Thanks for the post. I’ll try toggl.
    I’m looking for something easy and intuitive to use for billing purposes. Someone suggested excel and another peachtree. Any ideas? Excel really doesn’t appeal to me.
    Edna recently posted..Asian carp move closer to the Great LakesMy Profile

    • Anne

      So far toggl is the easiest I’ve found and you can use it for billing too.

      • Jessica

        Actually there are lots of open source time tracking softwares. I am using this free time tracking tool that I found in Google code http://code.google.com/p/activitytrackerplus/. This is the best tool I found . This tool saves time information in Google Spreadsheet. So the information is personal and we can have full control of this data.

  • Thank you for sharing this. It’s easy to give away your time by not being accountable to yourself first. If it’s made simple, it will get done.

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