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Freelance Writers: How Do You Really Spend Your Time?

Do you know how you really spend your time? This came to mind while I was writing about the benefits of volunteering for writers.

Not long ago I began to do pro bono work with a nonprofit. It’s a project I loved and still do, but I ended up giving way too much time to it. No one’s fault but my own and in truth I don’t really regret a minute of it.

Another truth, however, is I quit tracking my time and it wasn’t until I started again that I understood.

Knowing how you spend your time

I’ve come to believe that knowing how you spend your time is paramount to success as a freelance writer for multiple reasons, including:

  • You know how long it actually takes you to, say write a blog post, or put together a newsletter, or a sales letter, etc. Another way to say this is you can stop guessing at how long a writing task takes. This is helpful both in bidding jobs and in billing for them.
  • Knowing how you spend your time writing let’s you know what’s most profitable for you.
  • If you charge by the hour a good time tracking system will make your life so much easier. Even though I usually charge flat fees, I regularly time myself just to be sure I’m conscious about what I’m doing.
  • You’ll avoid fooling yourself about how you spend your time – like I did in my example. The giveaway really was my unwillingness, for awhile, to  track how much time I was spending doing the nonprofit stuff as opposed to my own.

Finding out how you spend your time

The only way I know to find out how I spend my time is to actually track it.  There are a variety of ways to do this.

For example I have a friend who loves tracking himself in all sorts of ways on an Excel™ spreadsheet. Or maybe he uses Google Sheets, I’ve forgotten which. You’ve probably got Excel on your computer and as long as you’ve got a connection to the internet you can use Google Sheets – they are very much alike. You can track time for free on either. I don’t like spreadsheets because I’m not great at setting up formulas, and get even more confused if the sheet is wider than my screen.

When I first started tracking time I actually did it with paper and pencil. For each item I wanted to track I’d give it a name, then put my start time and my end time down. That meant more pieces of paper on my desk, and much addition and subtraction as I tried to figure out what the total time actually was on each project.

A Google search let me to Toggl.com. I fell in love. I can set up a project like AFW Blog, click the start button, remember to click the stop when I’m finished and voila, I’ve got the exact amount of time I spent. I can set up tasks within projects and time them as I go – perfect for the very few hourly gigs I check. If I forget to turn the timer off, I’ll get an email the next morning politely suggestion I might want to turn the timer off. It will also send me a weekly report. All this for exactly zero money with their ‘always free basic plan’ which allows up to 5 team members. The reports make it super easy to invoice if you need to Or you can upgrade for a price. Plus the have apps for both Apple OS and Android smart phones.

Toggl isn’t the only time tracker out there. Some, usually for a monthly fee, will actually generate invoices for you. Others offer different approaches. How valuable the additional service is for you is a matter of choice.

Finding out how your really spend your time is to valuable to ignore. Give it a go and let us know how it works for you.

Write well and often,

Anne Wayman, freelance writer
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