As a business owner it can sometimes seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Between never-ending to-do lists, cash flow, and COVID, sleepless nights might be all too familiar.
Once you become your own boss, you’re responsible for your own time, productivity and income, though. When your time is worth money it’s tempting to spend every minute working. But are you getting the best return on the time you invest?
The advantages of recording your time
Working round-the-clock might seem productive, but puts you in danger of burning out. It might be time to start tracking the hours you dedicate to your work schedule.
Monitoring the time you spend on business activities will help you identify areas that could be more efficient.
It’s also pretty darn handy for making sure you charge customers a price which actually reflects the work you’re doing!
Am I in danger of business burnout?
The signs of entrepreneurial burnout can sneak up on you. Do you recognise any of these?
Making lots of silly mistakes, and not noticing them until later.
Trouble sleeping at night, physical exhaustion, or lack of energy.
Increased stress levels (which can lead to being short tempered and low on patience).
Frustration, low motivation and a dwindling passion for what you do.
Feelings of detachment in both your personal and professional lives
Difficult as it is, allowing these to develop without taking action will only compromise you and your business.
An effective way to spot the early signs of burnout is to track the time you spend on your business. It will help you be more aware of what you’re really spending your time on, and make any changes.
How can I track the time I spend on my business?
Time-management should be a help not a hindrance, so it’s worth taking advantage of the products and services available to help you monitor your time.
Tracking time manually with a spreadsheet
Tracking your hours doesn’t necessarily mean you need a complex system. If you don’t have the time or budget to invest, a good old fashioned spreadsheet will do the trick, especially if it’s just you in the business.
Create a spreadsheet to document those key details. Include specific tasks, and how much time is being spent on each.
Recording your time in 15 or 30 minute segments can be especially useful.
It’ll help you spot the true value of all those ‘quick phone calls’. It also makes it easier to tot up the billable time you should be charging to clients, if you charge by the hour.
The pros and cons of using Excel as a time sheet
Manual methods, such as Excel, are simple, and easy to use.
You can usually access them without an internet connection, though obviously you’ll need something to run your spreadsheet.
They also tend to be pretty straightforward, so staff won’t need intensive (if any) training using them.
It can be difficult to include multiple users when tracking time manually, especially if documents and data aren’t stored in a central location, such as on the cloud or in a network.
It’s more likely that data will need entering or copying/centralising manually.
Data is more open to mistakes from human error, or poor organisation and memory.
Time-tracking the digital way with apps and time management software
There are hundreds of time management apps and software, giving you an accurate and accessible way to keep track.
As with most business decisions, the best solution depends on what is most suitable for you and the business. We’ve put together a list of popular time-tracking tools to get you started.
This is great for those who can’t invest any budget into their time tracking software, as Toggl Track offers a free but comprehensive service. There are additional tiers available at a cost but the free offering is decent for effective time-monitoring.
A consistently popular choice when it comes to business time-keeping, Harvest serves both individuals and collaborative teams alike. Users can set various rates for different people assigned to any particular project. It also tracks individual expenses, so you can bill the client accordingly.
One of the standout features of this time-tracking app is the ability to set maximum time limits on a task-by-task basis. Doing so will ensure you stay on track with your schedule, but still on top of important deadlines.
Why keeping track of time is so important for businesses
Although spending time on tracking your time might seem counterproductive on the surface, dig a little deeper and you’ll find there are real benefits. See time-tracking as an investment for improving your overall performance and organisation, rather than another chore.
Optimise productivity and spend time more wisely
Just like regular financial reports, reviewing time-spent helps you steer the business. Keeping records of how you spend your time allows you to look back and analyse how effective you are. If you often find yourself rushing, or running into deadline issues, you can consult your time-keeping records to pinpoint why this might be happening, and then work on resolving it.
Understand what your time is worth to the business
There might be one client who absorbs all your time, without you even noticing. You might realise you’re spending time chasing down late payments manually, rather than automating the process.
Keeping a record of your time helps you prioritise projects more efficiently. It ensures that valuable clients aren’t left feeling short-changed at the hands of less pressing matters. How you spend your time affects the success of your business, after all.
Quick tips for maximising your productivity
Know your limits, accept your boundaries and learn when to say no.
Don’t be afraid to accept – and even seek out – guidance from others. You can’t know or do everything, and they have skills and qualifications that you don’t.
Keep multitasking as minimal as possible, and focus on one task at a time.
Switch up your working environment every now and again, especially if you mostly work from home. And give it a good clean!
Use scheduling tools to get ahead with things like social media content and email marketing campaigns.
Take regular breaks and remember, doing nothing can be as beneficial as doing something when it comes to preserving your wellbeing and motivation.
Manage expectations and set deadlines with less stress
Knowing how long each task really takes, allows us to be more realistic with what we can offer, and in what timeframe. A quality that both colleagues and customers will greatly appreciate.
You’ll be able to work to a timeline that doesn’t make you feel quite so much stress, without making impossible promises, missing deadlines, or burning out.
Making client billing (and cash flow) more efficient
Despite sometimes being overlooked as an advantage, time-tracking is invaluable for billing your customers correctly. Documenting the hours you spend on them means you can be incredibly detailed about what they’re paying you for.
Pricing is more accurate and everybody knows where they stand, significantly reducing the risk of any disputes around cost. This sort of transparency can also help limit late payments, and bolster your business’ cash flow.
Tracking time also means you’re less likely to forget or overlook hours when it comes to billing. And then you’ll have more insight when you quote for similar projects in the future.
Some stark facts and figures
A third of self-employed people that are exempt from government COVID support estimate their income for 2020/21 could be between 0% – 25% lower than previous earnings. (ExcludedUK)
More than half (53%) of freelancers said that sourcing work has a negative impact on their mental health. Respondents are also struggling with the inconsistencies in income that come with being self-employed. (IPSE)
Dealing with late payments has a negative impact on 26% of freelancers, whilst managing finances was also shown to effect a quarter of respondents. (IPSE)
Nurturing your physical and mental wellbeing
Mental health policies to support employee wellness are becoming more commonplace these days. Employers are now obliged to ensure they cultivate a working environment that is safe, inclusive, and comfortable for an increasingly diverse workforce.
However, as a business owner, you probably haven’t got any HR or Health & Safety bods looking out for you. You need to watch your own back, and this includes checking in with your mental and physical health on a regular basis. Keep control of your stress levels and leave time for important things like sufficient sleep, quality time with loved ones, and regular breaks.
Don’t be afraid to seek out support and professional guidance.
When it comes to your physical health, it’s essential that you create an ergonomic workspace that supports long-term comfort. This applies whether you spend long periods of time sitting at a desk, or hunched over in a workshop. Remember to get up to stretch and move your body every half an hour or so!
More than 70% of small business owners have experienced stress over the past year. Common causes include balancing business and private commitments (26%), time pressures (24%), and business admin (21%). (Small Business/UK Domain)
Ensuring you strike a healthy work-life balance
Tracking your hours and taking a meticulous approach to time management is one of the first steps in creating a healthy work-life balance. It’s a vital component of both professional success and personal wellbeing. You’ll find it easier to identify any areas you might be neglecting, and where you need to invest more time and energy.