WorkLifeBlog

Over 4 million of us in Britain are now self-employed – more than ever before. Worklifeblog is about sharing tips and techniques to make self-employed working work better. From decision-making to resilience, time-management to forward planning, find ideas here to make your life as a freelancer a huge success on your own terms.

What’s the best freelance time-tracking tool?

If I consult my time log for Monday 16th January 2012, I can tell you exactly what I did all day. After walking the kids to school, I came home, took a client call, read the script of a speech and sent my comments, helped a fellow freelancer with a tax admin query, ate lunch at 1pm, wrote up some notes from a charity committee meeting, worked on a text-writing project for a museum until 6pm, made supper and ate it with the family, met some friends in the evening, worked on some emails after returning home, and fell into bed at 1am.

My time log sheets are a lifeline when it comes to invoicing – I rarely work an average day on any project, and want to bill accurately for the time spent.

Edward Tufte writes about the power of statistics, and visualises them beautifully

Edward Tufte writes about the power of statistics, and visualises them beautifully

The sheets also reveal all kinds of things about where my time goes. Am I trying to work on too many things at once? – it didn’t feel like it at the time in January, but how often did I go to bed late? How much time am I giving away free to causes I support? How often do I actually get to the gym, or take an evening off with family or just spouse?

It took a while to develop a time tracking habit after my business coach Claire Fuller recommended it, but it has proven itself time and time again (har har). Currently I track on a paper calendar and I’m now wondering if there’s a widget or gadget that will do it more efficiently, and allow me to analyse my time better. Because just imagine the pie charts, tables and graphs you could make if you had the numbers at your fingertips (big fans of Edward Tufte and his books of beautifully-displayed quantitative data in this house).

I turned to Lifehacker.com. It had a crowd-sourced list of Five Best Time-Tracking Applications from back in September 2009, but the vote for the ultimate tool was, they admitted, inconclusive. One of the five options was Slimtimer, which sounded familiar, and when I scoured my email, I found I had actually downloaded it back in 2010 at the recommendation of a colleague… so obviously that option hadn’t really stuck.

At Freelanceswitch.com I found a recent list of 10 free time tracking tools. Some seemed geared towards easy billing, sharing a schedule among teams, or mobile time-tracking, none of which were what I needed, but one sounded rather lovely: Clockodo, a ‘stylish web app’ that turns time management into a real pleasure. Sounds good! The pictures of the tracked time were very appealing.

Clockodo - very pretty, but only free for a trial period

Clockodo – very pretty, but only free for a trial period

Commenters to the article also recommended Yast, Freckle, Paymo… there were plenty more to try if Clockodo didn’t deliver – and indeed it turned out Clockodo was only free for a trial period. Although I believe in paying for something good, I wasn’t quite ready to pay for something I was currently achieving for nothing. Freckle also turned out to be payable.

Grindstone, however, seemed to be a well-reviewed app, genuinely free, and although less pretty than the alternatives, looked like the Microsoft-type interface that would be straightforward for me to learn. So I’ve downloaded it from here, and I’ll report back on my super-efficient auto-time-tracked new existence – or whatever the alternative turns out to be.

Eat That Frog!

Exclamation marks are a big no-no in writing: they make a sentence look desperate for approval.

In the workshops I run with journalist Dea Birkett, we counsel writers never to use this punctuation mark unless it’s something you intend the reader to shout. (‘Hands up!’ for example, or ‘Checkmate!’)

Eat that Frog!So I probably wouldn’t naturally have chosen to read Eat That Frog! (subtitle Get More of the Important Things Done – Today!) except that it was recommended by my business coach, Claire Fuller. It’s by Brian Tracy (no exclamation mark but maybe he secretly wanted one) and the book offers practical steps you can take to get better, faster results in your work.

It turns out that Eat That Frog! is based around one really fundamental and excellent idea, and it’s this. If you know that every day you’re going to have to eat a live frog, then the best thing you can do it get it over with early in the morning.

Translated into practical wisdom, this means identifying the most significant things you need to do each day to make progress towards your goals, and then doing them instead of anything else.

One of the freeing ideas in the book is that there will never be enough time to do everything that might be worth doing. This chimes with a brilliant book by Pete Scazzero I recently read which humbly suggests that we all ought to take more time off – even though we will achieve less.

Tracy’s approach, of prioritising only the top-ranking ugliest frogs, forces you to narrow down what you do each day – but it guarantees you’ll spend time on the important things that lead somewhere and give you a sense of achievement.

When I read the book I commented to Claire:

The ‘Eat that Frog’ book has definitely made me feel more satisfied if I complete the most vital things, instead of guilty that I didn’t do everything on my list.

So, hooray! for Brian Tracy and Eat That Frog! Hooray!