How to use Yast to track non-billable time

When you’re freelancing, you spend a lot of time on non-billable tasks. Things like quoting, accounts, research, reading emails and using Twitter. These are all essential tasks, but to run an efficient and profitable business, you need to know exactly how long you’re spending on them.

Why track non-billable time?

Maybe you’re actually spending too long doing the books, and you really need a bookkeeper? Maybe you’re spending a lot of time on Twitter, and you need to start measuring the return on that investment? Maybe reading and replying to emails as they come in is really inefficient. Perhaps you should set aside a solid hour per day, just for emails, and keep your email client closed for the rest of the day?

Whatever the case, if you’re not tracking your non-billable time, you can’t make any informed decisions. As the saying goes, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”

Tracking non-billable time is tricky

Tracking time for non-billable tasks sounds easy enough; it’s just like tracking project time, right? Well… not really. In practice, it’s actually a little tricky. The trouble is, you do these tasks on and off, all day long. They tend to feel small, they usually happen without warning, they strike at just about any time of the day, and there’s no telling how long they’re going to take.

All of these factors make non-billable time hard to track.

For example, you get an email from a colleague about a conference, and you jump right into reading and replying to it. Do you stop timing the job you’re on? Do you time how long you take on the email? It seems so trivial, when it’s likely to take only a few seconds. But we all know emails can take a lot longer than expected. And even if it takes only a minute, 30 emails later, you’ve lost half an hour!

Or a TweetDeck notification pops up, with a link to an interesting article. You click the link, scan the article, and decide it’s something your followers will be interested in. Twitter’s all about immediacy and adding value, so you immediately do an old-style retweet and add your 2-cents’ worth about the article. This whole activity might end up taking 10 minutes, but when do you decide to start tracking it? By the time you realise you’re going to spend a bit of time on it, you’ve already spent most of it.

Or you get a phone call from a big prospect. You want to impress, so you need to be 100% focussed on the call. The last thing you want is to be figuring out how to time the call in your time tracker.

You have to have a good system

The only way to effectively track these sorts of ad-hoc non-billable tasks is to ensure you have a system already prepared, and that it’s easy to use.

And I don’t just mean a good time tracker. Yes, a good time tracker is vital, but you need more than that. You also need a systematic approach to using that time tracker.

Structuring your projects properly

When that big prospect calls, you need to know exactly where your Quoting timer is, and that you can click it without even thinking. You need all your non-billable tasks already created in Yast, and they have to be structured clearly and logically.

Here’s how I approach my Yast Time Tracker setup…

Glenn's Yast time tracker setup

As you can see above, structuring your time tracker projects like this also gives you a great overview of total your hours. So after you’ve been timing your non-billable tasks for a month, you can easily and accurately see how long you’ve spent. How long on each task, and how long all up.

Single click timer start

This is one of my favourite Yast Time Tracker features: The ability to start a timer with just a single-click — even if another is already running.

Single-click project timer start

Go to Settings to enable this feature. Once enabled, you can simply click on the Play button next to any project, and its timer will start. If another timer is running, it will automatically stop.

Starting the Yast online project timer with a single click


I’ve been a freelancer for 9 years. In that time, I’ve spoken with a lot of people about time tracking and time tracker tools. Most have tried at least one time tracker, but never stuck with it. To me, the tracking of non-billable time seems to be one of the main reasons for this. There’s no denying, tracking non-billable time is tricky. But that’s just the nature of the beast. There’s plenty of tricky stuff in every job; you can’t just ignore it ‘coz it’s tricky! In any case, it gets easier. In fact, with Yast Time Tracker, and the right system of use, I’d say tracking non-billable time is a breeze!

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  • Jill says: 

    I have mad love for this app for exactly what you indicate. I would love a quick, optional ability to toss a note in that helps me identify these distracting pieces, that I could also use for other activities certainly.

  • Joakim Ditlev says:  (@jditlev)

    Great input. I believe managing your time efficiently as a freelancer is really tricky. You get interrupted all the time but sometimes it’s good to allow yourself a few distractions – for example if you need to get into the right mood when working on a complicated task.
    My question to you: Do you literally track everything with this setup? What if the phone rings, you need another cup of coffee… I mean: you can get to a point, where you spend too much time measuring, can’t you?

    • Glenn Murray says:  (@divinewrite)

      Hi Joakim. Yeah, it’s a fine line. Firstly, I don’t track ANY personal time. If it’s personal, I just stop all timers. E.g. If I have to mind the kids while my wife goes to the gym, that’s personal time, and I don’t run any timers.

      However, if I’m switching from a non-creative task (like book-keeping) to a creative task (like writing a script for a promotional video), and need to get myself into the right head-space, that’s a different kettle of fish. In that situation, I’d start the timer on the script, then go grab a coffee, have a stretch, take a quick dip in the pool, or whatever puts me in the right state. This is all part of the job, and all needs to be tracked as such.

      So, in short, yes I time it, but not as a separate item. I build it into the job.

      Does that answer your question?


    • Joakim Ditlev says:  (@jditlev)

      It does answer my Q, Glenn. Thanks for the input. Tracking time is more about habit than anything else, so better work on some good habits. :-)

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Yast has to be the easiest to use time tracker, period. Keep up the great work! Glenn Murray - Divine Write

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