Time management starts with understanding how you currently spend your time. Often, when someone makes the effort to do so, effective time management becomes a very easy thing to achieve.
Making the Assessment
The first thing that one needs to do if they want to better manage their time is to see where their time is currently being spent. This applies to freelancers as much as it applies to people working within very organized structures. It’s harder than many might think to accurately measure how time is being spent.
For instance, saying that 8 hours were spent on a project really doesn’t reveal much. It doesn’t reveal which parts of the project were taking up time and which were not. This can lead to situations where people underestimate or overestimate the amount of time that any given project will take. That can lead to everything from not getting paid fairly to simple stress.
To make an accurate assessment, there needs to be a meaningful degree of granularity in how time spent on a project is measured. As is commonly pointed out in business literature related to improving performance, what cannot be measured cannot be improved upon. If time spent on a project can be measured accurately, then it can be improved upon in terms of how it is spent and how it is managed.
Software solutions provide an easy way to do this. They allow users to start a clock at the same time that they start a project and to stop it when they finish. They can even subdivide this so that the project can be divided up further and the time spent on it better understood.
Consider a tech writer working on a freelance job. While completing a 50-page manual for a project may take a few days, that measurement of time is really not enough to make an accurate bid on a project that is bigger or smaller. To understand how the time is invested, the writing process has to be subdivided, which allows for a more accurate assessment of how much will be involved in the project. For example, some of the tasks involved in the overall project may include:
- Researching the product
- Getting images
- Writing the copy
- Editing the copy
- Formatting the manual
Knowing this allows the writer to make more accurate bids based on collecting more information about their former projects. For example, they may find that adding 50 pages to that 50-page manual means that they’ll be looking at 50% more time writing, but only 10% more time formatting the manual when it’s done. This can help them to make better bids, reducing the stress that comes with going over budget.
The more granular the understanding of time spent is, the easier it is to plan for the future. This can make work a lot smoother and less stressful.
For people within structures and who freelance, getting time off is a priority or, at least, it should be. Workers who do not get enough time to relax find themselves stressed out, less productive and less healthy. This doesn’t have to happen if they can manage their time more effectively.
For someone in a structure, having an accurate estimate of how long a project will take may allow them to more easily schedule a vacation. For a freelancer, it may make it readily apparent that they’ll have to work a weekend, which means that they can plan on giving themselves a break afterward rather than making plans for the weekend because of having underestimated the time a project would take.
Staying on schedule helps to reduce stress. Part of one’s schedule has to be taking a break from work. When that can be scheduled in a way that is based on solid information about work, it means that it’s less likely to be interrupted and that it’s easier to get away and recharge.
Many bidding processes are closed. This means that, particularly for people just starting out, they don’t know how much they should bid on a job.
By keeping track of time spent on projects, even if they’re not billable ones, it’s easy to come up with a realistic figure for a bid. This helps to reduce the stress that comes with trial and error bidding and, of course, it helps to prevent a freelancer from charging too much to be competitive or from paying themselves far less than they should.
Working it In
In order to harness these benefits, the time management tools have to be integrated into one’s workday. Time tracking has to be done accurately. This can be accomplished by laying out as much of the project as possible beforehand into tasks and tracking each task separately. Having the system set up right from the start helps to ensure that it gets used.
After the system is set up, it should just be a matter of doing the work and the user shouldn’t have to think much about the time tracking software. It should take care of tracking time, keeping records and so forth on its own. Reports should be easy to generate.
This makes it very easy to work the time tracking system into one’s workday. It also makes it easy to take a look at the results when a task is finished, and that information can be very helpful. Sometimes, it will turn out that something that seemed like it took forever really didn’t amount to much at all, and will eliminate stress in doing so. In other cases, it may reveal that a project was particularly difficult because all of the tasks related to one part of it were inordinately time consuming. Remember that when putting out bids on similar work
Good time tracking provides a means to good time management and that, in turn, makes it easier to organize one’s life. This leaves time to enjoy it, as that time away from work can be scheduled in with the confidence that it’s being done realistically.