While doing a completely remote internship in 2019, I was first introduced to the idea of tracking my working time by my employer. At first, the idea of seeing how I spent every second of my work day was a bit... intimidating, as you can imagine. Now, two and a half years later, I'm officially a seasoned time tracker, and you can even call me obsessed!
2021 was the second full year of meticulous time tracking, and I wanted to spend some time at the beginning of 2022 looking back at how I spent my time last year, comparing it to the year before, and thinking about how I want to spend my time in the year ahead.
Time tracking for consultants and freelancers
In my line of business —working with diversified people, organisations, and teams on a wide variety of tasks—it's extremely useful for me to have an overview of how much time I spend on various tasks and for which clients.
In the last two years of consulting and freelancing, it's happened only twice that a client wanted timesheets for the hours I spent on the project, and it was very useful to have a system already in place for providing this. However, most of the consultancies I have worked on were output-based, meaning that I didn't need to submit my hours. However, still tracking my time on those projects was extremely valuable for me to have a better understanding of my workflow and to be able to make better estimates for other consultancies.
Especially for those who are new to consulting and freelancing, time tracking can really give you insights into your work pace and show your strengths and weaknesses in a visual way, backed by real data.
How and what do I track?
I use Clockify to track my time. There are a lot of different time tracking tools, but the free version of Clockify has worked just perfectly for me. I use the website Clockify.me/tracker in my browser as well as their Chrome extension, and I also have the app on my phone.
For me, the most important features of a good time tracking app are:
Ease of use: it doesn't take me more than 5 extra seconds to start/stop a new task in the timer. Make sure that you're not wasting your time adding too many extra steps!
The ability to add tags/categorise: I use the tag function on Clockify to categorise the type of work I'm doing. Is it writing, graphic design, or an administrative task? I like to see how exactly I spend my time, so this is important to me.
Reporting: What's the point in tracking your time if you can't make sense of it later? A good time tracking tool should have a robust reporting feature, especially in their free version.
So, how did I spend my time in 2021?
Disclaimer: For the last 6 months of 2021, I worked on a part-time consultancy where the client had their own time tracking app I had to use. These results from my Clockify do not include those hours I tracked for that client.
Looking at all of my working hours in 2021, there is one type of task that I spent the most amount of time on, which is quite concerning for me: meetings.
(By the way, I group any meetings, calls, and even webinars I attend with the 'meeting' tag, but it doesn't include times that I was preparing or giving presentations in a meeting, which I track with the 'presentation' tag.)
Compared to 2020, last year I actually spent more time in meetings. In 2020, I spent 26.6% of my time in meetings, as compared with 29.2% in 2021! In 2022, I hope to really cut down on my time spent in meetings and calls, and instead try to spend my time actually doing the work!
My strategy for this is to avoid recurring meetings which assume that you have to meet every week/fortnight/month and instead only meet when it's necessary to discuss something. I also plan to be more detailed with sending agendas ahead of time before meetings, so that I can be very intentional with what we discuss and hopefully cut down one hour meetings to only 40 minutes! I also want to schedule one day per week where I don't have any meetings whatsoever, to allow for uninterrupted work time.
In 2020, I also spent more of my time on graphic design work (18.8%) compared to 2021 (only 10.6%). I really enjoy graphic design, and hope to do more of it in the coming year! This means that I can prioritise consultancies or freelance work which have a larger graphic design element rather than other types of tasks.
And as for which projects I worked on? There were a few surprises there: I spent more time than I expected on one consultancy which turned out to require a lot more work than I had originally suggested in the proposal. That was definitely stressful but a huge lesson learned last year. Now, I know how to better estimate my time on projects.
Something I'm quite proud of from last year is how much time I spent on personal and professional development. This includes anything from updating my website, attending webinars, taking online courses, and more. I can proudly say that I spent almost 10% of all my time working last year actually working on myself!
New Year's Work Resolution for 2022: work less?
Looking at how I spend my time shows me that I work a lot. A lot. Assuming that a full-time job is 40 hours per week, that adds up to 160 hours per month. While there were definitely some slower weeks and months in 2021, every month, I end up working more than than 160 hours over several consultancies and projects.
In 2022, I plan to slow things down a bit, focus on doing an amazing job in fewer roles rather than saying yes to more things, being super busy, and stressing a lot.
Over the next year, I want to focus more on the time I don't spend working, and make sure that those hours are just as fulfilling for me.