When you’re just starting out, the temptation may be to think about expenses only in terms of money spent. Dollars can be measured in a spreadsheet in clear terms and, as an entrepreneur, you know you’re prepared to work long hours to get things going. In comparison, your time doesn’t seem like the same kind of tangible, valuable resource that your money does.
The truth is, one of the most valuable resources any entrepreneur has is time. No matter how hard you’re willing to work, you’ll inevitably hit the limits of the amount of energy and the number of hours you have in a day.
In order to make the most of the hours you give to your business, you need to understand how you’re using them. If you haven’t been tracking the time you spend on your business so far, there are some important reasons to consider starting.
1. Tracking your time makes you more thoughtful about how you work each day.
Entrepreneurs have a lot of different types of work you need to tackle in an average day or week. Those tasks are not all of equal importance. Checking your email three times an hour isn’t as important as the time you spend working on your your product, marketing your business, or improving your website.
By tracking your time, you’ll start to recognize any tasks that aren’t worth the amount of time and energy you give to them.
2. Bring a better structure to your day.
Most people have periods in the day when they’re more productive, and others when their energy drops. When you track your time, you’ll start to notice the patterns in how you work. If your time tracking shows you that get the most done in the morning, then you know to start scheduling your most important or difficult tasks during that time window.
Understanding your own productivity and energy trends gives you the insights you need to structure your days more efficiently. It may be a cliché, but “work smarter, not harder” is advice any entrepreneur should be happy to take.
3. Eliminate activities that waste time.
While social media marketing can be an important tool in the marketing toolkit for small businesses, if you’re finding yourself spending hours scrolling on Twitter each day, then you’re probably spending too much time on something that brings a limited return.
Time tracking gives you information you can analyze to determine if you’re spending too much time on tasks that aren’t directly paying off, so you can decide if you should cut them out completely or find someone else to do them for you – which brings us to our next reason.
4. Figure out what jobs you’d be better off hiring out.
As an entrepreneur, you shouldn’t be holding yourself to the unrealistic standard of doing everything yourself. Your time is valuable and you should hire people to take on some of the work you’re not best suited for yourself.
Time tracking gives you a snapshot of which things you’re good at completing yourself, and which tasks you’d be better off handing over to someone with specialized skills who can perform them better and more efficiently than you do.
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5. Train yourself to focus on one task at a time.
We’re a nation of multitaskers. The internet has made focusing on one thing at a time increasingly difficult. Be honest with yourself, how often do you switch between tabs or check your email in the middle of working on something else? Multitasking can make us feel like we’re doing more work, but it means we’re not actually getting as much done.
When you track your time, you want to be accurate. That means there’s mental pressure to pay attention to the specific task you’re timing. It’s not foolproof, but it’s a nice little psychological trick to put pressure on your brain to stay focused on one thing at a time.
6. Determine how much you’re making per hour.
Even though you’re not billing hourly, you should know how much you’re making relative to how much you’re putting into your business. The reasons to love entrepreneurship aren’t all about making money, but you do still need to make a living from your business for the work you do to be worth it. Breaking down what you’re making in hourly terms helps you see if the work you’re putting into the business is paying off.
Figure out your goal for what you’d like to be making per hour and track how close you are to reaching it. Early on in building a business, you probably won’t be close to that number, but you want to be able to track over time whether or not your business is gaining enough success to put you within reach of your goal.
7. Identify ways to become more efficient.
One thing tracking your time does is make you very aware of your own productivity (or lack thereof). There are a lot of different techniques entrepreneurs can try to increase productivity, from the Pomodoro Technique to Inbox Zero. Tracking your time gives you a way to see for sure if the different productivity hacks you try out actually work for you.
5 Free Tools That Make it Easy to Track Your Time
If you’re convinced and ready to start tracking your time, you’ve got a wealth of free tools to choose from. Here are some of the best options out there.
Toggl is basic and effective. You identify what you’re doing, click to start the timer, then click to stop when you’re done. You can use tags and categories to further organize your record of where your time’s going. And for one person, it’s entirely free.
ATracker is an app you can use on the iPhone or iPad so you can easily take it anywhere with you. As with Toggl, you simply tell the app what you’re doing and click to start and end the timer as you go. The app produces charts that provide a clear, visual look at how much of your day you’re spending on each thing you do.
Timely works on a number of different device types and can sync automatically to many of the other online tools you use. By integrating with a number of other resources, it automates some of your time tracking. For example, you can tell the app to count an hour long meeting on your calendar, rather than having to track it as you go.
It’s free for up to five projects, so for many entrepreneurs the free version will suffice.
TopTrackr is an app designed with freelancers top of mind. It works on just about any device and produces detailed productivity reports that show you a clear snapshot of where you’re spending your time. It also automatically notes when you’re idle based on a lack of clicks or typing so you don’t actually leave the time tracker running while you’re away.
TimePanther is another a free option that lets you track your time and organize your records based on project and task. Like the other tools, it provides visual reports that show you clearly how much of your time you’re spending on various tasks.
All of these tools make time tracking easy, so there’s really no excuse not to get started. It’s painless to do and can provide you with significant insights into your productivity and ways you can become more efficient. You’ve likely been tracking your financial expenses carefully; time to extend that careful analysis to the equally valuable resource of time as well.
Kristen Hicks is an Austin-based freelance content writer and lifelong learner with an ongoing curiosity to learn new things. She uses that curiosity, combined with her experience as a freelance business owner, to write about subjects valuable to small business owners on the HostGator blog. You can find her on Twitter at @atxcopywriter.