Tips on Time Tracking & Management

Timesheets are apparently something that many people struggle with and despise. This confuses me because ever since my first desk job, I’ve been almost anal about how I log my time. Keeping track of this is necessary in the corporate world because the administration needs to know exactly how much of your time is going to certain projects so they know which client to bill. It’s also important as an artist or designer, because knowing how long a project will generally take you is crucial when scoping out a project with a potential client. You need to be able to estimate how much time you’ll need as accurately as possible. You can’t do this if you’ve never actually kept track of your time.

Time Tracking

Here’s an example of a standard set of notes from my work at HCB (with client codes of course redacted for privacy).

0915-0930 (0.25): HCB, project management time
0930-1015 (0.75): Client A, Project 1
1015-1045 (0.5): Client A, Project 2
1045-1115 (0.5): Client A, Project 3
1115-1215 (1): HCB meeting
1215-1300 (0.75): lunch
1300-1400 (1): HCB, Project 1
1400-1430 (0.5): Client A, Project 4
1430-1515 (0.75): HCB Culture Club Event
1515-1530 (0.25): HCB, Project 1
1530-1545 (0.25): Client A, Project 4
1545-1615 (0.5): HCB, Project 1
1615-1645 (0.5): HCB, Project 2
1645-1700 (0.25): HCB, Project 1
1700-1745 (0.75): Client A, Project 1
1745-1800 (0.25): HCB, Project 1

This looks like it’d take forever to do and would be difficult. But it’s actually very simple because it’s made line by line. When I start a project, I write down a start time (rounded to the nearest 15 minutes). Then, once I’ve completely that task and know I can move onto another project, I close out that one chunk and start a new line with the next 15 minute increment. There is some rounding up and down in the process, but it’s as accurate as it needs to be. There are other methods and even timers built into our timesheet program, but I haven’t tried that and I’d be worried about it being buggy. Here, I can reliably log my time.

This could seem completely unnecessary and over the top, but I find that having each detail can be helpful down the road. Most of the time, I don’t just write it “Client A, Project 1”; I usually also specify what task I’m doing like “160×600 banner flash dev.” This is great because down the road, if I need to know exactly how long it took me to develop a banner, I can reference this.

Tip: Be sure to back up your timesheets. Dropbox is my go-to.

Time Management

Time tracking is necessary when it comes to time management. You can’t manage an entity that you don’t know. By practicing your own methods of tracking, you can see patterns in the speed with which you complete certain tasks. You may learn that you are very quick at brainstorming and nailing down an idea, but slow in the execution. Or perhaps you’re very fast at concepting a banner animation, but slow to animate and develop. Knowing these details will help you scope out your work day. Here are a few tips for managing your time.

Take the time you need on average for a task and double it. This will help account for any bugs or unforeseen problems you may run into. It’s better to overestimate and deliver early than to underestimate and deliver late.

Give yourself breaks between long stretches of work. If you’re feeling stuck on a problem, rather than trying to push through it and solve it immediately, take a walk or grab a glass of water (or both!). Or, if you don’t feel like completely stepping away from the computer, sometimes moving from a task you’re stuck on to an easier one is a good way to take a breather from a problem. It helps two-fold because it gives your brain a much needed break while still allowing you to check off things on your “To Do” list.

Track everything, whether you went over or under your estimate. Estimates aren’t precise (obviously, or else they’d be called Accurates). Chances are you’re not going to use exactly the time you quoted the client. It’s important to still track these inaccuracies so that in the future, you can see what went wrong and how to fix it. It’ll better help you account for those outlier situations.

Get some sleep. I’m currently ignoring my own advice by staying up to write this post, but sleep is important to your work. It’s easier to stay on top of your game if you get enough sleep to energize yourself for the next day. Marathon runners ease up their training the week leading up to race day, rather than overtraining and then exhausting themselves before they even cross the start line. It’s important that you relax in preparation for work, too.

Do you have any tricks you use to manage your time on creative work? Let me know in the comments! In the meantime, I’ll be practicing that last tip. Good night!

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