Episode 27: Managing Your Most Precious Resource – Your Time

We generally keep better tabs on our money then our minutes. But really it should be the other way around. Because while we might wish we had more money, it is possible that this wish could come true. But no matter how hard you wish for more than 60 minutes in an hour, or 24 hours in a day, it’ll never happen. Time is a constant, you can’t ever expand this resource. And when it’s gone, you never get it back.

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We generally keep better tabs on our money then our minutes. But really it should be the other way around. Because while we might wish we had more money, it is possible that this wish could come true. But no matter how hard you wish for more than 60 minutes in an hour, or 24 hours in a day, it’ll never happen. Time is a constant, you can’t ever expand this resource. And when it’s gone, you never get it back.

Since time is precious to all of us, and it is a fixed resource, we ought to be paying more attention to how we use out time, even than how we use our money. This goes double for creative entrepreneurs whose business model typically consists of selling time, in one form or another.

Since time is so precious and valuable, we ought to keep track of how we spend it. Fortunately, it’s much easier today to keep track of our time than it’s ever been. There are multitudes of time tracking tools which we can access from our computers and mobile devices. Some of these tools can track our time automatically.

My personal favorite time tracking app is Harvest. I find it’s interface easy to use, and what’s more, it’s reporting features are second to none. And when it comes down to it, it’s not tracking your time that matters the most, it’s evaluating and learning from your time that is the most valuable part of measuring your minutes.

And so in addition to making the commitment to tracking all your professional time, including things like administration, communications, marketing, business development, and professional development—as well as your billable production time—you need to think through how you’ll ultimately evaluate this time.

In fact, thinking from your evaluation intentions backwards will help you to set up meaningful categories in the first place. There’s a bit of an art to this. If you have too many time categories, it’ll make time entry confusing and convoluted. But if you have too few, the patterns and insights your reports will reveal will be limited. So start with some questions that you would like your time reports to answer for you, and then devise your categories to reveal those trends.

For example, ask yourself how your report will help you to estimate future projects more accurately. To do that, you’ll want to match project categories with the phases you’ll evaluate to establish estimates. Perhaps your process involves distinct research, concepting, production, and delivery phases. In this case you would want to structure your project time categories accordingly.

And here’s a strong recommendation. For each project, or perhaps even for each project phase, set up a distinct communications category to track all the time you spend on the phone, writing emails, or having meetings throughout each phase of your process. As I’ve analyzed time reports from hundreds of projects over the years, I’ve found that the communication category accounts for 20% or more of overall project time. And it happens in such small doses that we tend not to think about how all that time adds up over the course of a project. And so our estimates and budgets often fail to account for it, and then we wonder why we keep going over budget!

Tracking you time is a pain. Very few people enjoy keeping timesheets or starting and stopping timers. But becoming adept at recording and monitoring your time usage time will pay dividends. Next week I’ll share some tips on living with, and maintaining consistent, accurate, and complete time records.

Until then: don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.