Episode 28: Learning to Live with the Ticking Clock

In order to make the best use of our time we have to budget it, just as we do our money. But we can’t even begin to budget our time if we have no data to work from. That’s why it’s so important that we track all the time we spend working in our creative practices.

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In order to master the business side of creativity there are many disciplines we must cultivate. These include money disciplines, the disciplines of consistent marketing, and disciplines in monitoring our time. At a certain level, cultivating disciplines is a basic matter of just doing it, and holding ourselves accountable to keep doing it. But there’s a added buedern when it comes to the discipline of time-tracking—you see time pressures can have a negative impact on creativity, and so if we’re tracking all our time every day, we can inadvertently increase those pressures—and stymie our creative efforts.

And so in addition to accepting the necessary burden of tracking our time, we also have to adapt to the psychological impacts that come with a heightened awareness of our time usage. In episode six I explored some ways of coming to terms with these pressures. But in this episode I want to offer some practical tips that can minimize the impact that the intrusion of the practical mechanics of time tracking can have on our work days.

One practical thing you can do to minimize the distractions involved in the effort of tracking time is to find a system you’re comfortable with. I mentioned Harvest in my last episode, and I do recommend that platform for both its ease of use and its reporting features. I keep my Harvest account open in a separate window as I work so I can easily stop and start timers throughout the day.

But aside from the specific platform you decide to use, that practice, of using it throughout the day, is a very important part of effective and efficient time tracking. Not only does real time time tracking increase the accuracy of your time reports, but it’s also the most efficient way to keep up with your time. Even after just one day’s work, if you try to go back, at the end of that day, to account for your time, it will take longer trying to remember all that you did, and exactly how much time you spent than it would have to stop and start a timer throughout the day—as you move from one task to another. And if you wait even longer, and try to account for a whole week’s worth of time—I’d say don’t even bother, your reports will be so inaccurate that they’ll be next to useless.

Alternatively, you could jot down start and top times on a piece of scrap paper and then enter your time all at once at the end of the day, but even then you’re increasing your time through double notation.

As I mentioned last week, setting up a logical, and useful set of task categories can make time entry easier. You don’t want to have to exert much mental effort to figure out which categories to use each time you transition from task to task throughout the day.

One of the practices I use that helps me track time efficiently is to start a generic admin task each day and swap to that task whenever I’m transitioning from one task to another, or taking a quick break to check email. In fact, my generic task’s description for this use is “email.”

One other tip for managing your time tracking system is to make sure you pick one that makes it easy to edit your time entries. It’s inevitable that you’ll sometimes forget to toggle from one task to another, and so a system that makes editing your time entries simple is a big help.

So far I’ve spent 1:29 editing my scripts for the last three podcasts and writing this one. Now it’s time for me to change my timer from the marketing tasks measuring the time I spend writing these episodes, to a new task measuring the time it takes to record and edit them.

So until next week, don’t let the business of creativity overwhelm your creative business.