for creative entrepreneurs

Episode 96: The Mechanics of Time Reporting

Managing time is essential for creative entrepreneurs since our services are so often sold by time and materials. Becoming accurate in estimating projects, keeping projects on track and on budget, and balancing project time with non-billable overhead time are all necessary skills in this business. The only way to improve these skills is to build a data source to help you estimate based on real time, and that helps you keep a birds-eye view on project performance. But once you start building all this valuable data, how exactly do you use it? What categories and tasks are most important to track? And how can you use past projects to estimate future ones, especially since no two projects are exactly the same?

Time data is a golden resource for the creative entrepreneur. But having time data does you no good if you don’t go back and evaluate it. Creatives, however, are not typically inclined to data analytics. So if we have to become a report building gurus in order to manage our practices, we’re pretty much doomed from the start.

That’s why I recommend Harvert for time tracking. Not just because it makes recording time, on the front end, so easy, but because it’s reporting features are extremely flexible, and easy to use. I’m going to give you some tips for gleaning important information from Harvest time reports, but it would be much easier for me to show them to you. Which is why I’ve added a couple of free training videos to my website that walk you through setting up and running reports using Harvest. You can find them at

When you set up your time system it’s important to think through your standard project phases as well as your internal overhead categories. That’s because you need your time data both to help with estimates, but also to track how much time you’re spending on the business itself. So be sure to add unique tasks for categories such as admin, marketing, communications, new business, and time off. These project subtasks will help you dive more deeply into your time usage and so you can make better decisions as you grow your business.

For your project tasks you’ll want to break those down into phases. But since time tracking task lists are not typically nested, meaning you can’t break tasks down into sub tasks—you’ll want to use a numbering or naming system to group discrete project phases together. For example, if you have a main design phase you might want to have a few design tasks labeled: design:concepting, design:mockups, design:production or whatever suits your process. But always be sure to add a separate :communications subtask to every project phase. Communication takes up so much of our overall project time that you’ll want to keep a close eye on that for every project phase.

Using Harvest you can generate reports by four main categories: by client, by project, by task, and by team member. And of course you can filter any of those reports by time period. As you evaluate these reports and you want to dig deeper on a particular task’s time usage, or the time spent by a particular team member you can click on any details and see every time entry associated with that category or task.

One of the best reports in Harvest is the Project overview report. It shows all the time you’ve spent on a project to date, broken down by task, along with a timeline showing time to budget, so you can see if you’re projected to go over as you go.

Not only does Harvest track your overall project time, but each individual project task can be assigned a budget, and if you add that information it will show you a progress bar task-by-task revealing which tasks are still on budget and which are going over.

Harvest turns the valuable data in your time records into easily interpreted reports that will help you manage your projects and learn from this invaluable resource. And once again, if you’d like a more detailed introduction to using Harvest checkout those free training videos at

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

Are you ready to take the struggle out of finding new clients?