Freelance Timekeeping

vintage parking meter

So you’re a freelancer. Maybe you write for businesses. Maybe you’re a graphic designer. Whatever kind of freelance work you do, it’s essential that you keep track of your time. You need to know how long it takes you to finish a 3-panel brochure. Otherwise, the next time you quote your project, you may estimate incorrectly. You might also need to work on an hourly basis from time-to-time, so of course you’ll need to know exactly how much you should charge the client.

The wonderful thing about freelancing, from your client’s perspective, is that they pay you only for time on task. You’re not paid for phone breaks, laundry time, or the 20 minutes it took you to wash your dishes. If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.

Now, how fancy do you want to get? There are lots of cool tools you can use on your computer. Check out this list from Freelance Switch. Or you can use a stopwatch that allows you to stop it for breaks and restart it from the last time when you’re ready. You can download a stopwatch application for your smartphone also. Or you can just take note of the time on a piece of paper, and write down when you stop, and write down when you start again. Later, you just add up all the time.

After you’ve done timekeeping for several projects, you probably will need to have some system in place to keep a log of total time spent. This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records (in case anyone ever asks).

What methods for timekeeping do you use? Have you tried one method, only to realize it didn’t work? Share with us!

101 Responses to “Freelance Timekeeping”

  1. Kostas says:

    As they say time is money so it’s really important to know how much time it takes to finish a project and minimize interruptions…
    Kostas´s last blog post ..5 Things freelancers need to know

  2. I use freshbooks to keep up with the tasks and the amount of time I work on them. It is really easy to customize and generate invoices. The free version is good enough that i don’t even need to purchase the full version.

  3. Jonathan says:

    I do some freelance writing from time to time, and I love my iPhone stop watch. I used to use an old stopwatch on a lanyard, but it’s so much easier now.

    Jonathan
    Jonathan´s last blog post ..Most Men Are Shallow Pigs – Exploit This To Win Him Back

  4. This is a very interesting article! Never thought there would be cool tools to track time aside from using a watch. Thank! This will definitely go to my bookmark.

  5. I just find it better to get paid by the project and not by the time. if i work 5 min or 5 days 1 price. this also helps motivate me to get the job done properly and quickly, and i have never missed a deadline.

  6. Grace says:

    This is great for future projects of a similar nature that you want to price, and it’s also a good idea for your tax records in case anyone ever asks.
    Grace´s last blog post ..Photoshop Software

  7. lanzones56 says:

    If you work from home, these little interruptions can add up. Unless you’re able to work for uninterrupted blocks of time, you need a system to keep track of your time.
    lanzones56´s last blog post ..healthy diet

  8. Freelancing can really be a risk because of we cannot say definitely how many hours per particular project we can spent or probably how will our clients react to the end product or if we have to redoit. Thanks for your tips.
    diondri@Lewisburg houses for rent´s last blog post ..

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  9. The problem I find is managing my time efficiently. For example when I review a topic I tend to be easily side tracked and I find it difficult in getting back on track.
    I will be adopting your stopwatch idea!

  10. Hilywatson says:

    As in many cases it difficult to judge time as its depends on many factors which is out of our control.

    Thanks a lot for this.

  11. Niels says:

    For me, I neew to keep track on time in the same system as I manage my projects. I use FogBugz for this – and freakin lovin’ it.

  12. Alcide Barrieau says:

    Good advice

  13. I have observed that when you get a work from your personal client you should take a room or place to sit there and work because i dont feel that home is comfortable place to work. Home is a place to live not for work and you get mixed things when you start work from home and i have seen many that they could not establish themselved for lifetime who started their work sitting at home. Although you would have to pay extra in the starting but in the longer run, you get huge benefits.

  14. levati says:

    Very often I forgot about time at all :) but if it’s impossible or deadline comming – I use the simple sheduller program with alarm warning.

  15. Forget this all the time myself. Use FogBugz though, and its helps me alot. Can highly recommend it.

  16. You are absolutely right about keeping accurate time records, including so we know how much to charge and other good reasons.

  17. When I was taking inbound calls at home before, I used to use a timer software I got online. But now, I am contented looking at my computer clock widget. Well, works for me!

  18. Always have a plan for the whole day. Make a schedule of the tasks that needs to be done. A to-do list is important.

  19. Tracking the time being spent in a task can be very complicated. Me and my employer once tried being paid per task. It’s difficult because you spend time doing a task inconsistently. It depends on the speed of the internet and other factors you encounter along the way. For now, we’re relying on trust and honesty system. I just time myself and log it in a notepad. This is better since I don’t rush my work so I can do quality jobs too. I’m actually looking for an application or a program where I can monitor work hours, including breaks. Thanks for this.

  20. Bigd says:

    I work from home and paid hourly. Most of the time I have no problem keeping track just by using my watch but occasionally I end up guessing how many hours I have done. Will probably look into one of those timekeeping tools

  21. The telephone clock and alarm are useful tools to help, and also planning and organizing and designating the expected amount of time for each work project beforehand.

  22. This is a good point – when I write, sometimes I don’t see the hourly rate that I want because I did not quote a correct amount.

  23. I dont think someone can work freelance writing for a company when they are at home and disturbed by children. I have a small child and they need your every attention. Its not fair to the company that you are not giving your full attention to the task at hand.

  24. Rare Coins says:

    In addition to you being correct about the need for accurate timekeeping for billing and also general organizational purposes, it could also be helpful for many people in reducing wasted time.

  25. I find when I do freelancing that it is better to charge by the job. That way I don’t have to track hours, and if a hard drive failure doubles the time on a job, my clients don’t pay for something that is not their fault.

  26. I give counted time to my freelancing jobs and it is 8 hours a day. Although these hours are different from day to day. I don’t take up more than 2 projects at one time and this strategy make it possible to manage more and more clients. I like your idea of stop watch though.

  27. I always forget to write down a start time when I’m doing design work. I start when I get inspired, then I sit there trying to guess-timate when I’m done. I know I’m losing out in this situation. I need to get a bit more organized.

  28. Thanks for the blogroll and shoutout. You’re on my reading list as you provide great info and you blog regularly. Keep on bloggin’

  29. Frank Hannah says:

    Keeping on task is an eternal challenge for me. I can procrastinate like no other. Thanks for the tips.

  30. I have used a simple spread sheet with clients name and start and stop times. I will have to check out some of the linked tools you mentioned.

  31. This is interesting to see someone actually talk about time and time keeping… Especially timekeeping for Freelancers is a big tough challenge and if you fail to manage your clients with the work you may end up screwing up client.

    In my opinion the best is to say NO. unless you exactly know how you are going to manage time with clients and projects.

  32. I use Google Calendar to lay out daily tasks and use my phone as a timer. Seems to work out for me.

  33. Whenever I work on a project, I try to lock it on and focus on just that. Keeping time that way is most effective because you don’t have to deal with distraction time

  34. South Fl says:

    Very useful, I think this is really important for all of us who are on an hourly rate, especially when you are concentrating and lose track of time.

  35. I don’t think you are right when you say that freelancers are only paid for time on job. It can be true to an extent when you compare it to regular office jobs. But even on sites like oDesk and Elance, which are well established sites, you can sort of cheat the employer by opening the work window and having a cup of coffee or reading a book instead of doing the work.

  36. Hi Theda. I can relate to this post a lot. I’m a freelancer too and I know what it feels to be working on an hourly basis. Adjusting to the freelance life was hard because you have no choice but to impose self-discipline. But thanks to all this, I’ve become a more productive employee when in the online world.

  37. chetan says:

    dead line of my work is always in my mind. I make schedule for my work and sets lots of reminder in my cell according to timeline….

  38. It’s important that we’re aware of the tome we put into something. We wont be able to rewind everything. You have a good point there mate.

  39. Having a freelance job is great. We must bear in mind that even if it’s freelance, we must know the time we are wasting.

  40. Candles says:

    Organized people used their time wisely. It’s truth that being freelancer you are free but we must organize the things we do.

  41. Good advice, thanks! Where have you gone?? You have good advice on your website… You should keep it up!

  42. hi! I must admit I’m into freelance writing. I think the watch you see on your monitor will do as I’m paid by the hour. Besides, there are online sites that provide timer for checking time. thanks for sharing!

  43. Google calender has proved to be the best tool for me so far. You’ve raised some good points in your post though regarding time management. Thanks

  44. It’s more convenient using fressbooks for time keeping. I tried google calendar it’s a good one too.

  45. I work form home as a freelancer and I think that was the hardest and the most bautifull decision in my life. It ain’t easy, but it’s worth not to have a boss! :)

  46. Great ideas on timekeeping! I always have problems trying to keep an eye on the clock. Especially when I get up for a few minutes to do something else.

  47. The list was good and I’ve already tried 3 of them. The stopwatch made me laugh. Lol.

  48. Very often I forgot about time at all :) but if it’s impossible or deadline comming – I use the simple sheduller program with alarm warning.

  49. very well said very clear unbiased and transparent. i am looking for a job as a freelance writer and i really do not know how to or where to start. i’m sure with suggestions and tips like this, all those who wants to be an article writer on the internet will have a clear direction to follow. thank you and keep up the good work. regards!

  50. Shane Watson says:

    Always have a plan for the whole day. Make a schedule of the tasks that needs to be done. A to-do list is important.Thanks….