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. Mia says:

    That’s an interesting subject. Indeed, it’s kind of hard to see how much time you are spending on an issue, wen you do other things in parallel. I think that a good way would be to give an estimate from the beginning and try to stick to that.

    • Jeff says:

      I agree. It’s a case to case basis. Similar projects may take different spans of time to finish. Rough estimates are given often times.

  2. City Rocka says:

    The stopwatch seems likea cool tool, but is there one to actually lift you up, away from the computer to call it a day?
    City Rocka´s last blog post ..Brooke Shields – Ugliest Necklace in America???

  3. I’ve just started up a small business (we have 4 employees at the moment) and after working at home for 4 years I am now slotting into a new office. Although there are 4 of us, I sometimes feel like I am a freelancer and feel the need to read blogs like this.
    I see timekeeping as a major issue from my time working at home and now still in the small business we have so thanks for this post and I’ll be watching for more in the future from you.

    Thank you!

  4. I tend to be old fashioned too on time keeping. I use the simple stop watch on my phone and then take screenshots just in case a client needs proof as to how long I have been working on a project. Works every time!
    Website Consulting´s last blog post ..Blog Optimization That Works!

  5. Matt says:

    I personally just like to block out two hour chunks of time that I devote to nothing but completing my projects. That always seems to work for me.
    Matt´s last blog post ..Best Bluetooth Earbuds for the Gym

  6. Addie says:

    This just made me realize that timkeeping is really essential when it comes to freelancing. Time is so precious and that we shld have schedule of our tasks, have some breaks and not all work all day long abd just focus on one thing…
    Addie´s last blog post ..dating tips for women

  7. Nelly Kayako says:

    I use Toggl, it helps to find a good balance between doing my personal stuff and doing my job.

  8. think that a great way would be to give an estimate from the beginning and try to stick to that

  9. clara says:

    i really enjoy free lancing.. i’m a student write now as a free lancer article writer, i am able to earn money with it..
    clara´s last blog post ..angry birds game

  10. Nonoy says:

    I used promodoro focus booster whenever I did my tasks. Perhaps I may consider the ones on your list. Thanks.:-)
    Nonoy´s last blog post ..Job Hiring in Cebu, Manila, and Davao

  11. You have some good tips to keep track of your time. It pays to be organized if you do freelance work.

  12. I used to just write the time down but that got to be problematic as I would forget to write down the time I started after a break and try to guess at it. Then I started recording the time on a spreadsheet and for some reason I did better at that. I guess it was because I do all my graphic work on the computer so every time I sat down at my desk, the time sheet was there in my task bar waiting to be filled. I wish Adobe software had a timer function on it. As many freelancers use that software I’m sure it would be appreciated.

  13. Danielz says:

    This post really took my interest. It’s because I am really having trouble in keeping track of my time to accomplish something. I honestly hate deadlines too. I’m a lazy person too, but I can always come up with a good outcome. But still, I don’t know where to start.

    thanks to this post, I realized something and learned alot!
    Danielz´s last blog post ..online angry birds

  14. Wong says:

    It will really benefit the person in the long run if he will observe proper time track. This will give consciousness of not to waste time and be more productive at a give time frame
    Wong´s last blog post ..How to be creative in making your flash game: Be a game artist.

  15. I just love my job as a freelancer! It allows me to spend more time with my family. What I usually do is finish my tasks on weekdays so I’m totally free on weekends.
    moshi monsters sign in´s last blog post ..Moshi Monsters Sign In Hit 50 Millions!

  16. Peter says:

    That is a really interesting subject. For me it is really hard to to see how much time i really spend on an object because from time to time i need a minute to center my thougts to obviate that i mix projects or parts of a project. I think i will try a stopwatch maybe i will do good work for me.

  17. The Stowatch ideea is awesome…i might get one…

    untill now i was writing on a piece of paper…or post-its…they were kinda usefull in times like this…

    have a nice day!

  18. Claire says:

    As a freelancer, there are projects that takes a long time to finish and there are some contracts done in a short period of time. I tell you, there are companies that provides time tracker to their employees especially those who are on hourly basis.
    Claire´s last blog post ..online games

  19. romenix says:

    My son who comes home from school is my stop watch. It means I have to stop on the computer and prepare snacks and attends to our supper later in the evening.
    romenix´s last blog post ..TIPS IN SAVING MONEY

  20. I know someone who do freelance writing. She’s really efficient and really good at her craft – on time and always meets the deadline. She definitely must have keeping track of her working time.
    Melly Lifshitz´s last blog post ..Melly “Menachem” Lifshitz Loves the 2010 Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc

  21. Spelmaskiner says:

    When I sit down to work I try not to get up until its finished, but i also will set my alarm to go off at a certain time and that’s when ill take a break or switch projects, this way i know exactly how much time I spend working on something

  22. I tend to just look at my watch. That’s gloriously low tech…

  23. Karolle says:

    Very good idea, 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 ask, Thanks for sharing your knowledge here.
    Karolle´s last blog post ..android angry birds

  24. Isela Espana says:

    A great article on time keeping!! love your view! I keep a schedule to make my work flow.

  25. I’ve just started up a small business (we have 4 employees at the moment) and after working at home for 4 years I am now slotting into a new office. Although there are 4 of us, I sometimes feel like I am a freelancer and feel the need to read blogs like this.
    I see timekeeping as a major issue from my time working at home and now still in the small business we have so thanks for this post and I’ll be watching for more in the future from you.

    Thank you!

  26. Heather says:

    stop watch i can use that in doing tracks i guess.thanks for the tips
    Heather´s last blog post ..best free dating sites

  27. I usually keep track of my time by writing it down on a piece of paper or just know at what time I started and at what time I ended without breaks.

  28. I highly recommend Personal Timeclock from KMR consulting. It’s about $20 for a one-user license, includes a powerful reporter and is incredibly easy to use.

  29. Usually make a chart or schedule estimating how much time each job is expected to take, and trying hard to follow it as much as possible.

  30. Enjoyed the post, but I must confess, if I really tracked my time, I would probably end up being depressed. I spend so much time on my compositions, that my hourly rate would probably be below minimum wage – and that’s without including breaks for doing the dishes!

    American Composer Ralph Kendrick

  31. Edmund says:

    Technology and products like Ipone,Ipad and Blackberry make it easier to management time while traveling.
    Edmund´s last blog post ..Miami Airport Hotels | International Travel Destination of Choice

  32. I have to agree with Andy when it comes to timekeeping you can’t beat an old fashioned watch. The gadget is cool but i’ll stick to the convential way.

  33. Ted says:

    I don’t like to use timers because when I am working I tend to get into a zone. I start cranking out work like crazy. The last thing I want is for something to interrupt me.

    Now, if you have a suggestion for some kind of interruption to get me into the zone when I am not, then you really have my attention.
    Ted´s last blog post ..Do You Realize How Much Power You Have As A Blogger?

  34. Rapiddash says:

    Time is something that I have a lot of trouble with. I procrastinate a lot and have poor time management skills. This has had a really negative impact on my growth as writer and as a business owner. Sometimes I write 5 articles a day but then the days after I feel like I run out of ideas and start procrastinating for a few days. Which leads to less money in the end. I have tried a few methods to overcome this writing lazyness but still end up wasting a lot of time. The funny thing is that I do like writing and I love to meet like minded people. Success stories from people working from home motivate me a lot. Just can’t find a way to overcome the lazyness.
    Rapiddash´s last blog post ..Investing Portfolios: The Importance of Portfolio Diversification

  35. I tried few tools and then stopped on a Tick, really very fast and simple and perfect for effective time tracking.

  36. Shell says:

    I’m an Executive Virtual Assistant and I use getklok to help me track my time and easily compute billable hours. It allows me to see how I spend my time in calendar format. It has drag-and-drop functionality and analytics that graph out how I’ve been spending my time.
    Shell´s last blog post ..Define Your Ideal Virtual Assistant Client

  37. I found that one of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to understand the difference between urgent and important and to decide which tasks fall into which category. This also helps you to prioritise.

  38. Shane says:

    I plan out each day in an Excel spreadsheet the day before, then I stick to the timetable as best I can. Of course as we all know as freelancers things can pop up during the day and plans can change, but I find this works pretty well.

  39. I make sure I block away time that I know will be used to do the freelancing work, but to only do a certain amount. And be honest with the client, don’t tell him or her that the project will be done in 2 days if realistically it will take 5 to do that kind of work. It will stress you out and anger them if you promise them that the work will be done in 2 days when in fact that time frame is not realistic for you.

  40. I personally use digital timestamps when working offsite; this has the benefit of being highly precise, although there’s the drawback that good faith must exist between you and whoever checks timecards that you actually are in when you’re in and out when you’re out.
    Austin @ Anchortex Corporation´s last blog post ..Setina Vehicle Partitions Help Keep Drivers Protected (September 23, 2011)

  41. Karen F. Miles says:

    This is a very good article especially when it comes to managing time as well. When you can estimate the time if youre on a task, the you will be more efficient in keeping your appointments on time, too.

    Karen F. Miles
    from healthy meal delivery Miami

  42. Great post. This is a fundamental difference from working as an employee to being a freelancer. You have to produce things as that what you pay for and not to be in an workplace. Because of that, managing time is of upmost importance.

  43. rupeshu says:

    Thanks for this post, though I am on a time tracker right now, but if ever I have another contract, this would be a great tool to use. It really pays to read post like this, you will gain so much information on new plug ins and applications.
    rupeshu´s last blog post ..second date kissing

  44. Hm…interesting idea to think about…I make my mobile phone alarm ring at the time I plan to stop working…and during work, I’m totally concetrated on what I work without any interuption. But I never work more than 2-3 hours in one block and sometimes I have very long breaks.

    All the best!

  45. Ghostwritten says:

    Great, simple trick to tackle one of the core issues of freelancing – how to motivate yourself and manage your time. Thanks!

  46. ashley says:

    This post is very interesting topic..I think that a good way would be to give an estimate from the beginning and try to stick to that.
    ashley´s last blog post ..grief counseling

  47. Matt says:

    I don’t mind how long it’ll take me as long as the quality of work I do is competitive but I make sure I meet deadlines.

  48. This is a genius idea. There’s so many times where I’ve underestimated projects and looking at the clock never really gives a true story as youre not always working consistently. Definitely something I’d be implementing next time. It’s something I need to take on properly in oz.

  49. Elda says:

    That’s an appealing subject. Indeed, it’s kind of hard to see the length of time you are shelling out for a problem, wen you do other activities in parallel. I believe that a great way would be to give a quote right away and try to stay with that.
    Elda´s last blog post ..How to Make Him Fall in Love With You

  50. van Taylson says:

    Time keeping is one area I do struggle with since starting my freelance career. Knowing exactly how long i spent on a project would result in better qutations on future projects