back to index

Time tracking: my most effective productivity tool when self-employed

3 min read | June 8th 2017

Timers can be powerful (image by Rachael Crowe via Unsplash)

After switching from a full-time job to being self-employed (i.e. freelancing and working on my own projects), I struggled to be as productive as I wanted to be. Tracking my work hours was the change that turned it around.

When I started the self-employed lifestyle, I thought I would have no trouble working 40 hours a week since I enjoy working and coding. And because of this mentality, I was initially satisfied with how much I was working. However, after a year of being self-employed, I realized that I had no sense of how I was spending my time, other than the hours I was billing as a freelancer. I set out to find a way to hold myself accountable, and decided to track my work hours.

I googled around for a timer to use, and settled on Toggl because it was free and easy to use. It initially was annoying to remember to clock-in, but I let myself add in hours after the fact, in case I forgot. Here's a graph of my weekly work hours in the first 6 months after I started tracking my time:

Toggl overview (Sept 2016 - Mar 2017)My weekly working hours over the first 6 months of time tracking

Lo and behold, I worked only 27 hours the first week I tracked my hours! I totally underestimated the ease of being distracted when there is no external pressure, and I'm glad I finally became aware of how I was using my time. After a few unproductive weeks due to traveling abroad and moving to New York, I made it a goal to hit around 40 hours each week. It's nice to see that I've reached a happy equilibrium of working 45 hours a week.

So far, Toggl has been sufficient for my time tracking needs. In addition to tracking the time I spend working, I thought it would be interesting to track what project I am working on and where I am working. I'm hoping in the future to do a more thorough analysis of my work habits using this data. Here's what my Toggl screen looks like:

Toggl daily June 7My daily Toggl screen, where I log the project, location, and time for each work session

I would highly recommend time tracking for anyone who feels unsure about how they spend their time. I could see it being useful outside of work as well, for tracking workouts or for learning a skill. In addition to the benefit of being aware of my time, I feel time tracking has led me to work more, because of the small satisfaction of starting the timer each time I start working. I hope this tactic helps you as much as it has helped me!