Episode #97: 5 Reasons Designers Should Track Time

Designer with timer.

Do you think tracking time on a project is tedious, will distract you or and make you race against the clock? Not so! Find out 5 reasons designers should track time and how it can actually help your creative business and save you time.


Show Notes


I know you might be surprised to hear this, since I preach all the time about charging flat rates for creative work. So why would you want to track time?

I’m not suggesting you charge hourly for that work. I’m just saying there are very good reasons you should track your time no matter how you charge.

I know you might be thinking that tracking your time is too tedious or distracting or—I know—uncreative! Maybe you’ll feel like you have to race against the clock.

But it’s so easy to do, and it will help you in more ways than you might think. You’ve got to hear me out. Let’s jump into five reasons designers should track their time.

1. Worth Your Time

Tracking time on a project helps you assess whether or not future projects are even worth your time. If a prospect or client has a certain expectation of cost or budget in mind, and you know from past experience that’s completely off base, you will be able to let them know what to expect or just say no.

The number of hours alone, of course, does not take into consideration any overhead expenses or the value of the work.

If it’s not worth your time at a minimum, why bother? It won’t be profitable.

2. Profitability

Speaking of profitability, tracking time will also help you understand whether or not your work is profitable. After a project is finished, you can look back to see how much time you spent.

Ask yourself if it was worth what you got paid. Did you spend much more time on that project than you had estimated? Did you suck up any of that time due to a learning curve, inexperience or not wanting to ask the client for more money?

On the other hand, maybe you didn’t spend as much time as you had expected, and the project was very profitable.

A lot of designers get star struck by projects with big budgets but don’t necessarily understand how much work is really involved in that particular project. Even if someone comes to you with a $10,000 budget, it doesn’t mean that the work is going to be profitable.

3. Future Estimates

That leads me to future estimates.

If you know how much time you spent on a project in the past and that that project wasn’t profitable, you’ll know you need to charge more and account for more time.

On the other hand, maybe you didn’t spend as much time as you had expected, and you should have charged more—whether that’s a flat rate or charging more per hour.

You should have some idea how long a project with a certain scope will take you, even if you’re charging a flat rate. If you guess or pull a number out of your head, that project may very well end up being unprofitable.

If you’ve logged your time on past work, you can use that as a baseline to help you price future similar jobs. Then you have an objective, real-world basis to refer to. You’ll save hours doing estimates.

4. Efficiency

Tracking time on projects will allow you to see if you’re becoming more efficient with similar types of work. A project of a certain scope that used to take you 8 hours to do might only take you half that since enhancing your skill level. That doesn’t mean charge less though, so don’t make that mistake.

5. Invoicing

Tracking time makes invoicing so much easier. If you have to guess, it may not be accurate. You may account for too little of your time.

If you have to add up numbers you’ve written down on paper or elsewhere, you have to spend time adding them up.

Many timers and project management systems will do all the work for you, then it’s just a matter of creating and sending an invoice.

How to Track Your Time on Projects

If you need a time tracker, there are some that are stand alone and some that are part of a project management app:

Some of them include a slew of other features such as for estimating and invoicing.

We were just talking about tracking time in my Design Domination group, where several Design Dominators weighed in.

Stephanie Hudson of Sweet Tea suggested Rescue Time. It keeps track of your time for you without having to click.

Jade Bechara of Brown Sugar Solutions suggests Grindstone.

Paul Stoute of Stoute Web Solutions uses Tiny Timer on his Mac if he’s not using a project management tool.

Jared Ledbetter of Carbon Digital likes ClickUp. He says he tracks “every second, no matter what” and that it helps him for some billing, but mostly for analysis of time spent on tasks.

If you’re already tracking your time, let me know which one you use. Comment on the episode page, join the Design Domination Facebook group or send me an email.

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