Tracking Time for Freelancers

As students of publishing, everyone who works at Ooligan is very busy. There are papers to write, portfolios to put together, sales kits to assemble, ebooks to craft, as well as the day-to-day operations of a trade publisher. On top of all that, many of us also have day jobs, which means our days are both full and fragmented. It isn’t surprising, then, that many Ooligan alumni go on to work as freelance editors or designers: the course prepares you to work independently doing any- and everything. Given that freelancing is the new norm, this focus on flexibility is probably a good thing. As future publishing professionals, whether working nine-to-five or freelance, we need to keep in mind certain best practices, and one of these is being aware of how “busy” we actually are.

After one year in the Ooligan course, I’m already starting to think of life after graduation; freelancing is definitely on my mind. To get a head start on the best practices of working life, and also as an experiment, I installed the free service RescueTime on my computer for the first two weeks of spring term. By tracking website and software usage, RescueTime provides an hour-by-hour breakdown of time worked and whether it was “productive” or not, based on user categories. I chose RescueTime for its simplicity, pleasant interface, and lack of annoying ads, but there are many other options available. There are some limitations, though: RescueTime’s free version doesn’t allow you to input time spent away from the screen in meetings, errands, or phone calls. With that in mind, during those two weeks I logged seventy-five hours on my personal computer, fifty of which were “productive”—that is, they were spent in work-related programs or websites, such as Photoshop, InDesign, Word, and Google Docs. Although the numbers were interesting, some of the other information was more useful and changed how I looked at my time. For example:

  • A recurring project I routinely procrastinated on because I felt it took more time than it was worth only required 90 minutes a week—far less than I had thought. After finding that out in the first week, I no longer put off the task.
  • I work in two- to three-hour bursts, then I get distracted. If I try to push through and stay productive, I just end up wasting time.
  • Wednesdays are my most productive day: another reason it’s the hump day.
  • I also tend to work more in the mornings, especially between six and ten. I get another burst of energy in the early evening between six and eight, but I might as well take a siesta for all the work I get done in the afternoon.

Those were some of the insights into how I personally spend my time; your mileage may vary. Although most of us don’t need to create invoices (yet), taking stock of how we spend our time can give us a better idea of whether we have the time-management chops to make a go of freelancing—and help us develop them if we need to do so.

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