I say it a lot, but I like things to be easy. That’s not to say I’m lazy (okay, maybe it says I’m a little bit lazy), but I think we can all do with getting on with the stuff that makes us feel on fire and alive and, importantly, earns us money. I think we waste a lot of time (especially online) and if we only realised how much, we might be able to figure out some tricks, or get some help, to focus on the stuff we love.
I’ve talked before about billable and non-billable time, i.e. what makes us money and what doesn’t. Here’s a little extract from one of my Challenge 500 workbooks, giving you some ideas on billable and non-billable tasks:
How you handle your non-billable tasks, from the perspective of what’s suitable to charge clients (probably not very much!), is entirely up to you. What’s not up for debate though, is that you need to track these tasks (next week I’ve got a follow-up post on using Toggl to do this, so keep your eyes peeled) and that you need to reduce the time you spend on them, if you can.
How do you reduce the time you spend on non-billable tasks?
First of all, I think that it’s useful to figure out your billable tasks. So you saw my list above, with ideas on the “usual” billable tasks, but you need to work out what billable tasks you have for your business. Just a reminder….
Billable tasks are tasks you can bill your client for.
Perhaps you detail these tasks in your client proposals, in which case, that’s great! You’ll have your list already. Bear in mind, it might change depending on the client, and depending on the services you offer. For translators, a list of tasks in a typical project might be:
Document preparation (in your chosen CAT tool, for example)
Queries to the client
Editing and/or proofreading
Items that wouldn’t generally be included might be:
Feedback or testimonial requesting
If you’re not 100% sure whether you should class the task as billable or non-billable, see if it passes the eyebrow test:
Would the client raise their eyebrow if they saw the item on their invoice?
For example, time on social media, unless you’re handling your client’s social media marketing campaigns, is generally non-billable. Invoicing the client at the end of the project….for me this is always a non-billable item – I just wouldn’t feel right charging the client for being charged.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the different sorts of admin you do, and to think of it as a drag – but that admin is necessary. And it’s not just admin for specific projects – there’s loads of other admin (or non-billable work) for your business. But we’re not here to debate those, I’d rather we do something about them. The point of this post is to introduce a few ways for you to track your time.
Today, we’re looking at two ways to track your billable and non-billable time.
You can go high-tech and use a tool like Toggl to do so (as I mentioned – blog post on this is coming up) or you can go low-tech and simple, and track it manually. You can do this on an Excel spreadsheet, or you can go really old-fashioned, and record everything on paper. Regardless of what you choose, the outcome is the same – you’ll end each day with a clearer picture of what you’ve been spending your time on.
Here’s the format I recommend if you’re a pencil-sharpening paper shuffler like myself and prefer to write everything down (buying new stationery specifically for the purpose is optional (and definitely non-billable, sorry)):
As you can see, it’s a super simple format, recording 4 things:
All you need to do is write in the time you commence a task, then input the task, the client (if applicable) and, just to give you some direction on the type of tasks you actually like working on, a column for you to record whether it makes you feel happy or sad. Note: This method works on the assumption that you move straight from one task on to another – if you don’t, you can always add in a note of when you finished each task.
As you go along, or at the end of the day, go through your sheet and circle the items that can be classed as billable work. This will give you an idea of how much of your time you’re actually earning money.
Next level non-billable
My second option for you to track your non-billable time is to fire up Microsoft Excel and use a spreadsheet to do the hard work for you. What we’re recording is pretty similar to the old-fashioned method we looked at up-post, but with a few more formulas and variables thrown in. In my easy peasy time tracker, we input the following:
The formulas behind the spreadsheet then calculate your billable and non-billlable hours, both in total values for the day, and as a percentage of your day. Simple! Here’s what it looks like:
I am by no means an Excel genius, so believe me when I tell you that this spreadsheet makes it easy peasy to track your billable and non-billable hours.
If your Excel skills are also….exceedingly sketchy, you can download my tracker by popping your details in the boxes below. Don’t feel guilty at all that I poured hours into figuring out the formulas for you, and definitely ignore the blood, sweat and tear stains on some of the cells….
(Make sure you check out the How To Use tab for the step-by-step guide on how to use the tracker.)
The simple act of tracking what I’m doing makes a massive difference to my business life. Perhaps it’s knowing that I have to track what I’m doing that makes me hesitate to check Facebook for the fourth time since breakfast. After all….
What gets measured gets managed.
Other tricks of my trade
I do have a couple of other tricks up my sleeve for keeping me on the straight and narrow during the working day, and they come in the form of Chrome extensions. One of my greatest strengths (but probably my worst habit) is my ability to multitask.
I can have several tasks on the go at the same time, and can be thinking, doing and talking (fast) all at once. This applies to my online activities as well, and results in me having around 8.8 billion tabs open at any one time (conservative estimate.) Naturally, this slows my system down and makes it impossible to find the tabs that I do need. I also sometimes (hey, I’m human too) forget whatever it was I opened the tab up for…..
So what’s the solution?
Drumroll please…..xTab. This handy Chrome extension allows you to limit the number of tabs you have open at any one time in Chrome. Once you reach that limit (I set it to 10) then the extension starts to close them. Here’s the explanation from the Chrome Web Store:
“You can set a tab limit to any number and choose which tab should be removed when you hit that limit:
– Least recently used
– Least accessed
You can also prevent the browser from opening new tabs once the limit has been reached.”
The second weapon in my arsenal for battling the non-billable bulge is another Chrome extension. This one is called StayFocusd and it limits the time I spend on certain websites. All you do is download the extension from the Chrome Web Store and then customise it with your settings (otherwise known as your online kryptonite.)
Lose hours on Twitter every morning? Add it to StayFocusd.
Spend your whole coffee break (and beyond) looking at YouTube clips? Add that too.
Add your most-visited sites to the list of blocked sites and then set a daily maximum that you can spend on each of them (I do 10 minutes). Once you hit your allotted time limit, the site closes down and you can’t get back in again. Pretty harsh, but pretty effective too.
Toggl and Templates
My next two blog posts are going to carry on the theme of reducing our time spent on non-billable tasks. We’ll be looking at Toggl, which is my favourite time tracking tool (and a tad more sophisticated than my easy peasy time tracker) and I’ll take you through its most useful functions….and there are a lot, believe me!
After that we’ll be looking at how you can use templates in your business to cut down on admin tasks – from how to set up email templates, to templates for client-facing conversations and documents….they all help you streamline and concentrate on the billable, enjoyable stuff you really want to do.
If you think my easy peasy time tracker might help you out, I’m more than happy to share it with you – just pop your email in the box below and it’ll arrive in your inbox straight away (remember to check out the How To Use tab before you dive in.)
How do you feel about non-billable work? Do you track it? I’d love to hear in the comments.