Stop the clock

Ever wonder how much time it really takes you to write that blog post? Or update your Facebook. Or do that piece of client work?

I was talking to one of my former Baby Steps clients this week, Catherine Poole, who told me about a really simple tool she’s been using to help her productivity.

The Stopwatch.

No, not a timer (that’s great too) but a stopwatch. You see, a timer helps you measure how much you can get done in say an hour, but a stopwatch helps you to measure the time you are actually spending on a specific thing.

Catherine started using this initially for her client work, to time how long she was taking to do her transcription jobs. Every time she moved her focus onto something else, she would pause the stopwatch and only start it up again when her focus returned to the job at hand.

She found she was MUCH more focused. Being on the clock made her concentrate better and get into the zone quicker, and she discovered that she got more done than she thought she could.

It also gave her a truer picture of how long a piece of work actually took her. She might have taken all morning to get it done, but if she had paused it to deal with an incoming email or phone call, her stopwatch would tell her how much of that time she actually spent on the job itself.

Keeping track of these figures over several weeks, she could also start to work out how much of her week she was devoting to client work, how that translated into income, and where she needed to up the ante to stay on target or raise the game.

But it doesn’t stop with client work. You could also use a stopwatch to:

Time your distractions

Next time you tell yourself you’re just going to have 5 minutes on Facebook – set a stop watch and see how long you actually spend. It may only take 5 minutes to post your update, but if you start scrolling, clicking and exploring links, how long is that actually taking?

Test those two minute jobs

We all have things we perpetually underestimate. What are yours? For me it’s the bitty jobs. The things I think will only take two minutes (e.g. email file) but actually take anything from 5 minutes (connect to server, wait, find file, type email, press send) to 15 (oh wait, that’s the wrong format, fix that, change the date, add that other bit of information, save it to PDF, check it looks alright, now type the email and send it…) Next time you tackle your simple, mundane or bitty jobs, use a stopwatch and see what you discover.

Reveal the things you overplay

On the other hand, what are you putting off, telling yourself “that’s going to take ages”? How long would it actually take to do it – compared to how much time you’re spending worrying, procrastinating or avoiding it? Some jobs appear larger in our heads. Use a stopwatch to identify them and you might be pleasantly surprised!

Track how much time you spend in your business vs on your business

Do you have a tendency to put your client work first and let your own agenda – the stuff that no-one else is chasing you for – fall off the list? Log the time you spend on your own business – how much time are you devoting to this client?

Calculate your real hourly rate

Do you set your price based on how much time you think it will take to do the job? How accurate is that? And what about all the time you spend on all the other things that are essential to your business survival and growth – handling enquiries, communicating with clients, invoicing, accounts, training and development, marketing, business development, travel, networking, emails, meetings – who’s paying for that?

A word of warning

I’m not normally a fan of time logs and time sheets, because all too often it gets used as a tool to beat someone up and bully them into taking on more work (whether you have a boss or are your own boss). “Why are you ‘only’ spending 2 hours a day on client work?” “What do you do with all that time?” “You’ve obviously got spare capacity…”

The truth is, none of us can spend 100% of our time on direct fee-paying client work. Our job – and our ability to do the job well – extends much wider and our plans (and pricing) need to reflect that.

We also have a very limited amount of proactive attention – that time when we’re fully switched on, at our best, and doing our best work. The key is to protect and harness that attention for the work that requires you to be at your best, rather than try and stretch it thin or dilute it throughout the day.

So if you choose to use this tool, use it not to beat yourself up but to help you. Treat it as an experiment and see what insights you discover.

Declare your finish line

As I’m reading through this blog post, doing the final edits, it’s tempting to keep re-reading and keep tweaking. But I’m also noticing an itch to press stop on my stopwatch. My perfectionist tendency now has another urge to compete with. To declare this piece of work finished. To stop the clock and declare job done…

On that note, it’s over to you! Let me know what you think, what you decide to try and how you get on.

  • Catherine Poole

    It was lovely to chat to you last week, Grace, and great to read your resulting piece! It’s been a real eye opener using the stopwatch, and I would recommend it to anyone!

    • Thanks again for sharing Catherine! Lovely to chat to you too.

  • Bev Murrill

    Great idea… I’m going to use that, Grace. Thanks. Reposting to Bevmurrill.com

  • Eva Hill

    Interesting, two minds think alike that is what I have used with my clients too and it is mind boggling how helpful it is, great article Grace!

    • Isn’t it funny how some of the simplest things are the most helpful? Glad it works for you too!

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