Creatives have a propensity to procrastinate; it seems to be part of the DNA of those working in the creative sector. Give us a deadline, and we'll go for a run, walk the dog, binge watch a box set or spend hours on social media. Then at the last minute, we'll pull an all-nighter to hit the deadline.
I was talking with someone this week who told me how many hours they worked and yet it seemed to not translate into the amount of work they expected from their efforts or indeed the income. So how does this happen and even more importantly, how do we fix it?
Until recently, this was my story. I would go to the studio sometimes at 6 am and work until 9 pm and then wonder what I had done with my day.
Over the last year, I've been getting in shape and changing my lifestyle. During this time, I've lost around 50lbs and gone from not being able to get up the stairs without having to catch my breath to regularly running 5K. Last weekend I completed my first Park Run and although I'm no Mo Farah, my time was respectable enough for a 53-year-old. As people have seen the transformation taking place, there is a question I'm asked continuously, "what one thing did I do?"
My answer is simple, and it isn't one thing but a million smart decisions.
The problem with losing weight and getting in shape is we see 50lbs as an impossible task. Furthermore, if you asked me to recall every meal choice and exercise I have done to shift the pounds over the year, I wouldn't stand a chance. What about this week? Nope, I've got nothing. Today? If I think hard, I might be able to tell you what I've eaten and what exercise I've done.
The problem is that many of us who charge by the day or the hour try and do the same thing, we get to the end of the day and can't recall what we've done. A week into the month and it's even worse, at the end of the month, and we come to bill clients and the chance of us getting the numbers right is unlikely.
So I started to track every single minute of my working day, I use software to do it, with every task linked to a client and a project, so if any of them ask me what time I've spent on their work, I can produce a report in an instant. It's part of Freshbooks, the accounting software, but you don't need software, let me explain how.
Imagine you charge £350 a day, I'm using this amount to make the sums easy, but you'll get the point. Now split the day into 7 hours, 1 for lunch (haha), but stay with me for this example. Now on a sheet of paper, a spreadsheet, or a document make a grid of three columns, first one is the day split into hours, then a space to enter text and then the final column the sum £50, that's 350/7. You should end up with a grid of 3 columns and 7 rows, columns named hours, second notes, and the third your rate next to each row. Alternatively you can leave to blank and write in the amount you earn depending on if you did any billable work. Software breaks it down into minutes.
As you go through the day take a moment to write into each slot what you did and who you did it for. If it's not client work, then write that down too, this exercise is not just about billing but checking on how you spend your day. Now you have a record of the work you are doing and just as important when you are wasting time. If every slot of that document is worth £50 then if you spend an hour a day on social media or in forums, that's £250 a week of chargeable time, or to put it another way £12,000 a year.
Now I know what some of you are thinking, the work wasn't there anyway so it wasn't time you could have made money from anyway.
It’s a fair point but here's what happens when you start tracking your time in small chunks, you start finding ways to make money from that time and conversely avoiding the things that stop you from making money. Using this simple method my productivity has gone through the roof, and I'm less likely to put things off and waste time.
Secondly, you will start to see which work you make money on and which stuff you don’t. Over time it means budgeting for client work and the tasks associated with them takes moments, it’s accurate and means you no longer need have to guess and often then lose money on a job.
There’s nothing new about this idea so I’m not going to be silly and call it a hack. Lawyers do it all the time and this is perhaps why lawyers are less likely to be broke, they make a note of every minute worked and every cost associated with the job.
If you don't believe me, then try it, if nothing else you'll see how much of your day you waste instead of trying to grow your business. Take a moment now and try and recall your last week working in the studio, can you account for each day, hour or minute? If not, then it's about time you put this simple system in place; otherwise, you'll lose more money than I lost weight and that's not good for your wealth.
Here are some resources which have either been used by the author who wrote this article or have been suggested by members of our community. You may find them useful.
For further reading the author recommends Atomic Habits by James Clear