Out of OfficeOut of Office Blog

Why Your Small Business Needs to Track its Time, and How to Do So

Claire Diaz-OrtizClaire Diaz-Ortiz

One of the best lessons I learned working in corporate America was that I was in control of my time. Not my boss, not my coworkers, not even the clock on the wall. Even when it didn’t seem that way, it was true.

The problem with that lesson?

It was all well and good while someone else was in charge. At that time in my life, I made it work. I knew the limits of what I could do, and knew that there was an army of people around me similarly tasked with other aspects of achieving our collective corporate mission. No matter how diligent I was with my work, I ultimately knew that the buck didn’t stop with me. When I was sick, or on vacation, or simply not moving the needle as I hoped, I knew there was someone else to come along and keep contributing to the larger mission. We were on a collective journey to success, and I wasn’t the one leading the charge.

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As an entrepreneur and small business owner, though, everything has changed. These days, the buck stops with me. I’m at the front of the pack and I’m corralling everyone else around me. Thus, it is more important than ever to think about how to best spend my days to ultimately build the business I want to build. Because if I check out, so does the business.

Time management, energy management and productivity are admittedly huge topics. Start studying one in a good book or great course and you’ll quickly find yourself with a lengthy to-do list of things to be learned!

Today, though, I want to highlight one key tactic that has helped me to think better about personal time management and productivity within my own business.

That tactic? Tracking Your Time.

Tracking the time you spend on your work is one of the smartest things you can do if you want to truly understand where your days, weeks and years are going. When I first started doing this years ago, I was blown away by what I learned. Today, I continue to be impacted by the ongoing discoveries the exercise delivers and my practice has expanded to include that of a team.

Although time tracking is on the surface an easy endeavor, it’s one that people avoid like the plague. The act itself doesn’t take long. In five to 10 minutes a day, you can easily fill in a quick spreadsheet or notebook with what you did during 15-minute increments over a 24-hour period. Entries like, “sales call,” or “lunch with a client,” or “email,” certainly don’t take long to fill in. But the diligence it requires is real. Remembering to track your time, every single day, for one to two weeks to get a true sense of your work life is a commitment. In my opinion, though, it’s an essential one.

And not just for you.

Although time tracking your entire life — all 168 weekly hours of it — will give you personally an incredible snapshot into how you actually spend your weeks and how much time you are actually spending at work on your small business, there is another angle to time tracking that is just as effective for your ultimate efforts.

Try using time tracking with your employees to understand how they are spending their work time.

The concept is a simple one; having all employees track their time will help the business as a whole to understand where the time of each team member is spent so that you can best optimize, tweak and transform the systems you have in place. With practice, it can take some finessing. If you work with contractors or virtual assistants, you likely won’t face much pushback, and oftentimes such individuals are well-versed in online tools that automatically track what they were working on for ease of billing purposes. Full-time employees, though, will likely be new to such an endeavor.

For such employees, take time to explain the overall purpose with care, to emphasize that your efforts are not about creating more work for them (it should only take up to 10 minutes a day, after all), nor are they about micro-management. What the exercise is about, though, is providing valuable information to you as a business owner to see if you need to rethink any business priorities or better work to create processes and systems to redistribute where time is spent. Convey it’s a team effort — and one that you as a business owner are taking on just like your employees.

In my experience, the results can be incredibly illuminating. For example, you might gain clarity on a current point of indecision in your trajectory. You might finally see how much time and effort is being spent on an aspect of the business that isn’t delivering returns. You might see how effective one aspect of the business is and decide to double down in that area. Ultimately, it’s up to you to start the process of analyzing what you find in the exercise. The first step, though, is to take the leap and start the process. It turns your business in a new and better direction.

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