People who use our time-tracking and project management software like to use it in different ways. Some freelancers use is to help them bill their clients. Some to set rates or cost projects. And if you read our last blog, hopefully you’re now using time-tracking to help increase your hourly rate.
And there’s another way you should all be using time-tracking too: To help you get more creative in your work.
That’s right. A time-tracking tool used correctly can increase your creativity, and we’re about to tell you how. We’ve got seven time-tracking techniques for you that, if introduced into your working day, are guaranteed to send your creativity crashing through the roof of your home-office. Let’s take a look.
1: It helps focus the mind
The first way that a time-tracking tool can make you more creative is quite simple. It keeps your mind on the job. Clicking start has a psychological effect and makes you feel more accountable for your time. It signals the start of work, providing you with structure, which is something that a lot of freelancers lack.
When you’re working freelance, it’s all too easy to get distracted by the TV, the Xbox, and the six pack sitting in the fridge. After all, one of the reasons most people start freelancing in the first place is for the freedom that comes with it.
But this freedom comes at a price. And that price is usually a lack of structure and discipline throughout the working day - and this is a double edged sword which can be devastating. Left unchecked, it can affect your work and lower your income without you even realising.
A time-tracking tool is a simple and effective way to bring some shape back to your day. It adds a little bit of self-imposed pressure and makes you aware that, even though you’re working for yourself, you’re still ‘on the clock’ so stay focused.
2: Time-tracking frees up time to get creative
How many times have you heard the expression ‘there just aren’t enough hours in the day’? My guess is quite a few. In fact, you’ve probably said it a hundred times yourself - especially if you’re a freelancer.
The amount of time we waste each day is both phenomenal and well documented. Studies have shown that something like upwards of 30% of the average worker’s day is spent responding to emails alone. Now that’s just cray-cray.
Then there’s social media, invoices, phone calls and all the other chores that come with working for yourself. The list goes on, and they all get in the way of you getting creative.
Time-tracking forces you to face facts. If you’re spending stupid amounts of time each day on stuff that you shouldn’t be, time-tracking makes you aware by slapping you round the face with the naked truth.
It’s a real eye-opener, allowing you to see exactly where your time is going. Time-tracking is brutally honest, and when you know which tasks you’re spending too much time on, you can spend that time more wisely - redirecting it, so you have more hours to work on the fun stuff and your creative tasks.
3: It can help prevent creative fatigue
Although it’s technically an organ, the human brain behaves a bit like a muscle. And if it’s overused, it can suffer from fatigue and give out. So another way time-tracking can be used to help you creatively, is if you use it to prevent burn out of the brain.
At the risk of giving away my age here, for those of you out there who remember the electronic group Orbital, here’s what I mean. They had a golden rule when it came to producing music. No matter what, they’d never spend more than eight-hours a day in the studio. Smart move.
Know why? Because if you’ve been working on something for too long, without taking a break, you start to make poor decisions, and simple problems that should take two-seconds to fix can end up taking hours.
Using time-tracking as a way to keep track of and (more importantly), limit the number of hours you spend on a project before you take a breather helps prevent creative fatigue setting in.
Giving the brain a break - even if it’s just for five minutes every couple of hours - stops your mind turning to mush, and is a great way to keep yourself working at your maximum creative potential.
4: Time-tracking software helps fine tune your work-methods
When you log your time, you also log your workflow, which is a great way to learn a lot about the way you work and then improve it. Keeping a log of your time reveals your working methods, giving insight into the creative process and helping you fine-tune it.
You can identify new working structures, best practises, and your most productive ways of tackling your regular tasks. You can then use this information to speed up the whole creative process and discover new ways of working which you can then start to experiment with.
Using time-tracking to analyse the way you work lets you find strengths and weaknesses in your working patterns, and invent completely new one which result in more efficient workflows and stronger creative outcomes. It also helps you avoid the working routines which lead you to creative dead ends.
5: You can use a time-tracking tool to find your creative sweet spot
Just as we all have different ways of working, we all have different times of day when we’re at our most productive. Some of us are nights owls, while some of us get our best ideas first thing in the morning.
As well as helping you find out when you’re at your most creative, time-tracking also helps you find exactly when that is and pin-point the exact time you’re at your productive peak.
Armed with this information, you can then tailor your working day around it. Do so, and you’ll not only get more done, you'll get it done to a higher creative standard too.
6: It allows you to get in sync with your creative rhythms
Ever heard of circadian rhythm? It’s the natural, biological cycle your body goes through every 24 hours. It’s basically your body clock, and the reason you (sometimes) wake early and feel great - even though you had an hour's less sleep than usual.
But here's the thing: sleep isn’t the only pattern these cycles hold sway over. Circadian rhythms also affect your creativity. That’s why some of us work late into the night and some prefer to get our work done first thing in the morning (usually after a strong cup of coffee and a quick read of the papers).
Most of us go through our ‘creative cycle’ every two-hours of so. And using time-tracking software you can become more aware of when your creative cycle is about to begin its revolution.
This is important because even the most artistic people, in the most creatively primed environments, can usually only sustain a burst of creativity for about 4 to 6 hours. After that, things start to go south. Most of us mere mortals can only manage about two hours working at our peak before we start getting distracted or our creative juices start to curdle.
However, if you use a time-tracking tool for a bit of self analysis, you can figure out how long your creative cycle is and even when it starts. You can then use this new-found knowledge to chop your day up into chunks of time that best suit your creative circadian rhythms.
7: A time-tracking tool locks in creative time
As we explained in our blog How to Achieve a Better Work/Life Balance, if you find yourself constantly working late, a time-tracking tool can be used to safeguard personal time so your freelancing doesn’t keep creeping into it. And guess what? Time-tracking software can be used to lock-in creative time, too.
These days, it’s easy to get distracted by email, social media and all the other day-to-day activities, which are all part of running a freelance business, but aren’t really what you do for a living. Before you know it, half your day’s gone - sacrificed to peripheral tasks - before you’ve even started what it is you get paid to do.
As a self employed freelancer with only so many hours in the day, it’s essential that you prioritise and make time for your more important tasks. Top of which, should be coming up with kick-ass designs, writing killer blog articles, or whatever it is you do to earn a crust.
The good news is, a time-tracking tool like Solo can be used to ensure you’re getting a healthy number of creative hours in each day. If you want to get a real good chunk of design work done (let’s say six hours), time-tracking helps you do so by setting boundaries so you never miss out on quality time with the mac.
This blog post is brought to you by the creators of Solo; your freelance wingman. If you'd like to contribute to the blog, contact us on hello[at]wearethrive.com.