How to Track Time While Working With Distractions

This post is the first in series, “Services that Help My Business Go”, wherein Tia shares some of her behind-the-scenes secrets.

 

The other day I had a meeting with a business mentor at SCORE and we were discussing time management and discipline. My mentor, a man with a lifetime of professional management and consulting experience, is a wealth of counsel (for FREE!) on how to continue to articulate my business mission and plan for each stage of growth.

At one point, we were mutually commiserating on how difficult it can be to keep track of time while working from a home office. It’s true any time one works around people, actually.  There’s lots of coming-and-going, stops-and-starts, plenty of distractions as it appears you are available to whomever needs you…when in fact, your job is to “put your butt in the chair and work”.

I’d hit the ceiling of “now, where was I” one day when I googled Time Tracking App’s and discovered  life-and-invoice-saving Toggl. They aren’t kidding when they call it ‘insanely simple”. I create my projects, hit the button, and it begins tallying my time spent. I can bump it when I need to get up or am distracted by another request. It sync’s with my phone. More than once I’ve been at the grocery store and gotten a notification that my time clock was still running…. and so right there between Produce and Seafood I can stop and adjust the cut.

When it’s time to do month-end reports and invoices, it’s all right there. Billable versus non-billable time. How much time each stage of the project really takes. (Oh, and doesn’t that make the next projection easier! No more guess work!)

One day in May I was sitting at favorite local breakfast spot, The Metro Diner, where I’d met with Annika from the Toggl team. Toggl and Teamweek are based in Estonia and she was in the states meeting with their users to gather feedback. I almost wished I had some sort of complaint to offer, so she’d have something to take back with her under, “things we can work on”. But no, all I had was near-shameless gushing. Toggl pretty much saves my butt every month and I love it. I get up from my desk, or stop to take a call, or answer someone’s urgent question a zillion times a day. I would have NO WAY of honestly accounting for time spent without  a tracker and it HAS TO BE EASY.

And so I gushed and she took notes and then told me some truly fascinating things about her country and Estonia’s progressive culture. What happened next is that I tweeted her quote…

The hashtags led to some interesting new Twitter activity

The hashtags led to some interestingly broad Twitter activity

….and I caught a quick glimpse of how sometimes the simplest ideas can become the most empowering.

The fact is, having a business idea is one thing; running a business is another. There’s a minefield of entrepreneurs who focus entirely on their product or service but then fall apart in the background because they fail to spend time “on” the business. As a creative, that is a constant temptation. Administration is not where the fun and excitement hangs out! And yet, administration is exactly what will kill a business faster than you slap a tick. My SCORE mentor certainly confirmed this- he sees people with ideas, people who want money, people who are at all levels of understanding of what it takes to start a company. Even with all his years of experience, he confirmed for me that time tracking and management is at the heart of success, no matter who you are.

Once I have my time tracked and my reports generated (with a single click!), the next step is invoicing. I’ve found a KISS method for that one too- stay tuned for Part Two.

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Memorial Park in Riverside, WWI Commemoration

Women Entrepreneurs Have Greater Job Flexibility

One Spark 2014

I experientially state that this is true. Flexibility is as good as money.

Before I’m anything to anyone outside of the walls of my home, I am Mom. There are four kids, currently ages 9-18, who need me on a daily basis to be a Life Bracket. (And while I’m talking about Things That Are True, I will also say that it’s a myth that kids need parents less as they age. I have found the teenage years to be at least, if not more, energy-demanding than the infant and toddler years. Sure, it changes a lot when everyone can bathe themselves and wipe their own backsides. It’s downright liberating in many ways. But teenagers need your time. They need eye contact. They need a listening ear. They need money. And, they need an involved parent. This is pretty awesome, actually. It’s very rewarding and fulfilling. Just don’t let anyone say it’s easy.)

I am also Wife. And, I am Writer. I am many roles. One that I am not very good at is Employee and so have chosen to avoid that title. It’s much better to be Owner, Operator, CEO, Head Honchess, the Person in Charge.

My favorite feature of being an Entrepreneur is the flexibility it offers me.

en·tre·pre·neur

[ahn-truh-pruh-nur, -noor; French ahn-truh-pruh-nœr]  

noun, plural en·tre·pre·neurs  [ahn-truh-pruh-nurz, -noorz; French ahn-truh-pruh-nœr]  .

1.

a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerableinitiative and risk.

2.

an employer of productive labor; contractor.
I utilize the flexibility offered through entrepreneurship every day.
  1. I set my own hours
  2. I decide which contracts to accept and which to decline
  3. I develop, approve, and implement the products and services offered
  4. I streamline my energies into the most important, high return tasks

He-Man said it. But actually……

I have the power

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Of course, entrepreneurs also accept full responsibility. The good, the bad, the ugly (you are welcome for the Ear Worm). But it’s worth it. When I can finish a project and then elect to take three months off because one of my children needs to immediately homeschool, it’s worth it. When I can focus on ebook creation and memoir writing and know they will become later assets to my business, it’s worth it. When I don’t have to ask for approved time off and risk being told “no” by a superior, it’s worth it. When I was a single mother and needed to work late at night so that I could be a mother during the day, it was worth it.

I work to support my life: it’s not the other way around and being an entrepreneur is what empowers that. I’m sure there must be opportunities for working mothers out there where they can both work for someone else and enjoy flexibility. They must exist; I just have never found one. Most women I know struggle with finding a way to create the balance. They need to either contribute to their family’s finances or provide for them in full. In general, today’s workplace does not offer them much freedom in determining how they do that.

I was running the numbers for our household budget the other day and just completed the education assessment for my son. It’s time to come off full hiatus and gradually take on more work. There’s no stress in the decision- it’s a matter-of-fact evaluation of the work/life/family requirements. It’s organic, this way of running a business, a family, a life. It’s exactly what I need. This was confirmed through great timing: word of mouth advertising led to a new lead that I’ll certainly pursue. The word “gentle” is rarely heard in conjunction with “business” but that is exactly what this feels like.  A gentle progression of manageable growth that is a means to an end feels rational, healthy, and intelligent. It means I’ll have a greater probability of avoiding burnout, work-generated stress and overwhelm, or over-commitment.

Perhaps, this is part of the strength that women bring to the business world. American business is sort of personified by a dominant male figure in a suit, blindly ambitious and capitalistically hungry.  Stereotypical breadwinners of the past have had the freedom of focus that allows them to know things are taken care of at home while they work to rise to the top at work, take on employees, and make a big impression. I’m thinking out loud here but… women are usually multi-tasking.  Their work isn’t their whole life, even if they love it very much.  Having their energies and loyalties divided becomes personally expensive. Stress, burn out and overwhelm takes a toll on a woman’s health- something never far from the mind of anyone who say…likes Oprah. Helping women prioritize and accomplish a vision in healthy ways is a complete industry. We’re working on it! All. The. Time.

So I bring that womanly wisdom to what I do and the decision-making process I utilize: business grown more like a garden than a steamroller. It’s organic. It’s flexible. It blends together perennial and annual offerings. I scale accordingly. My women-in-business friends are doing so likewise. Our way of working, works.  Flexibility is as valuable (and maybe moreso) than venture capital. Flexibility is a key to success. Women Entrepreneurs, as I have experienced and witnessed both, are quietly rising in ranks of success. Making work, work for us, is just one of the reasons why.

This is a cool place! Jacksonville at One Spark 2014

This is a cool place! Jacksonville at One Spark 2014