Clocking In: 3 More Tips for Transitioning to Hourly Work

I previously wrote about overall strategies to try when transitioning from a salaried position to hourly work. Here, I’ll share some specific tips I use day-to-day to take the stress out of clocking in.

For some context: at Atomic Object we use an internal timekeeping tool called PunchIt, and we call making an entry “punching.” We punch in 15-minute increments because that’s how we bill our clients. Specifically, we punch our time to projects, which align with individual client projects. We then further categorize them into stories, which describe the type of work we’re doing, like Technical Infrastructure or Wireframes.

Punch longer blocks, less often.

In the early days, I made a point of punching when I finished every single task. I thought this level of granularity would be critical to making an accurate log of time spent on every given task. This caused me some stress, however, because I wasn’t sure what to do if I finished up at a weird time. If I complete something at 11:08, do I punch that until 11:00 or 11:15? Should I wait until 11:15 to start the next task?

Eventually, I realized this strategy is not sustainable and is kind of missing the point. The ultimate goal of punching is not to have a record of time spent on every single task. Rather, it’s to ensure that an individual’s time is getting charged to the right entity, whether that’s to a client project or directly to Atomic. The reason we categorize our time into stories is to help us understand approximately how much time we’re spending on different types of work. This can help us estimate future client projects as well.

Having realized that, I try to punch longer blocks of work, grouping similar tasks for the same client. As a developer, I’m generally able to punch at least an hour at a time unless I’m interrupted by a meeting or another type of break. I also now punch two or three times a day, instead of after every block. Doing these two things has decreased the mental overhead it takes to track my time and keeps me from sweating a few minutes here and there.

Protect your time.

If you have a plan for how you want to use your time on a given day or week, you’re empowered to protect your time. You might have a week when you’re trying to gain a little buffer because you want to take an afternoon off next week. Or perhaps you’re trying to catch up from taking a few hours off for a dentist appointment. Honestly, you don’t even have to have a “good reason” to want to work a specific schedule. It’s your time!

Early on, I struggled to engage with my teammates in the office while ensuring I got all my hours in. If a casual chat or a lunch break was running long, I would worry about when I’d make up the time or feel rude for needing to walk away before a natural end to the conversation. Eventually, I realized that everybody here gets it! Working in an hourly office job often means being part of a team where everyone has their own unique time goals and schedules. We’ve all had to do the same thing from time to time, so there are never any hard feelings about excusing yourself to meet your goals.

Prepare for tomorrow.

Another hurdle I’ve encountered is losing time in the morning. I can’t just sit down at my desk and immediately be productive; I need a bit of a warm-up period. Sometimes that means I will attempt to start working at 9 a.m., but I’m not billable until 9:15 or 9:30, especially when other folks are filtering into the office and the social sphere starts buzzing.

My favorite strategy to succeed in these scenarios actually begins the day before. I’ve started to make a point to stop in the middle of what I’m doing at the end of the day. I commit my code, write down a note to help me remember where I was, and then I walk away. When I return the next day, I already have a head-start on the task, and I can jump into my productivity mode more quickly. As a bonus, I’m looking at the task with fresh eyes and can see new solutions to any challenges I may have.

Gain the benefits of hourly work.

In a nutshell, transitioning to clocking in at an hourly job is about finding your rhythm. Hourly work can unlock a lot of flexibility and better work-life balance once you get used to it. I hope these tips can help you acclimate and enjoy the benefits. If you have any tips of your own, please share in the comments!


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