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I use Toggl for time tracking, and I'm pretty diligent about starting a new task for pretty much every thing I'm working on.

Recently, while working at home, I had to use the restroom, and afterwards grabbed a small snack. After returning to my computer, I saw that Toggl was still tracking my time as working. I quickly tried to estimate my adventure, and accommodate for it in my daily log. Ultimately, I had deducted 7 minutes.

Then I wondered if I was crazy.

I realize the implications of deciding either way are likely trivial, but I'm curious as to what the commonly accepted practice is. Do I make sure to stop time tracking every time I get up from my desk? Or am I just being too obsessive over a minor billing infraction?

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+ 1 Very good question. –  Siddharth Rout Feb 10 at 7:35

6 Answers 6

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I have a simple rule, that guides me on anything related to invoicing the client: the "sunshine test".

Imagine at some stage in the future your client figures out that you've charged him for X, i.e. although it might have been buried in some other item on the final bill, suddenly there's sunlight shining upon it.

Then ask yourself the question: Could I, without hesitation, tell the client why I put this on his invoice - and feel confident that s/he would agree? If the answer is yes, I'll charge, else I won't. And if in doubt, I won't charge.

So in your example, I would not charge for these "events" if it's a few hour project. If we're talking about a multiple day project payed by day rates, I sure would (assuming we're talking about a few minutes and not hours and hours) - would I work on site with daily rates, I'd have these breaks, too.

Other examples where the sunshine test helps:

  • Flying business class to meet the client: if the client asked me to join last minute - or it is very likely the date gets pushed around - yes, fly business and charge. Else fly Eco.
  • Charging for software licenses/hardware: did I buy this exclusively for the project, i.e. would I not have bought, had I not been on the project - charge. Else, dont.
  • ...

Okay, now let me switch my toggl back to the project and continue working! ;-)

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+ 1 Okay, now let me switch my toggl back to the project and continue working! ;-) That says it all!!! –  Siddharth Rout Feb 10 at 7:48
    
I would also suggest grouping your time billed into 15 minute blocks. If you go to the bathroom and it took you 2 minutes, 87% of that block still went to the client so you can bill them. However, if something takes 8+ minutes away from the client, you don't get to bill them. You should also let the client know this is what you intend to do for billing and time keeping. –  Brian Feb 10 at 21:14

I agree with Neil here.

Ethically, when I charge my client (for big projects, of course), I charge them by hour and yes, those hours are excluding

  1. Bathroom Breaks
  2. Snack Time
  3. House Catching on Fire
  4. Neighbor dropping in
  5. etc...

Whenever you are in doubt, ask yourself the same question. When you hire a freelancer would you be ok if he or she charged you for bathroom breaks/Snack time etc? And if you are ok, then Pleaaaaaaseeeee hire me next time :p

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+1 Pleaaaaaaseeeee hire me next time :p –  VarunAgw Feb 10 at 18:19

I don't think it's reasonable to charge clients while on a break so personally would tend to stop the clock running when charging by the hour.

On longer projects where a day rate or similar has been agreed, it's understandable that short breaks will be needed and this should probably factored into the rate.

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+ 1 I agree with most part but not about factoring into rate. Or did I misinterpret you? –  Siddharth Rout Feb 10 at 7:34

I would say that for anything less than a day's project, you don't charge for bathroom breaks, or any other interruption. If you're not using a time tracker program and take a short break somewhere, then you just work that much longer past the 8 hour mark.

For anything that gets into a multi-day project, and definitely a 40 hour week situation, I would expect to include bathroom breaks in the time working, and even a couple 5ish minute coffee breaks during the 8 hour day. I would not include lunch breaks however, and also not include anything that I was leaving the house or office for a short break.

For ethical comparison, think of the break schedule of a regular hourly employee. They probably get one 15 minute paid break per 4 hours, and some unpaid lunch window schedule too. While not the same as a 1099 for sure, you're still working for your own business and deserve the ability to be able to take a bathroom break as part of a work week without tracking it.

When using timesheets to be paid in the past for long term gigs, almost all did not want to be bothered with anything for breaks. They would say-- we trust are aren't abusing breaks, just show a 40 hour week with a lunch window included every day (whether you take it or not), and we're happy.

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I'm usually rather slack in accounting, both ways. I won't deduct the time for my bathroom break, but I also won't charge you if I have a good idea during the weekend. If stuck, I may even take a walk in the park on project time, because thinking about the issue while breathing fresh air is more productive than just staring at the problem.

I consider my main contribution to the project brainpower, rather than typing, and it is impossible to turn off my brain instantly. If I only charged for the time I spend in front of a computer, I'd be cheating myself, and if I micro-accounted everything, I'd increase the unproductive overhead (which I'd have to factor into my hourly rate).

In my opinion, both the customer and I come out ahead with this arrangement.

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Sorry Simon, that downvote is a mistake. Just checked and I must have hit it on my mobile by accident. Because it's been over 12 hours it's not removable unless you edit the post... –  levelnis Feb 16 at 23:41

I am sure that the last thing you want to hear about is another software tool, but I like the feature on KanbanFlow (https://kanbanflow.com/) that allows you to keep time for your tasks using the Pomodoro approach. Pomodoro sets up a 25-minute period of concentrated, highly focused work on the project followed by a five-minute break for stretching, going to the bathroom, grabbing a quick snack or whatever. After four work periods, you get a longer break of 15-30 minutes.

If I am using timekeeping software such as Elance's WorkView, I usually leave the meter running for the five-minute breaks and clock out for the longer ones. I believe that a freelancer should consider how a typical workplace handles time for bathroom breaks, etc. Most places I have worked in recent years do not consider these short breaks as time off the clock. There are exceptions, of course - assembly lines are (in)famous for only permitting bathroom breaks when you have a reliever. If I am working on a very small project, say 2 hours or less, I will clock out for all breaks.

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