We were nothing short of delighted when Rachael E.C. Acklin–you may know her as the Caffeinated Elf–expressed an interest in talking with us as part of our Freckle Focus Interview Series. Our intrepid Freckle reporter Marissa happily hung out with Rachael and talked about time, digitized friendships and the importance of stepping away from the computer (just once in a while).
Marissa: So how did you and Freckle meet and become friends?
Rachel Acklin: I decided to try it because when the name caught my attention. I mean, “Freckle,” that’s not a name that you intuitively put with time-tracking stuff, so I was intrigued right away. When I looked at it I thought, “Wow, this is really attractive.” I loved the way it looked, but I didn’t feel like I really needed it.
Later on, I realized I need something to track my time because my business was getting bigger and I didn’t want to lose track of things. I wanted to start using a system before my business got too crazy. So I returned to Freckle and I realized that it was not only free for the first thirty days, but that the $12 monthly subscription was really, really inexpensive. So I jumped on it.
Has Freckle helped you since you started using it?
Yes. The first benefit I’m getting is awareness of how much billable time I spend each day. When I first started using Freckle, I thought I was spending upwards of six—or sometimes even ten—hours each day actually working. I felt like I was tied to my desk all the time.
But after I started tracking my billable hours, I realized I was only working an average of two and a half to three hours a day on things I could actually charge money for. It completely blew me away.
Freckle helped me re-frame how I see my workday. I now realize that I don’t have to be tied to my computer for hours and hours to get a lot done. I know that once I hit that three-or-so hour mark, I’m not really getting anything done anymore, and I need to get up and walk around for a while, and then I can come back later and start working again.
Freckle gave me a much better idea of what I’m actually capable of doing in a day, so that I could stop expecting far too much out of myself.
What do you know now about your time that you didn’t know before Freckle?
What I didn’t know was how much time I was spending thinking about my work, and stressing out about how I was going to organize the work, and how I was going to plan to do the work. I was spending a lot of time doing that and it felt like work. I was so surprised when I found out that I was only spending a couple of hours every day on the actual work, but that I was spending so many more hours–at least twice as many hours every day–thinking about it and planning for it. I was spending so much more time planning for it than I needed to.
Being able to see on Freckle that I wasn’t spending nearly as much time actually doing the work… first, it was shocking. But then I realized it actually means that I don’t have to be at my computer for more than a couple of hours in a day and I can still get everything done! So it was shocking at first, but it was actually really freeing.
Were you been able to take some of the edge off of that stress once you were aware of it happening?
I was, but it’s cyclical. I do it to myself again when my work load gets heavier. I’m realizing that if I work through a weekend and everything feels okay, I start to think that I’m Superman and that I don’t need breaks.
In the moment, I tend to think, “Well, I just need to get this stuff done… working without taking a break will be fine.” So needing to give myself those breaks, that’s a lesson that I re-learn over and over and over again. It’s good for me to have reminders set up to help me remember that, and Freckle is a good reminder of what I’m actually getting done and what my actual capacity is.
What is your favorite part about Freckle?
I love that it’s pretty, and I love the Pulse view, because it quantifies all the stuff that I did. I’m always looking forward so much that I forget to recognize what I’ve already accomplished. The Pulse is a nice little reminder, but it’s also pretty. I feel like I did something good with my day when I look at it, that I created something enjoyable. It’s the pretty colors and nice use of fonts and plenty of white space–and I just really enjoy the feeling I have when I’m on the website. It makes me feel happier.
What’s a technique you’ve used that helps Freckle work for you?
I really like being able to tweak the increments it uses. Depending on what kind of client situation it is, my default billing might be every fifteen minutes, or I might bill in five minute increments or just one minute increments. So I really like that I can change that for each project without any fuss. I just make a couple of clicks, and it’s changed.
Change of topic: what is your favorite productivity or self-work tip, tool, book or blog out there that you dig currently?
The number one thing on my list is Charlie Gilkey’s planners. They really help me frame what I’m doing so that I’m not just waking up every day and scrambling to see what I can get done. I can make an actual plan–as big or as small a plan as I want. That’s definitely helped me. I’ve introduced the members of my team to the planners as well, and they’ve been really happy with them too. The fact that we can kind of all use them synchronously is pretty nice.
There’s the paper stuff that I really like, like 3×5 cards and Sharpie pens, and then there’s the digital stuff I like, like Backpack. It depends on where I am in the creative process and what I feel like I need to do. Sometimes I need something tangible in my hands to write it down and organize it, and sometimes it’s easier for me to just kind of dump it all out quickly by typing it.
Tell me a little bit about something exciting happening with your business.
I’m going to be forming an LLC with several other people! It’s not just going to be me anymore. Kyle Durand is helping me set this up. It’s exciting and it’s scary–it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. The business is still going to be my baby, but now I’m going to have other people who are awesome, great people who want to be a support system for me.
They’re going to be helping me do my great work. I’ll be able to do my designing, and really focus on connecting with different people and building my relationships with people. I really feel like the sky’s the limit! I’ll have a team taking care of my accounting and helping me stay on track with my projects. This team is going to be giving me the freedom to do my business the way I want to do it. It’s pretty amazing.
It’s also humbling because I didn’t think I was really to this place yet, and I struggle with feeling like I don’t deserve a support system–like maybe I haven’t worked hard enough yet to get to this place. I didn’t realize that I have all these weird little stuck places around that! But this is such a huge, amazing, awesome, scary, wonderful thing happening. I’m really excited about it.
Who or what is inspiring you right now?
There are a lot of things that I’m pulling inspiration from. I’ve been working through Pam Slim’s book, Escape from Cubicle Nation. That one’s really good. I also have the Box of Crayons book, Do More Great Work, and I’ve started reading that too. That one is also really amazing.
I have my picture from the Lift Off retreat on my desk, and I look at that when I’m feeling really stressed out. It gives me a huge amount of inspiration.
My friends give me a great deal of inspiration. I realize it’s easy to “digitize” our friendships and think, “Well, if I go away from my computer for a few days, I’ll just put my friends away for awhile and I’ll come back to them later.” But especially since meeting everybody at the Lift Off retreat, I understand more than ever how real everyone is. I have these real friendships. I have people who care about me and whom I can reach out to when I need help, who will say, “Hey, what can I do to help you?” or “Everything’s going to be fine.” That’s… well, that’s just really amazing to me.
What is a piece of advice that you feel like you most need to be given?
I think probably the thing that I tell a lot of other people is something that I should be told on an ongoing basis: that my list of stuff to do is going to be here when I get back, and not to deny myself a break. Don’t deny my family more time with me just because I’ve got some stuff that still needs to be done. It’s not going anywhere, and there will be time for it.
What lessons have you learned over the past year that have changed the way that you run your business or approach life?
I think the biggest lesson I learned is that I am already good at this. I can already do this. I didn’t have to wait to be good at it. Sure, there were things that I needed to learn to do better. But a lot of the things like marketing and figuring out systems—I knew how to do that. I didn’t have to wait for a guru to tell me, “Here’s the best way to plan your day” or “You should probably do it this way.” I learned I could trust myself.
It was one year ago when I told my husband it was fine for him to quit his job, because I could support us, and everything would be fine. That was really scary, but I knew I needed a chance to try. So on the one hand, I felt sure I could I do it, but on the other hand I thought, “Wow, I might screw this up really bad.” But I realize now that if I hadn’t taken that step, I wouldn’t have proven to myself that I can actually do whatever I need to do. I’d been told that I could do it, and I paid lip service to the fact that it was true, but now I know that it’s true because I’ve done it. Which is probably another thing that people should be reminding me of.
Well, knowing you’re capable of handling things is always easiest to remember at the moments when it’s not terrifying.
Exactly. It’s like that blog post that you wrote about the Cinderella myth. Sometimes when one thing’s going well, everything else is falling apart. That’s a lesson I wish that I had realized sooner–that just because one or two things aren’t working out doesn’t mean that I’m failing. It’s just a cycle. It just happens; it’s normal. It happens to everybody.
So what in your world, business or otherwise, is perfect right now?
My direction. What’s perfect is the direction that I’m going with my brand, and in my products. I’m really focused right now, and it’s going really well.
Rachael E.C. Acklin, known ’round the web as the Caffeinated Elf, is often caffeinated but only occasionally elflike (the moniker pays homage to her love for JRR Tolkien’s writing).
A kickass Thesis, Twitter background & web designer and a creative coach by trade, Rachael puts her creativity and love for writing to work for her clients. She also writes for herself, blogging at her own site since 2006 and participating in National Novel Writing Month every year. When she’s not rocking a shiny new website design for a client or entertaining the masses on Twitter, she’s enjoying time with her four kids and husband from the Caffeinated Elf Homebase in Flint, Michigan.
In addition to her website, you can also find Rachael on Twitter.
You should give Freckle a spin!
If your time is precious to you, then you’ll love Freckle, too. It’s free for 30 days, across all plan types — and if you charge $25/hr or more, Freckle will pay for itself (and then some!). Take the Freckle tour!
Hey there! Are you a Freckle customer? Has Freckle helped you? Would you like to be interviewed? Drop us a line!