Sorry to break this to you, but as critical as your role may be to your project, you’re not that important. Yes, even you deserve and can afford to take a break throughout the day, and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it. In the same way athletes require a break to recharge muscles, so do office professionals to recharge their minds. We recently published a post about the benefits of taking breaks and some tips on maximizing those benefits. As an IT contractor, it all may be a great idea but can raise an additional question — how do you charge your client when you take breaks?
In the simplest and most straight-forward terms, as an independent contractor, you should only charge your client for the time you are working for them. Most clients only require timesheets to say the total hours worked per day (or even a period) but you may come across some who want to see a breakdown of your hours worked. In theory, separating every chunk of time and submitting it to a client would be easiest to demonstrate your productivity; however, that is not a practical solution. Especially if you follow the “microbreak” strategy of time management and take 5-minute breaks every 25 minutes, that is going to be a long, complicated timesheet. It’s more common for independent contractors to charge in increments of 15 minutes and adjust their time for the entire day. For example, if you worked 8-4 with six 5-minute breaks throughout the day, you would only record 8:00 to 3:30, which makes up for the half hour worth of non-productive time.
There may also be a grey area in what is considered a “break” and what is billable. For example, some independent contractors eat lunch at their desk and deem that time as working so do not record a lunch break. In these cases, you must ask yourself how available and productive you actually are. Although you are sitting at a desk, if you’re busy eating and ignoring phone calls or emails, it is technically a break. On the other side of the coin, everybody’s day consists of a couple quick personal phone calls and of course “nature breaks”. Should your client really nickel and dime you for such situations? Finally, when you take a quick 5-minute walk to clear your mind, you’re sure to return more energized and productive. Given that quick bit of exercise was in your client’s best interest, can you charge them for it? How you respond to those questions is a combination of your personal ethics and the agreement between you and your client, but it is important to be aware of your activity.
Tracking your breaks can be an eye-opening experience, on both extremes. You could learn that you are over-charging your client or realize that you should add some breaks into your day. Tracking that time is as simple as keeping a spreadsheet or notebook. You can also download a time management app that lets you quickly turn on and off your work time. Though you’re unlikely to charge your client 6 hours, 41 minutes, 4 seconds, seeing that final time will hopefully make you think twice before billing out an even 8 hours.
An honest and open time management system is crucial to a working, trusting relationship with clients and staffing agencies. No ethical independent contractor is out to rip of their client, nor do they want to rip off themselves by undercharging or failing to take care of themselves with proper breaks. How do you manage breaks and time entry with your clients?