Time and Money

Time tracking shouldn't be a time suck.

When I first started out on my own and had yet to land my first client, I still got up early, fetched a cup of coffee and sat down at the computer. I “worked” all day. After awhile, I realized that I wasn’t accomplishing much even though I thought I had been working very hard. Up to that point, my only time tracking was to note that 8:30 am was start time, noon was lunch and 5 pm was the end of the workday. Then I got my first paying gig and I knew that system was not going to work. Thus started my quest for the perfect time tracking tool. I still haven’t found the perfect answer but thought I’d share some of what I’ve found on my journey.

First, let’s agree that time tracking is important on a few levels. The obvious one is that our fees take into consideration the amount of time we spend on a job. For the freelancer, it’s imperative to track time concisely. For estimating, knowing how many hours similar work took is invaluable in helping up predict how much time the proposed work will need. And if we are already in the midst of a project, time tracking helps us to see how we are doing versus our estimate.

Another reason time tracking is important is that it helps us to focus, to evaluate our work habits and to work more effectively And if properly used, time tracking can help take the stress out of creative blocks and deadlines. Seriously.

The following is a list of time tracking tools. There are stand-alone timers with the ability to integrate with other project management or accounting tools and timers that are actually features within such tools. The last entry, The Pomodoro Technique, is as low tech as you can get but it’s the most valuable tool I’ve found so far.

Disclaimer: I am not endorsing anything here and my attempt to include pertinent information in reference to mobile apps, desktop widgets and third-party applications is spotty at best. Please check websites for complete information on compatibility, integration with other software programs and availability of mobile apps for phones other than the iPhone. Read the fine print and take advantage of the free trial version! Monthly charge option means online version. If you see “free” and a cost, it means that there is a stripped down free version. Finally, this is a Mac-biased review. I do not apologize.

Billings

Billings: Time Tracking and Billing Application
Cost: $39.00 for one user / $5.95 monthly / Trial version available
iPhone app: yes

A Mac fan favorite – not a full accounting program like Quickbooks or Freshbooks but close to it. Integrates Mac apps like iCal and Address Book and project management programs Daylite and Merlin. Billings Pro integrates with Quickbooks or MoneyWorks.

My Time for Mac

My Time for Mac: Time Tracking for Quickbooks
Cost: Free
iPhone app: no

Hate the interface. You can’t see how much time you’ve spent on the current task until you actually stop the timer and it’s clunky. But it’s the only free app I’ve found that works with the desktop version Quickbooks for Mac.

QuickTimer

QuickTimer: iPhone/iPad app Time Tracking
Cost: Free / $8.99
iPhone app: yes

Integrates with Quickbooks and other accounting applications.

Billings

so1o: Time Tracking and Billing Program
Cost: :$10 monthly/ free trial version available
iPhone app: coming soon

Some project management features, invoicing, working on Sage and Quickbooks integration, working on iCal and Outlook integration.

Billings

macFreelance: Time Tracking and Billing Program
Cost: $39.99
iPhone app: yes

Integrates with Mac applications like iCal, Address Book and Spotlight. Apparently this is not yet Lion compatible and has received mixed reviews.

Billings

Harvest: Time Tracking and Online Invoicing
Cost: $12 to $90 monthly/ trial version available / online only
iPhone app: yes

Integrates with a number of accounting and project management software such as Quickbooks and Basecamp.

Billings

timeEdition: Time Tracking
Cost: free
iPhone app: no

This is a time tracker only, but integrates with iCal, Outlook and Google Calendar. Definable hourly rates, desktop widget, exports XML CSV and iCal.

Billings

toggl: Time Tracking
Cost: free and various pricing plans that depend on the number of users up to $79 (40 users)
iPhone app: yes

Includes desktop widget, integration with Basecamp, Quickbooks (online only), Freshbooks and others. For a time tracker, it does offer a bit of project management — ability to assign and budget time for tasks for one person or more. Added bonus is to quickly see how you’re doing — whether you’ve gone over the estimated time or not.

Billings

Timefoxlite: Time Tracker
Cost: Free / $20 / trial version available
iPhone app: no

From functionfox, basic timesheet and reporting system for single-person company. Upgrade to classic or premier for more users and project management capabilities.

Billings

freckle: Time Tracking and Invoicing
Cost: $12 monthly (1 user) up to $48 monthly (15 users) / trial version available
iPhone app: no

Unlimited projects, pulse work rhythm analysis, non-billable time analysis.

Billings

Tick: Time tracking
Cost: free / $9 to $79 monthly depending on number of open projects
iPhone app: yes

Includes tasks, reporting and exporting, project tracking with RSS, desktop widget, Basecamp integration.

Billings

OfficeTime: Time Tracker and Invoicing
Cost: $47 per user / free 120-day trial version
iPhone app: yes

Integrates with iCal and includes lots of reporting capabilities.

Billings

Paymo: Time Tracker and Invoicing
Cost: Free (2 users, 3 invoices per month) / $9.99 monthly (2 users, unlimited invoices)/$3.99 monthly per user
iPhone app: yes

Project management tools and online storage. Desktop widget. Integrates with Basecamp, Google Apps, Kashflow and Xero.

Note: I used the free account for a long time and was pretty happy. I liked the reports and the timer. But I use Quickbooks and it become too cumbersome to have to manually input my time from Paymo.

Billings

The Pomodoro Technique: Time Management
Cost: Free
iPhone app: noooooo

I’ve saved the best for last and the place you should start. Whether you end up using this in your daily routine or not, you should at least try it. This is a tool for improving productivity and taking some of the stress out of work. It’s as low tech as you can go — paper, pencil and a kitchen timer. It consists of a time-boxing technique that helps you focus on the task at hand while providing necessary rest time for your brain. And finding the perfect timer is fun. I found a rooster and I call my version “The Gallo Technique.”

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Hardcore procrastinator when it comes to writing bios.
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