I’ve talked about why it is important to track your time. The next question is how. I’ve moved from low tech to a high tech solution.
When I first started out, I used a paper day planner. I bill in 15 minute increments, so I bought a planner that had one week on 2 pages, with each day divided into 15 minute slots. As I worked, I just made notes on the planner about which project I was working on at the time. Then, theoretically at the end of the day (but really when I was ready to do my invoicing for the month), I transferred the time information to a computer spreadsheet by project.
Pros for using paper: Very easy to see how I spent my day. Could use the planner even when I didn’t have my computer.
Cons: Time consuming to transfer the information. Possibility of errors when transferring information. Hard to track time spent on a particular project until the data was transferred into the computer spreadsheet.
I’ve since switched over to using software that is designed for tracking project time and expenses, and that also allows me to create invoices.
I tried out several. I ended up a very happy user of OfficeTime. It’s simple to use and very flexible. Basically, each project is set up in OfficeTime, and when I work on that project I click a button on my computer to start timing. If I forget to click “stop” when I leave the computer, it pops up a message asking if I want to keep or delete the time that I was away. Easy-peasy, and simple to run reports and create invoices. It’s not perfect, but OfficeTime is flexible enough that I’ve always been able to set it up the way I want it to work.
I almost forgot one of my favorite features: my time tracking data syncs to iCal, so I can see how I’ve been spending my time at a glance. I set up an “OfficeTime” calendar in iCal so I can hide the information when I don’t need it.
More than a year ago, I had a data corruption problem with a project in OfficeTime, but tech support helped me out quickly and thoroughly.
There is an iPhone app for OfficeTime. I have it but rarely use it, and my computer set up requires making changes to my firewall to get it to sync properly. I’m holding out for a promised “sync via dropbox” version!
Pros for OfficeTime: Easy to track time and to create invoices. Useful reports. Good for archiving data from older projects. Can add notes to projects and add information on expenses.
Cons: (Hmm, not really cons; these are feature requests): It would be nice to be able to add keywords to projects, so I could later search for all “brochure” projects. And I’d like to be able to group projects under a client name (and maybe even another level so I could have COMPANY > CONTACT PERSON > Project) so I could easily pull up all of a particular client’s projects.
There are tons more time tracking programs out there, both free or cost, and online or standalone versions. One I’ve heard good things about is Billings. Most bookkeeping software such as QuickBooks (online and standalone versions) and Freshbooks (online) also includes some option for time tracking. (I’m a QuickBooks dropout, but that is a story for another day.)
What do you use to track your time? What are the most important features to you?