Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Time tracking

I'm part-way through my 3rd week at LobsterPot Solutions and one of the things Rob asked me to do was keep track of my time, so that he can bill clients appropriately. That's how things work in the consulting business :-)

Some people do this with the old fashioned but very reliable paper and pen. I tried that myself for a bit, but found a) my handwriting isn't easy for even me to read and b) I wasn't that good at consistently writing down new tasks etc.

One interesting approach I have seen is to just block out time in your calendar (be it Outlook or Google). That works as a record, but it doesn't do the 'adding up' bit to give you the end of week totals etc.

Surely there must be a reasonable time tracking application that is free and does enough for me to record what I'm doing and give a reasonable I can forward to Rob? One criteria was that it should store data centrally. Being a consultant I could find myself working at a client's premises in town, at home, or even interstate – so a 'cloud' solution is appealing.

The first application I tried was Activity Tracker Plus. It is a Google gadget that you can add to your iGoogle page and cleverly stores data in a Google Docs spreadsheet. I used this for a week and a bit, but found the editing and reporting were a bit limited. Specifically there isn't a way to edit a previously saved time period, and it just gives you a weekly report but no totals broken down by activity. To top it off when I was trying to correct the time allocated to a task it was messing up the end-time component (a bug I presume).

Lifehacker reviewed Five Best Time-Tracking Applications late last year. Of those, two were web-based – RescueTime and SlimTimer.

I've seen RescueTime used by Ben and I think he found it useful. The free version does have limits though, including keeping only the last 3 months worth of data.

Because of that I thought I'd try SlimTimer. This is a simple web-based app that seems to have enough features to make it useable. I've only just started using it, so it will be interesting to see if it lives up to expectations. If not then I'll give RescueTime a go.


Lexie said...

You might want to take a look at TSheets as well. It's my favorite time tracking software that I have found. I'm a lot like you where I'm out and about meeting with clients or at their house so I need the ability to track my time from anywhere. I can clock in/out, etc. from my iphone app or from a text message.
You also mentioned that you would like it to store your data, TSheets stores all the information forever (that's another great thing about web based apps).
I decided to upgrade my free account to a freelancer account that they have for $10 a month. It's definitely worth it for me because I do my own invoicing. Maybe it would be too much for you. Thought I'd let you know another option, here's a link to the site if you're interested:

David Gardiner said...

Thanks Lexie,

that looks interesting. I'll check it out.

SlimTimer is working pretty well so far, but I'm always interested in other options.


Rob Rawson said...

Try I think you will find it more effective than rescue time if you want to track your time exactly.

David Gardiner said...

Thanks Rob, though looking at their website it says "The software is not designed for this and you may be frustrated with it if this is your goal".

Seeing as that is my goal, and I don't like being frustrated, maybe it isn't for me :-)