Time-tracking is a powerful time management technique that forces you to think about how you can optimise your working day. Apps can track your daily activity, allowing you to analyse your work patterns and customise various tasks based on this data. Time-tracking apps can compile automatic invoices, detect when your computer goes idle, and ask you whether you want to exclude this time from your client’s bill. They can remind you to take breaks in order to stay focused and take periodic, time-stamped screen captures for your records. Most also incorporate calendaring and file-sharing tools so that you can synchronise certain tasks with other people working on a project.
When contractors use time-trackers, they can use the data to develop a better understanding of how long tasks and projects take, which improves their ability to estimate future projects. Learning to account for your time can also be a great motivator as it allows you to see what you’ve actually achieved. You can train yourself into wasting less time and being more mindful of distractions like Facebook or general internet browsing. After a few weeks, you’ll start noticing patterns in the way you work. Being aware of how you’re using your time can help with devising a plan to maximise your productivity and minimise time wastage.
ContractingWise takes a looks at five of the best time-tracking apps for keeping contractors productive, organised and on track. Here’s a summary of what you can achieve.
- Track your time
Real data on your work allows you to uncover insights on how you can improve your productivity
- Keep projects on track
Get crucial info to keep projects under budget and running smoothly
- Get paid faster
Create invoices based on billable hours, send them to clients, and get paid online
- Manage other members of the project
See how you can coordinate tasks and how long they’re taking
- Set your rates
Make better-informed decisions on how you bill clients and set your future rates
Best free app: Toggl
Contractors often work solo for one client at a time, which can mean that the free version of a time-tracking app is sufficient for their needs. One of the best in this category is Toggl. The app provides users with a generous free tier of service, plus it’s nimble, easy to use and works without an internet connection. Toggl offers mobile apps, a web app and a browser extension that includes built-in reminders for taking ‘power’ breaks.
Cons: Toggl doesn’t have a complete integrated invoicing system, so it’s not ideal for those with complex invoicing needs such as keeping track of expenses and multi-project management. However, you can connect the free version to FreshBooks or transport your data to use with other invoicing tools.
Best standalone: Timely
Timely combines to-do list, time tracking app and calendar, making it an intuitive and functional app that’s quick to get to grips with. You simply block off hours in your calendar (you can integrate it with your google or mac calendar), and the tool will log your time. You can also use the drag and drop feature to move projects around. Timely offers native apps for all devices – macOS, iOS, android, Windows and web. The program also allows project managers to view their team’s project calendars, allowing them to delegate work accordingly while also spotting potential budget or deadline issues head of time.
Cons: Timely hasn’t been developed for off-line working, so if you lose your connection the app is redundant.
Best for individuals: RescueTime
Voted Editor’s Choice by PC Magazine, RescueTime collects data about the apps and websites you use then generates reports based on that information. To get started, you create an account and install a desktop app on your computer – you can also install as a mobile app on Android devices. This works invisibly in the background to track which apps you use and which websites you visit, as well as the amount of time you spend on them. Users of the free ‘Lite’ version can set weekly goals and get weekly reports emailed to them.
Cons: There is no iOS app as the operating system prevents RescueTime from collecting the data it needs to perform its function. To get the best results you need to spend time customising the data for your particular needs.
Best for offline working: OfficeTime
Many apps require an internet connection for starting and running a timer. People who frequently work offline or have unreliable internet connection will need a time tracker that works offline. OfficeTime is one of the best in this category as it works reliably no matter where you are. The app also has user-friendly reporting tools and invoice generation. Another distinct benefit of OfficeTime is that you pay a one-off purchase fee rather than a recurring subscription.
Cons: OfficeTime doesn’t offer a web app and this means that support for integrations is often weak. The app doesn’t offer project-based billing or team time-tracking options.
Best for invoicing: Harvest
Certain time-tracking apps include an entire billing and invoicing system which is useful for those who need to track both time and expenses. With Harvest, you can create an invoice that pulls information from an existing project, or you can choose a free-form invoice that allows you to create a flat service fee. Harvest also allows you to create invoice reminders, recurring invoices and purchase orders. Customers receive invoices as pdf email attachments.
Cons: Harvest’s pricing plan can get expensive, especially if you have multiple users. The software’s invoicing capabilities have developed ahead of its time-tracking capabilities, which lag a little behind those of other apps on the market.