Knowing how to use your time more effectively, and billing for the appropriate amount of work hours, begins with knowing how much time you’re spending on each task now. Unfortunately, getting a real sense of this can be tough.
Between distractions (ringing phones, pinging emails), interruptions (that pop-in from your top client) and simple, flawed human perception (was that really an hour you just spent emptying your email inbox?), keeping track of how you spend every minute can seem more trouble than it’s worth. Enter digital time-trackers. These five require minimal management from you, but they deliver a wide range of actionable features. Bonus: Holding yourself accountable for how you use your time can help motivate you to use it more productively.
Chronos (Mac, $6) If you like your software bare-bones, Chronos is a nice option. No need to read up on a million features or watch a long tutorial to get started, just get-it-and-go. You’ll set projects and tasks on a simple menu, then click the timer on and off via your menu bar. (The timer pauses if it detects inactivity.) Once a project is completed, you can either erase it or archive it.
Nutcache (Web-based, free) One of the newest additions to the crowded time-tracking field, this site won’t give you a granular look at where you roam online, or how many times IMs interrupted your work on that Powerpoint presentation. Its strength lies in the breadth of its timekeeping: It can track various employees across different projects, work sites and even languages (French, English and Spanish, with more to come). It can issue estimates, get them electronically approved by clients and later compare them against your final bills both individually and as a group. Plus, it lets you set a threshold on the amount of total time you want to spend on an individual project and warns you when the end is nigh, decreasing the chances you’ll get sucked into a work black hole.
OfficeTime ($47 for Windows/Mac, $7.99 for universal iPhone/iPad app) On the opposite end of the spectrum, this tracker offers pros lots of bells and whistles (including expense tracking and iPhone or iPad mobility) for its admittedly hefty price. It is scalable from a one-woman shop to a small office, meaning you can slice and dice your minutes by employees or teams as well as by projects, and can use those reports to automatically create invoices of your billable time. It also comes with a money-back guarantee: If the hours you find don’t pay for the program, send it back.
Paymo (Windows/Mac; free account available) This cloud-based solution wraps project management and billing around time-tracking—and can go with you on your smartphone if you’ll be out of the office. You can click timers on and off, or download PaymoPlus to automatically track which applications, websites and files you visit on your Mac or PC. You can also set these to be linked to certain projects, so the computer understands your perusing of People.com is research for an event, not goofing around.
RescueTime (Windows/Mac, free version available) If you spend most of your work hours staring at a screen, this tried-and-proven program might be the one for you. It runs in the background on your computer, tracking what applications, websites or documents you’re using, and then provides daily breakdowns and trend reports (what day you tend to be most productive, for instance). You can also custom-rank websites by how “productive” they are, which is helpful when time spent on shopping sites really is work. (An Android version to track smartphone use is also available.)
What sites or apps have you used that help you track time?
You might also like: