Time Tracking for Freelancers

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Freelance Time Tracking

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Why Should Freelancers Track Their Time?

Freelancing is more connected to time than any other type of business. A lost hour freelancing affects your weekly earnings directly. Luckily, as freelancing continues to grow across the US and Europe, a stable of software is being built to assist solo-workers and small businesses.

Arguably we all benefit from better time management, but this post focuses on the currently available time-tracking software specifically targeted at freelancers, ultimately ending in my review of the top five time-tracking options.

On top of lost billable time, (and therefor money), working time as a solo-worker can easily get messy. Twenty minutes on an email to a prospect, fifteen on a skype call to a client, 47 minutes finishing off a deliverable, (if you get to finish it.) Then your significant other walks in and asks you to put up a shelf or take the dog for a walk.

As a solo-worker, (freelancer or entrepreneur), it’s imperative that we get a handle on these fractured moments. Success in freelancing is down to delivering good value in a sustainable way. Tracking time is one tool which has helped me more in a more sustainable way.

Waking Up With Intention…

Freelancers: Timed Intention

This morning when I logged in, and rubbed my eyes, I saw this:

Time Tracking: Yesterday

This is the time tracking software I’ve been using for a few years now, Toggl. But don’t take that as an endorsement, just yet.

Toggl was the first time tracking software to get my attention. It was also one of the first cloud services. As a follower of the Quantified Self movement, as well as a freelance developer, it made sense that I needed to keep records of my time. I’ve since talked to many freelancers who don’t share the same tenacity for self-analysis, but ultimately they realize that they do still need to track their time, (even if not happily.)

Time Spent Yesterday: Tracked via Toggl

Take a look at the time I logged yesterday: 6 tasks, all decent chunks of time, all assigned to projects. As a freelancer, these days of varied but focused work are usually most rewarding. Fractured days with five minutes on this, ten on that, typically leave me disorientated and tired. Reflecting on my days in this way was the first surprising bi-product of tracking my time.

Before I even get started today I can see how I did yesterday. I can consciously or subconsciously connect how I felt last night with the work I did beforehand. By leaving my time tracking open before I log off I can set myself a super-simple reminder: Check in your time. Look at yesterdays. Observe and reflect. Using this trick I’ve built tracking into my life, and it’s been transformative.

I don’t always review this stuff daily, but it’s useful to pay attention. To begin with you may need to set yourself these sorts of traps. After a while, the process will become natural.

What are you working on?

Time Tracking: What are you working on?

The question itself is provocative in all the right ways:
What are you working on?

Questions beg our brains for answers, and this is a great example of initiating us into a response. It’s a statement that we can use to remind ourselves to pay attention to what we are doing. To quantify. What are you working on? Are you working at all? Is that Facebook message to your aunt Sally work-related? What, in fact, is worth working on?

That which is measured, improves.

As a freelancer your working day is different to that of an employee. You likely rock up to work without a commute. You choose your hours, (to an extent). You also have to be your own manager. No one is going to check whether you’re delivering value each and every day. You must check yourself. No one is going to check your books and see if those hours spent at the screen are turning a profit. No one except you. In this way, efficacy is the prime principle of freelancing. Tracking your time teaches you first efficiency, and then through analysis, efficacy.

Look at this report, it shows time spent over a month:

Time Tracking: A Month in Review

As you can see in this example I’ve spent just over 60 hours developing for the project “Client DC WordPress Theme”. Better still, you can see that the sum of that time includes some correspondence. By recording all of the time spent on each module of my work I can quickly and easily see whether I’m on track to be profitable with each project. If I take the billable value of this project and divide it by 62, I can instantly see what hourly rate I’ve generated with my efforts. I can spot problems before they become problems.

Analysing Your Time Tracker Data

Deep Data Analysis

Further down the chain, we can do analysis over months or years, over several projects, and clients. Without this time data I would be running my freelancing business in the fog. I would not totally know if my actions were producing results I wanted. The only indications I would have would be my mood and my bottom line profits, (and with freelancing we all know these can ebb and flow at the best of times).

With time-tracking data I can see how much time I’ve typically spent in correspondence before landing projects. I can see how much time I’m spending after delivery. From here I can do an 80/20 analysis and filter, or fire bad clients, learn skills where I am lacking, or pivot my business. I get informed sight of each aspect of my freelancing.

Time Tracking: My Year In Review with Time Data

Time Tracking: My Year In Review with Time Data

Since I started tracking my time in 2012 I’ve recorded 4,382 hours, (4390 after this post). Having logged my time for two years I can’t see how you can freelance successfully without time tracking. Track your time for a year, it’ll change everything you do, freelancer or not. To get started I recommend using one of the following time tracking web apps. Most have browser, desktop and mobile options, and they nearly all have free plans.

Time Tracking Software For Freelancers

Time tracking is booming. Time recording software options are available that are cheap and easy, feature-full and expensive, automatic or manual, colorful or dull.

For this test I’ve tried over 45 different time logging apps, and I can tell you, there’s a great selection. Because there are so many options, I’ve filtered out the weaker apps, those that don’t suit freelancing, and focused on the few that I’d use myself. Below you can see my top five time trackers for freelancers, as well as two wild-card options you might not have considered. (You can see my review of 45+ time trackers here.)

The following ratings are aimed at the solo-worker, based on five criteria:

  • Fitness for freelancing: How well does each time tracking software fit freelance work?
  • Features: What useful features does each have for the freelancer?
  • Reporting: Does the software help you easily analyze your time-spent?
  • Ease of use: Is the app available on multiple devices? Does it, ironically, take hours to click, record, manage the time?
  • Price: Will this option break the freelancer’s bank?

Each app is rated out of 60, including 10 possible bonus points! They are not in points-order, for a complete list see TimeTrackerList.com

Toggl

This was the first time tracking app I ever used, and I still use it to this day. It’s a fine example of what time tracking can be, and one of the several great examples which suit freelancers and small agencies.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 8/10 – Toggl works well for freelancers, though lacks invoicing capabilities.
  • Features: 7/10 – Templates for projects is a great feature for freelancers, as is its billable flag.
  • Reporting: 10/10 – Toggl has a solid reporting engine via the web-app, and API access.
  • Ease of use: 10/10 – Easy time tracking via desktop, mobile or web app.
  • Price: 9/10 – With a free plan or $5 per month for premium, Toggl is cheap.
  • Overall: 44/50
  • Bonus Points: 8/10 – Weekly overviews, tags and a fancy GUI are all bonuses!

Total: 52/60

Freckle

Freckle is at the forefront of innovating time tracking software. Their web app is an ergonomic pleasure, and has handfuls of beneficial features.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 9/10 – Freckle has all the awesome that any freelancer would want, including invoicing.
  • Features: 10/10 – The prettiest of the time trackers. Freckle manages to squeeze in lots of useful features, such as excellent tagging.
  • Reporting: 9/10 – Super-good-looking and useful reporting, though in some ways it feels aimed at teams.
  • Ease of use: 10/10 – Again, easy time tracking via desktop, mobile or web app.
  • Price: 7/10 – At $19 per month after a free trial period, Freckle is pricier than the rest, but still worth the money.
  • Overall: 45/50
  • Bonus Points: 8/10 – ‘Type your time’ entries, stunning design, and great overall attention to detail.

Total: 53/60

Harvest

Harvest is another of the most popular apps for time tracking. They aim to modernize the way people track time and manage service businesses, and achieve that with their Harvest App.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 9/10 – Harvest is apt for freelancing, the only reason it doesn’t get a ten here is that it feels geared toward agency users.
  • Features: 8/10 – Projects, tasks, billable flags are all useful, while there is less focus on timekeeping.
  • Reporting: 10/10 – Harvest has good reporting and brings budgets & expenses into the mix.
  • Ease of use: 8/10 – Overall quite easy time tracking, though it lacks the ease of Freckle or Toggl.
  • Price: 8/10 – With a quite restrictive free plan, or $12 per month for solo, Harvest is in the middle of the price range.
  • Overall: 43/50
  • Bonus Points: 7/10 – Budget and expense management are useful, also, billing is done well.

Total: 50/60

Paymo

Out of all these time trackers, Paymo is probably the most targeted at freelancers. An early glimpse at Paymo 3 Beta shows that the new GUI is going to be great.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 10/10 – All in all Paymo is great for freelancers.
  • Features: 9/10 – Paymo’s milestones and invoicing are really useful additions.
  • Reporting: 10/10 – Paymo lets you create and save reports, and view them as documents. Being able to share reports with clients via URL is also great plus.
  • Ease of use: 8/10 – While the Paymo timer is very usable, it’s not as fancy as Freckle or Toggl’s tracker.
  • Price: 8/10 – With a free plan restricted to one invoice a month, most freelancers will take the $9.95 per month option.
  • Overall: 45/50
  • Bonus Points: 8/10 – Paymo Beta 3 shows that there are great things to come for Paymo users. Especially the fancy dashboard!

Total: 53/60

Timecamp

Timecamp is another slick offering for managing your time, though like Harvest, it tends to feel that it would work better in an agency setting than for an individual freelancer.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 8/10 – With all the features a freelancer would want Timecamp is well equipped, though it leans towards multi-user teams.
  • Features: 8/10 – Usable project management features and simplistic billing. Automated time-keeping is optionally available on desktops.
  • Reporting: 10/10 – Reporting is very good in Timecamp, with goals, attendance, and categories reports.
  • Ease of use: 9/10 – Timecamp’s desktop time-keeping is automated, recording all of the apps and websites you use. Personally I feel this detracts from my control and time-awareness.
  • Price: 8/10 – With a free plan, or $6-$9 per month plans, Timecamp offers a lot for its fee, rivalling the more expensive options.
  • Overall: 43/50
  • Bonus Points: 8/10 – Solid reporting, multiple project-hierarchies, and many integrations makes Timecamp a pleasure to use.

Total: 51/60

Spreadsheets

To go through this list and not mention the obvious would be a failure. You can, of course, track your time with spreadsheets.

  • Fitness for freelancing: 6/10 – Freelancers all have access to spreadsheet software. It’s a part of business, but ultimately it’s not designed for you to specifically track your time.
  • Features: 5/10 – While you can make your own sheets, and using Google Docs your data will be stored in the cloud, it’s not inherently easy/quick to manage your time.
  • Reporting: 5/10 – You can make reports using spreadsheet software, but you have to design them yourself!
  • Ease of use: 5/10 – You can access Google Docs spreadsheets from almost anywhere, but it won’t be as easy as a native time-keeping app!
  • Price: 10/10 – Spreadsheets will probably cost you nothing (Google Docs).
  • Overall: 31/50
  • Bonus Points: 3/10 – Having to manually manage the lines of data will suck, but a silver lining will be that you’ll be hands-on with your time-data!

Total: 34/60

Mobile/Desktop-only Apps

Finally, for the minimalist freelancer, there is the option of a super-simple mobile, or desktop app to record your time. This review is for Atracker for iOS, other notable mentions include Chronomate (Mac OSX) and Fanurio (all desktop platforms).

  • Fitness for freelancing: 7/10 – Simple and usable, most freelancers will have a phone. A good start to time-tracking.
  • Features: 6/10 – While the time-recording elements of such apps are great, they lack detailed reporting and invoicing.
  • Reporting: 5/10 – Easy to access reporting via the app is good, but lacks depth.
  • Ease of use: 5/10 – Great, until you have a problem with your phone, or switch to a new one, (no cloud support).
  • Price: 9/10 – You can’t complain with a $2.99 one-time purchase.
  • Overall: 32/50
  • Bonus Points: 5/10 – Very easy to pick up and use, especially for those just starting out.

Total: 37/60

Special Mentions

Some other time trackers deserve mention here, including Crisply for its innovative auto-tracking using common services, Cashboard for its no-nonsense platform, Rescue Time for it’s, (recently updated), automatic tracking, and Timely for its stunning app. There are lots of great options for time tracking, and 2015 will bring even more fine features to freelancers seeking to self-manage.

Summary

Last Few Time Logger App Mentions

As of Q4 2014 the freelancer is well catered for. With many options to choose from, tracking your time and improving your business has never been easier. Having spent over a week testing the various features of each platform, I have to say that of the top 20, most are at a highly usable standard, feature-rich and beautiful. It’s increasingly hard to divine a solid winner amongst them all. As to which time tracker suits you, this will largely come down to the nuances of the interfaces and which seems to fit your style of freelancing.

What’s most important is that you start to track your time, and with Toggl, Freckle, Paymo or any similar offering, you’ll be off to a great start.

See Also: Time Tracking List Update Feb 2015

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  1. 21 Comments
  2. Tom Wrenn
    Dec 5, 2014 at 8:42 pm

    Great survey, just wish you’d seen our product before hand!

    TimeTracker by our company, CreativeWorx, does automatic (no remembering to toggle start-stop timers) time tracking of how you spend your time in the different apps on your Mac along with more detailed tracking in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It can generate detailed timesheets and has dashboards for deep data analysis.

     
  3. Woody Hayday
    Dec 8, 2014 at 9:53 am

    Hi Tom,

    Thanks for the share. I’ll certainly review your offering and add it to the list, personally I get a lot out of managing my timers, it’s part of my focus.
    Is TimeTracker Mac-only?

    Cheers

     
  4. Giovanni
    Dec 10, 2014 at 8:20 am

    We have just released a new version of our time tracking web app and, after a short beta period, we are now running a stable version.
    We like to call our product a second generation time tracking solution as it automatically suggests time entries based on your recent activity and integrations (Basecamp, Redbooth and Google Calendar). This means that after you’ve used it for a little while, Timeneye will be able to fill out most of your time sheet for you!

     
  5. Woody Hayday
    Dec 10, 2014 at 10:34 am

    @Giovanni, Thanks for sharing your post, and it’s interesting to hear about the progressions of Timeneye. Is it about time I updated your record on TimeTrackerList.com? (Going to refresh the listings next week.)

     
    • Giovanni
      Dec 10, 2014 at 12:50 pm

      @Woody, we’ll be out with a free plan subscription for Timeneye starting from January 2015 and we are currently working on other integrations as well. You can update our record on TimeTrackerList.com and we’ll keep you updated on new important features. Make sure to follow us on Twitter @timeneye to receive our daily feeds.

       
      • Woody Hayday
        Jan 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm

        @Giovanni – keep me posted by email please, I’ll be doing an update of Time Tracker List (http://timetrackerlist.com/) this month.

         
  6. Nur Costa
    Dec 17, 2014 at 12:30 pm

    This is crazy and awesome but insanely CRAZY at the same time!
    Anyway, I might get scared of the results that would come up with this software… All wasted on Social Media I guess…

     
    • Woody Hayday
      Jan 12, 2015 at 3:07 pm

      @Nur – Better close that facebook or twitter tab then!

       
  7. John
    Jan 2, 2015 at 12:29 am

    Hi Tom!
    May I suggest? I hope you can also do a review on Time Doctor alongside with these time tracking software you have mentioned above. I have used it for almost 3 years now to track my work hours as I have been doing freelance projects for the past years.

     
    • Woody Hayday
      Jan 12, 2015 at 3:09 pm

      Hey John,

      It’s me that built http://timetrackerlist.com – I can add timedoctor. I presume you’re the developer behind it?

      Thanks for sharing.

       
  8. Woody Hayday
    Feb 13, 2015 at 3:48 pm

    Time Tracker List was updated today, have taken all the suggestions into account, and you can see the update here:

    http://www.everclients.com/time-tracking-list-updated/

    Cheers all!

     
    • Carlo Borja
      Feb 17, 2015 at 8:58 am

      Thank you for including Time Doctor in the updated list, Woody!

      Fantastic resource you have built here.

       
      • Woody Hayday
        Feb 17, 2015 at 12:46 pm

        No worries Carlo, good to see another great time-tracker on the list 🙂

         
  9. Seb
    Mar 18, 2015 at 10:24 am

    Hey Woody,

    Great site, i’ll be checking it every so often for new apps.

    For me the one and only killer tool is automatic time tracking like Paymo, TimeCamp and WakaTime (however I still find them all a bit clunky). Anyway can I suggest this as a filter / sort option for your site?

    Cheers!

     
    • Woody Hayday
      Mar 20, 2015 at 1:41 pm

      Hi Seb,

      What do you love about the automatic time-trackers, and which do you use day-to-day?

      There are trade-off’s for using both automatic and manual time-keepers, so would be good to hear what you appreciate as the benefits for the automatic options you use?

      Cheers

       
      • Seb
        Apr 28, 2015 at 7:38 am

        Hey, I never received a notification that you replied so I only just saw this then after coming back to find this site to see if its been updated.

        I work on about 5-10 different projects every day (being a freelancer) so i’m constantly switching between tabs in chrome, files in sublime and reading emails in gmail so for me to remember to stop start every few minutes is impossible… I’d rather setup rules either before or after i’ve done the work and have the computer do all the time tracking for me…. when I work on my dev sites the domain is always the site-slug.mydevserver.com it should be easy enough to map that site-slug to a project. I’ve almost got there with Wakatime and a custom Chrome extension.. but a proper PM/TM app that did it with a nicer interface and better mapping / reporting etc would be perfect! sadly it doesn’t exist.

        Cheers

         
        • Woody Hayday
          Jun 16, 2015 at 8:50 am

          Hey Seb,

          But are you actually switching projects that often?

          Cheers

          Woody

           
  10. Kevin Peter
    May 25, 2015 at 12:40 pm

    I really liked the way you have showcased your personal time tracked and logged. I’d want to point out that Replicon’s time tracking tool is not a part of the list – http://timetrackerlist.com/ and Id love to know you’re thoughts on it.

     
    • Woody Hayday
      Jun 16, 2015 at 8:50 am

      I’ll add Replicon’s offering when I get a chance!

      W

       
  11. Andrea
    Jun 12, 2015 at 1:35 pm

    Nice article with good points on a topic too debated (at least among me and my peers). I say too debated because I believe it should not be necessary to siscuss it that much. For some people and some activities time tracking is the thing to do.

    I know most of the apps listed (the exceptions being Crisply and Cashboard, which I will check out soon). Right now I use this one called Time Tracking by primaERP. and recommend it. Tracks time in detail, provides reports, creates bills, etc.

     
    • Woody Hayday
      Jun 16, 2015 at 8:51 am

      Hi Andrea,

      Thanks for stopping by, I’ll check out primaERP’s offering when I next update the list!

      W

       
 
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