Where does your time go?
The question might fill you with anxiety as you try not to add up the minutes you spend on Facebook and Twitter.
How can you make the most of your time when you sit down to work?
Many freelancers get paid for their work on a project basis, regardless of how long it takes to complete tasks. But many must keep track of billable hours in order to be paid. And still others want to keep track of their time for personal accountability.
No matter how you slice it, time is money, and the two are intertwined for every freelancer.
Whether you rely on your desktop computer or like to take your work on the road with your tablet or phone, there are tons of tools available to help you track your time.
Are you ready to learn about some of our favorites — and pick out one or two to try? Here we go.
A favorite of creative entrepreneur podcast Being Boss, Freshbooks boasts a time-tracking cloud-based tool that’s accessible across multiple devices.
If a client calls, you can open the app on your phone and start the timer to make sure you don’t lose any billable minutes on your project. Freshbooks then pulls all unbilled hours into an invoice for you.
In addition, multiple team members can access the same account, and you can even invite your accountant or bookkeeper to check in on your progress.
Bonus: The intro video for the app version features a delightful animated singing squirrel.
Cost: You can get a free 30-day trial. Paid memberships range from $9.95 to $39.95 per month for four different tiers of service.
Harvest might just win in terms of accessibility. Per their website, “Your team will get up to speed fast and can track their time however (and wherever) they want — on their laptop, iPhone, Android, or even on the Apple Watch. Simple and quick time entry means there’s no excuse not to track, and you’ll have the data you need to bill accurately and budget wisely.”
Harvest generates reports to help you keep projects on time and within a budget you’ve set.
Writer and editor Sara Kaplow used to use Harvest at her company and appreciated the way it lets users switch back to a client or task.
“The main thing I miss is being able to resume a task [with Harvest],” said Kaplow. “I have about 15 clients at a time, and while I try to be disciplined, if I get an email that a site is down, for example, I obviously have to address that. Harvest allowed me to pick back up. With Toggl, I ended up with 15 five-minute tasks I had to add up manually at the end of the day.”
Cost: A free version allows one user to have up to four projects for two clients. Paid versions range from $12 to $99 per month, with three levels of service available.
This tool even gets the endorsement of Alexis Ohanian, founder of Reddit.
RescueTime lets users create goals, such as spending one less hour each day on email, or it can alert you when you’ve been on Facebook for more than an hour in a day. It generates reports showing which applications and sites you use most, and for how long.
If it sounds like a depressing revelation awaits you, know that you can also block distracting sites and log highlights and achievements as they occur throughout the day. Gamify your productivity!
One downside, writes tech and design writer Shawn Blanc, is that RescueTime doesn’t necessarily care about the difference between productive social media use and unproductive distractions.
“The slight conundrum about Rescue Time’s Get Focused tab is that things like checking Twitter and email are a mixed bag,” Blanc wrote in a review. “I often use Twitter for productive work, but also it can be a time sink. So it’s not this one-to-one direct ratio where Twitter equals unproductive every time.“
Cost: RescueTime Lite allows users to set goals, get a weekly email report and analyze on three months of history. The Premium version adds on other services, like website blocking, daily accomplishment logs, more robust reports and filters, and unlimited reporting history for $9 per month (or $72 per year).
Toggl brands itself as being so easy to learn, no training is necessary.
“Start out simple, and drill deeper with user rights and project setup later on,” it claims. The tool allows for an overview of billable time, team progress and live time entries.
The mobile app lets users hit a button to begin timing work, and Toggle is compatible with productivity tools such as Trello and Asana. An offline option allows you to keep tracking time without WiFi.
Toggl also has a Chrome extension for easier access and use.
“Their Chrome extension…will add a start timer Toggl button at places like Gmail threads, Trello cards, and more,” wrote Khamosh Pathak for Guiding Tech. “When you click the button, the title will automatically be imported and time tracking will begin.”
Cost: A free version allows teams of up to five to track unlimited projects. A $59-per-month business version runs time audits, locks timesheets and sends team reminders. The pro level, at $10 each month per user, doesn’t limit team sizes, and offers report sharing and sub-project capabilities.
Fanurio tracks time and sends bills to your clients. It’s a desktop-based software program, so the plus side is, you don’t pay a monthly subscription fee.
The downside: It doesn’t seem to have an app to go along with its desktop-based program, which could be a major detractor for freelancers on the go.
Cost: A single-user license costs a flat fee of $59.
Hubstaff is geared more toward teams instead of individuals.The user interface looks nice and easily lets you check visual data, like time spent, screenshots of worker activity, app and URL tracking to see where your employees are going online, and more.
It’s good for remote teams, as you can manage people from all over with the same account.
Cost: A free version allows one user to track time, save screenshots and view activity levels. For $5 per month, one user can track keyboard and mouse activity and manage employee payments.
For $9 per month, a user can do these things as well as track URLs, do automatic payroll, track a weekly budget, and integrate other tools like Basecamp, Github and Quickbooks.
TimeCamp seems to have the most options for integration with other productivity tools.
Its major claim to fame is letting your employees trust themselves to get their work done: “TimeCamp allows employees to self-monitor their own productivity, especially how much time they’re losing to various distractions.”
If it’s just you, maybe you need to ask yourself how much you trust your ability to get things done.
Cost: A free version allows a single user to track time and computer usage using desktop and mobile versions for unlimited tasks and projects. A $6-per-month basic version adds on the ability to add unlimited users, export, integrate with other tools and track billable time and budgeting.
The pro version at $9 per month includes all this and more: invoicing; priority support; scheduled reports; timesheet approvals; and projects costs and billing rates.
Even if you don’t currently work billable hours, it might be an interesting experiment to see how you’re spending your freelance writing time.
Maybe writing articles and transcribing interviews is taking longer than you think, and it might be time to increase your rates. Alternately, maybe you’ll realize you’re spending a lot more time on social networking than you need to.
Either way, trying one of these tools might be worth your time.
What’s your favorite tool for tracking and managing your freelance writing time?
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