Keeping track of your billable hours is an essential task for any freelancer. Just as important is keeping track of non-billable hours, to see how much work you’re actually putting into a project, and to determine if you are utilizing your time for maximum efficiency.
Tracking time can be a pain in the butt experience, and can itself become a time sink. Below is a round up of 4 web applications that each take their own approach to time tracking. Let us know in the comments your experience with each of these apps, and any others that you use for keeping track of your time.
We recommended Harvest as part of our 10 must have tools for communicating with clients last month, and with good reason. Harvest is the crème de la crème of time tracking applications, taking a traditional approach to managing your time.
The application is flexible, supporting a range of entry methods (web, phone, desktop widget, etc.), and has a number of helpful features, such as expense tracking, and great reporting features. Harvest is probably the best suited app in this round up for teams, and offers something most time tracking apps don’t: integrated billing.
RescueTime isn’t like other time tracking applications on this list — rather than manually enter time you spent doing each task, RescueTime is an application you install on your computer that automatically keeps track of what you’re doing. How much time do you spend using Gmail? How much time are you spending working on things in Photoshop? How long are you typing away at code in TextMate? RescueTime can answer those questions.
For that reason, this isn’t a suitable app for tracking every bit of work you do for the purpose of invoicing clients (though it can be useful in making sure your manual time tracking is kept accurate). There are, however, great reasons for using RescueTime. One of the best is that it can actually boost productivity. According to RescueTime, their users “tend to see a 9% average increase in time spent on self-identified productive activities over the first eight weeks of using the service.”
Remember: time is money.
From well-known developers Amy Hoy and Thomas Fuchs Freckle is all about keeping time tracking as simple as possible. There’s virtually nothing to configure with Freckle, so you’re up and tracking almost instantly. The idea with Freckle is to remove as many barriers for users as possible, so tracking time is about as simple as it can get: you type in how long you did it, who you did it for, and what you did.
The app has all sorts of nifty, useful features, such as the app’s ability to understand time entry on your terms. Freckle makes intelligent guesses, so if you enter “15,” it guesses you meant 15 minutes, whereas if you type in “2,” the app assumes you probably worked for 2 hours. You can override the guesses by using m, h, or d operators during entry.
Freckle also remembers tags and clients you’ve entered in the past, and suggests them as you as you type. And that’s almost the entire app. Like we said: Freckle keeps things simple.
Like Freckle, BubbleTimer is also very simple. But BubbleTimer takes a very unique approach to time tracking that we haven’t seen elsewhere. Rather than typing in the amount of time you’ve spent on a task, or choosing from a drop down menu, with BubbleTimer you fill in bubbles that represent 15 minute increments. For anyone who has ever taken a standardized multiple-choice test in school, this method of data entry should be instantly familiar.
BubbleTimer asks users to set time goals when setting up new task, allowing you to keep track of not only how long you spend on a project, but whether you completed it within the time you set aside. And if you don’t? Well, it ends up feeling a lot like failing a test, which might just train you to be more efficient in your time management.
What other applications do you use for time tracking? Let us know in the comments.
Josh Catone joined Mashable in May 2009 and is Executive Director of Editorial Projects. Before joining Mashable, Josh was the Lead Writer at ReadWriteWeb, the Lead Blogger at SitePoint, and the Community Evangelist at DandyID.