5 Time-Tracking Tools for Web-Addicted Freelancers

Jacco Blankenspoor

Time is money, right? That’s why there are few things more important to your bottom line than tracking your time.

That’s were time tracking tools come in —  and there are tons of them, good and bad. Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff and find out which ones are worth your while.

All of the reviewed tools include these features:

  • Easy tracking anywhere: you can use timers on both desktop, iOS and Android devices.
  • Extensive reporting: both in clear numbers and in graphs.

Some of these apps also include:

  • Project and client management: directly assign worked hours to a specific project or client, with specified rates.
  • Invoicing: convert billable hours into an invoice for your client.
  • Desktop monitoring: keep track of which applications are used or which sites are visited.

Let’s have a closer look at each of these tools, and see what makes them unique.

Harvest

Harvest is a popular time tracking tool. It offers all of the features listed above, except for desktop monitoring.

Harvest is perfect if you are running multiple projects with different contributors, tasks and rates.

Harvest comes with a limited free plan, but a more useful unlimited plan comes at $12 a month for a single user.

So, why Harvest?

Harvest is by itself a popular tool. One of the benefits to being famous is getting to work with the other popular kids!

Harvest makes good use of this by integrating with tools like Basecamp (project management), QuickBooks (accounting) and Salesforce (CRM).

Clever project management

Harvest has a very ingenious way of setting up projects. You can specify a project budget with an alert to prevent excesses, and give other contributors insight into the remaining budget. You can also specify different rates based on tasks, contributors, or the full project.

Harvest project management

One project can contain multiple tasks, both billable and non-billable, and you can assign different people to work on the project.

Real-time time sheets

Harvest time sheet

Imagine how this would look if you had several people working for you (including freelancers). Wouldn’t it look amazing? Time logs are shown real-time, so you can track what everyone is doing.

And this is just one part of reporting. You can track expenses per (sub-)project and user, view detailed time sheets and easily determine what needs to be invoiced.

Paymo

Paymo is the time-tracking tool I use most. I have been using it for years, from the time where there were no useful free alternatives. I still love it.

Paymo is currently in between two versions — an upgrade to the beta version of Paymo 3.0 has been available for quite a while now. I am still using Paymo 2.0, which offers all of the features listed above (as will the final release of Paymo 3.0).

Paymo can be used for free if you are a single user, and comes with unlimited projects (though it’s limited to one invoice per month). Upgrades are available from $9,95 a month with two users.

So, why Paymo?

Goal calendar

Paymo goals

Paymo comes with a very convenient goal calendar, which shows you which tasks are nearing their deadline. This helps set your priorities, especially if you’re working on multiple projects at once.

Client portal

Paymo comes with a useful client portal. You can give you clients access to view their invoices and reports.

Desktop monitoring

Paymo Desktop Monitoring

This one is a hidden gem, since you won’t find it on their sales pages. They call it an add-on, but basically it’s just another way of tracking time.

It keeps track of everything you do on your desktop. It checks which program you used, and even which tab (browser) or file (program) you were using. This can be a bit intimidating at first, but it’s perfect if you want to check how many times you visit Facebook each day, for example.

At the end of the day you just match up tasks to the projects you’re working on. You won’t even need to use the timer in this case, and tracking is accurate up to one second. You can even set up rules to automatically link specific applications to a project.

Toggl

Toggl claims they make time tracking insanely simple. I always love these statements — when they’re true. Is this one?

Toggl doesn’t offer invoicing, but it does offer all of the other features listed above.

Pricing is very simple: just $5 a month per user with no limits. There are two trials: by default you sign up for the limited version (without adding a credit card), and you can upgrade to the premium version if you add payment details.

So, why Toggl?

Desktop monitoring

Toggl comes with an integrated time tracker and desktop monitoring program for your desktop. It shows which slots of time you haven’t tracked during the day, so you can assign that time manually.

Chrome extension

Toggl Chrome

Toggl offers a Chrome extension which can be used for tens of online apps, so you can start tracking right away.

I will use Trello as an example, since SitePoint uses it to manage article publication. When the plugin is active, a small “start timer” button appears on the Trello card.

When I press this, a new task is automatically added to Toggl, and the clock starts ticking.

After I’m done I just stop the timer and the time is logged. All I need to do it assign it to a project and check if it’s billable time or not. It couldn’t be any easier.

Workspaces

Toggl has two familiar layers: project and sub-projects (tasks). It also adds a new concept: workspaces, in which you put one or several projects and users.

This way you can group your projects, which makes for easier managing and reporting. Users can also set up their own work spaces, like for non-billable but productive tasks.

Freckle

Freckle has a rather unclear sales page. They try to sell a solution by listing problems, but it’s not really clear how they solve these problems until you sign up. But believe me, once inside it’s all crystal clear.

Freckle is very focused on simplifying time tracking. There’s the familiar timer, of course, but they wanted to improve the process of adding manual entries.

Freckle is the most expensive solution we’ll look at here, with their entry plan priced at $19,95 a month for a single user (no usage limits).

So, why Freckle?

Simple manual tracking

Freckle time tracking

Let’s start by looking at how easy it is to add manual entries. I must say, it is very easy indeed.

There is an entry bar at the top of every page. Here you select the date, fill in your spent time, select the project and use a hashtag to define your task.

The hashtag is something I haven’t seen before in time tracking, but it a nice take on the usual task specification. And by adding an simple asterisk (*) you make that tasks unbillable.

Pulse

Freckle Pulse

Freckle has a convenient way of checking back on time spent. The feature is called “Pulse”, and it shows you a calendar with you entries. Just hover over each day to get a breakdown of project time.

From here you can also easily access the full report for that day and see which activities (hashtags) were logged.

Simple invoicing

The invoicing process won’t cost you much time either. Most of the invoice is filled in based on the time logging you’ve already done. You can send along detailed hour specifications, and opt for direct payment using PayPal.

It’s done faster than with the other tools, while still looking good and professional.

RescueTime

RescueTime has a very different but interesting approach to time tracking.

The focus is on you as a productive user. It’s not so much what you are working on and for whom, but more about how you do it.

You can do this by setting goals on how much you may spend on a specific task and alert you when you go over your alloted time. You can even go as far as blocking specific types of sites that are proven to be distracting to you (there’s Facebook again!). It’s great if you’re low on willpower.

In the end it’s all about how you spent your day. Therefore there is no project management, no invoicing and actually no real timer. All tracking is done unobtrusively, in the background. You have to install a program (or an app on mobile devices) though which all tracking is done.

RescueTime comes with a free plan which allows for tracking time and setting goals. If you want to get serious about your time tracking and add on features (like site-blocking), it will cost you $9 per month.

So, why RescueTime?

RescueTime App

Let’s start by looking at how the tracking is done. As you can see in my screenshot, it’s clearly specified how my total of 11 minutes is spent.

Each activity is rated on a productivity scale. “Very Distracting” sites can be blocked for a given amount of time from the desktop app. When that is enabled, any attempted visit to a distracting site will display an error page.

The productivity scale is customizable, so if social media is your work, not a distraction, RescueTime can still help.

Productivity score

RescueTime Productivity Score

I always like rankings, and I found RescueTime’s “Productivity score” to be very useful. I think we all have these days which quickly fill up with small tasks. That doesn’t feel very productive.

This score tells you whether your instinct is correct or not, which might convince you that the day wasn’t a complete write-off.

Daily Highlight

RescueTime Daily Highlight

Another motivation booster, the Daily Highlight really shows that RescueTime gets what’s important.

The Daily Highlight will show you what you’ve done during the day. You can add accomplishments yourself, which always makes me feel more productive. It’s just a simple snapshot of your day, but over the course of a week this can make the difference between feeling like you’ve wasted your week and knowing that you’ve been on-task.

Summing Up

After reviewing these great tools it’s clear time tracking can be done in a few different ways. You can do it manually if you have the discipline. Or, if you’re more like me, desktop monitoring can be a better way to do it.

Using RecueTime might be a good start if you feel like you are losing hours throughout the day. I know I did, and I really should cut down on Facebook (and stop convincing myself it’s a valid business activity).

In the end, it’s all about making and justifying billable hours, and for this I believe you can’t really go wrong with time tracking.

Let me know how you feel about time tracking in the comments, and which tool you use.

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  • disqus_2613Uh7ioo

    I have started using Paymo, I was looking for one of these tools from many days. Your article helped me.
    I wanted to use Rescue time, it looks even free trial is also not allowed now while signup. Thanks Jac.

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Hi, glad I could help you with this. Regarding the trial, it works in such a way that if you didn’t cancel within 14 days you card gets charged. You do need to enter your credit card details unfortunately. Let me know if you encounter any problems, so I can see if I can contact them. Thanks!

  • http://maphpia.com str

    I’m looking for a free solution to track time for a small 2 devs team. I’m still looking

  • Anh Ho

    Very helpful! I’m gonna take RescueTime for a spin. It looks simple and clean.

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Great, let me know what you think! It’s indeed really simple, and I like their approach :-)

  • Stuart Moir

    We use a really cool one called Random247.com, its fairly new but looks to have massive potential

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Hi, looks promising but for now it’s just an Android or iPhone app for simple time tracking (right?).

      • Stuart Moir

        Hey, thank you for your message.

        We are extremely excited to inform you that starting Wednesday, 30 April 2014,The Random Agency Ltd. has moved its domain name to a new URL. So if you’re looking for mobile application or website development , you’ll have to contact us at…
        http://the.random.agency

        We have also updated our email addresses, so please update your records accordingly my new email address is…
        stuart@random.agency

        We will still receive your communication however the use of stuart@therandomagency.co.uk will cease over the coming weeks, so please update your details ASAP.
        Regards
        The Random Agency

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Arlen, I checked this one out but it seems the free plan does come with 3 users included, but excludes all the features you mention…

    • Arlen Mark

      I will suggest you to please check price page for detailed info on the available features in the packages available. :)

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        Hi Arlen, you’re right that the features you mention are included in the paid plan. But since the question was for a free tool to use for time tracking, I had to mention that this specific feature isn’t in the free plan.

      • http://maphpia.com str

        Like Arlen said, it’s not really a free solution. Sorry

        • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

          Hi, Proofhub isn’t, but there are a few listed here where are. Did you find any yourself?

  • Paolo

    Great selection, but I quit using web solutions as I’m always on the go. I found this app, Today from http://www.companyons.com, which is really amazing. It’s a productivity app (to-do + reminders + calendar) so I have everything in one place and I can add time to each task. At the end of the week I get my CSV file and I’m ready to prepare invoices in an heartbeat! Have you tried it?

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Hi Paolo, I haven’t tried it myself but I’m not a big fan of using an mobile app for everything. It surely should be included, but most of my work is done on a fixed computer where I prefer a widget on the side. But it looks nice, couldn’t find anything on pricing though…

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Mark. It was on the short list for the top 5, but I found it rather expensive compared to those who made the list. The higher price wouldn’t be the biggest problem if they compensate it with mind blowing features, but in my opinion they aren’t. But they were a serious contender :-)

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Christian, thank you for listing this one. It seems a perfect tool if you need just time tracking, for a very low price.

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, thank you for commenting. Is it me, or does it seem a bit dated? I couldn’t find a real time tracker (stopwatch), which means making manual entries. It does look like a great tool to keep track of tasks, and being free surely helps :-)

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Ah, a fellow Dutchy :-) Your tool looks great,and the syncing is a nice feature. Pricing seems reasonable too. The trial time is really generous but just curious: How did you come up with 47 days ;-)?

    • joostschouten

      Hi Jacco, Dutch indeed and thanks for the kind words. 47 days was an idea from our Marketing manager. It’s different and thus it sticks :)

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        So it seems :-)

  • amit d

    Amazing work, this article is for every freelancer.
    Well done !!!

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Thank you, nice words :-)

  • http://www.fanuriotimetracking.com/ Nicolae Cismaru

    Hi Jacco,

    I’d like to suggest Fanurio (http://www.fanuriotimetracking.com) which is a time tracking and billing software application, highly appreciated by freelancers for its intuitive interface, flexible timer and ability to produce detailed invoices.

    Fanurio is not free but it has a free trial. It costs 59 USD (which means about $5/month for the first year) and you can use it for life.

    I know that there are many freelancers who prefer to use a desktop application in order to keep their data on their own computers. Since Fanurio is a desktop application, it integrates very well with the platforms it runs on. On OS X, you can easily access timers from the the menu bar and from the dock icon menu. On Windows, you can start a new timer or control the active timer from the thumbnail toolbar or from the tray icon. You can also use global hotkeys to control the timers from within any running application.

    Fanurio is used by many freelancers not just to track time but to bill their clients as well. Fanurio can export invoices to HTML, PDF, Microsoft Word 2007, OpenOffice OpenDocument and other formats so they can be printed or e-mailed. Invoice templates can be created manually, with a visual editor (Adobe Dreamweaver, Microsoft Word or OpenOffice) or with the built-in template editor.

    I hope this helps.

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      Hi Nicolae, looks interesting but I think having a mobile app would attract an additional audience (I myself prefer desktop tracking, but use the mobile timer occasionally if I have to).

  • NickMinolich

    What about integrated solutions that do everything to client management, to time tracking to invoicing? There are some very good free ones (like Bitrix24 or any of its clones)

    • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

      I certainly love the sales page :-) And the product looks really interesting. I haven’t heard of it before though, while the 175.000+ organisations number should make it one of the largest players in the field… Too bad the time tracking feature is only included in the most (very) expensive version.

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, it’s fine by me but I believe comments close after a certain amount of time.

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Leesa, Arlen Mark mentioned this one as well. If I can make a suggestions then it would be to offer a free plan with more features. I think that would really help in attracting more users.

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, those look both quite nice! But are these self-hosted only?

    • Saleem P

      Yes, they’re both self hosted. A good alternative for anyone who wants more control over their data or doesn’t want the monthly fees from SaaS. They’re super simple to install as well. The process is similar to installing WordPress and shouldn’t take longer than 5 minutes for most users.

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        You’re right, and the product looks solid, so I encourage readers to try this one out as well. Thanks!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Sahil, I would guess you would like this approach, being one of the builders of Brightpod ;-) While the app looks good, the pricing is a bit vague. You mention 15 projects for the starter plan, but are the live projects or are archived projects counted for as well?
    P.s. I like the Buzz page :-)

    • http://www.sahilparikh.com/ Sahil Parikh

      Only active projects are counted. Archived projects donot count :) Glad you liked the Buzz page.

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        Great, thanks for clarifying!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, thanks for your comment. What do you most prefer on Harvest if I may ask?

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Frank, thank you for contributing! I checked out Kanban, and I really like the screenshot on it’s homepage :-) But it looks more like a project management tool, and less like a time tracking tool though. Or am I wrong?

    • Frank Ferenz

      It fulfills both functions :-) I prefer, if it is possible, to use one tool for everything.

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        Great, thanks for checking back in!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    That’s great feedback, thanks!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, I believe I checked this one out for this article, don’t know for sure why it wasn’t included but I certainly encourage readers to give it a try. Thank you for sharing your experiences!

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi, at first glance it seems to be in line with Paymo, but pricing is a bit steep though. Free plan should include more running products, but that’s me :-)

    • Pollard5150

      Yea i like the way its priced (per open project vs per user). So with unlimited users my various clients can log in to view everything and I don’t have to worry about being charged more money.

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        That’s another way to look at it, and you’re right :-)

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi Jacob, site is a bit slow for me so couldn’t find anything what I want, but it seems only mobile apps are used for time tracking?

  • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

    Hi! I am not a big fan of mobile only tools, but I see why someone would appreciate Mworker. But it seems it’s only available for Android devices, leaving out iPhone users?

    • http://www.resurs.lt Mindaugas Jocius

      Jacco, yeah, it’s a bit odd. Although they’re supposedly launching a web app soon for businesses, so the iPhone app might be on its way as well. But I can only speculate on that. :)

      • http://www.buildyourownwebstore.com/ Jacco Blankenspoor

        We’ll see then :-) Thank you for adding the tool!

  • http://www.sahilparikh.com/ Sahil Parikh

    Not yet. But we have plans to include this.

  • Olha Trophimova

    Thank you for the inspiration! We use Yaware.Online for time tracking, it’s very simple and convenient. Did you hear about it?