Not the Perfect Time Tracking Tool

The last post received some very interesting comments, and even a few mentions of specific time tracking systems that our readers use. As a process and methodology fanatic, I’m always interested in any tools that can help me to be more efficient – especially if they are related to time management.

Personally, I’ve only had success with two time tracking systems. The first was Microsoft Excel, which means we didn’t really use a ‘system’ at all. Instead, we had a standard spreadsheet form that each employee would complete and submit every Friday. This crude system worked well because it was flexible, easy, and required no maintenance or training. Unfortunately, it still required an administrator to manually process each timesheet as we created client invoices and prepared payroll for the developers. So, the ‘manual’ process of time tracking could be described as low risk and very effective, but cumbersome.

For the last few years, we’ve been using the QuickBooks timer system. The QuickBooks timer is a small time tracking application that comes bundled with QuickBooks, and it’s far from the ‘perfect’ solution. It’s a standalone application, requiring every employee to install the software. To make things even more cumbersome, the Customer/Job list needs to be exported from QuickBooks and distributed each month to ensure that all active jobs are available for the employees to bill against. At the end of each month, the employees export a file from the timer program and e-mail it back to us for processing.

Sounds like a painful process, doesn’t it? It is, but the QuickBooks timer system has one great advantage – the employee files that come in at the end of each month are imported right into our master QuickBooks system and all invoices and contractor payments are effortlessly generated from there. This saves an incredible amount of time, and helps to maintain 100% accurate books. So, this lackluster solution actually does wonders for the bottom line!

While the QuickBooks timer has worked well for us, I wouldn’t say it’s a quality solution by any standard. Its quite old, a bit buggy, and generally annoying to use. We’ve dabbled in various online time tracking systems, but the QuickBooks integration has always been the deciding factor and that’s the one thing that the QuickBooks timer does very well. A slick web-based system is always attractive, but if the timesheets don’t import well, it’s not worth it in the end.

I’d love to hear more about what kind of tools you are all using, and your thoughts about the effectiveness of those tools. With so many workflow and project management tools on the market right now, it’s tough to choose one and we’re still looking!

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  • Ryno

    Just goes to show that workflow and integration are sometimes much more important than features or even ease of use…

  • http://www.realityedge.com.au mrsmiley

    I have the added problem that 90% of the time I’m not near the computers that contain all the tracking software or have access to my financial/client data. So I ended up creating my own custom web interface and database for tracking all my client invoices and project tasks. Ok, so its not integrated into my accounting software, but I can generate invoices while I’m on the road.

    So like you, I’ve saved in one area and that’s in the invoicing stage. I’m not too worried about the time spent marrying the data up to the bank statements etc as getting the invoices out the door is of a higher priority for me. Client think it quite neat that I can create an invoice for them on the spot all on company letterhead right in front of them. Also means that my business partner can do the same and we don’t require an admin assistant back at base to do all that for us.

  • http://www.kisanbhat.com Kisan

    I too am not close to my computer but I am always online. I use online spreadsheet and doc by google.

    The doc file I collaborate with my client and the spreadsheet I allow my clients to access it.

    Before starting (either at client’s place or at home) I open up the speadsheet and enter start time and after finishing it I enter the end time and enter the remarks. This gets approved by the client online with his remarks.

    At the end of the project I total up the # of hrs and raise an invoice, using Google doc. and mail it to my client

    This works well with me and my clients.

  • Lola_Designa

    I also use Quickbooks, but the company that I contract with prefers my time sheet in excel, so at the end of each month I have to export from Quickbooks into excel-which sounds easy, but its usually not perfect and I end up spending half of the day dealing with it. This month, I am updating the excel sheet every week to see if it saves my sanity by the end of the month…

  • webdevsince1995

    Hi Dave, I just posted a comment in the previous post, mentioning that I use software called complete time tracking. I also used to use Excel but found it too cumbersome in the end. I considered writing my own web app but liked the idea of a timer that was always immediately available. I looked at a few other tools but most were either too high-end (and expensive) or too simple. I know another developer that uses software called timelines I think.

  • Liam

    I’ve been using Studiometry for a few years now and love it.

  • http://www.crunch42.com/ crunch42

    Ditto for studiometry (especially after they iron the kinks out of their UB Mac version).

  • momos

    anyone tried omniplan?

  • bkudria

    Um. You should check out Qucikbook’s own solution. I assume its the desktop app’s successor. It has a slick web interface, allows you to submit the timesheets, and it distributes the Customer/Job automatically! Quite a nice tool, actually, if you’re looking for QB integration.

  • bkudria

    Ga, I butchered that link. Sorry, that should be Quickbook’s own solution.

  • jimmy5280

    I haven’t tried it but a friend sent me a link to myHours.com.

  • http://www.revmedia.com dhecker

    bkudria – We worked with the Quickbooks Time Tracker but, dissapointingly, it didn’t work as well as the standalone client! The descriptions had invalid characters after import, and the job list never exported easily. Perhaps we’ll try again, but I really think Intuit is dropping the ball on this one….

  • Aishwarya Rai

    Sitepoint – Is there a open source tool for managing time. Especially a hosted one?

    dhoom

  • binjured

    I’ve been using Studiometry for a few years now and love it.

    Wow, I have been looking for an application like this for over a year, I must have tried a dozen different project management applications and none seem as well done and thorough as this. The fact that it’s for Mac and Windows is a great plus, too. Here’s hoping it’s still around 14 months or so from now when I get back from Afghanistan ;) My large investment in Sitepoint ($0) has paid off yet again! Thanks for sharing :)

  • Jens

    I use my watch: I arrive at work at 9 am and leave at 5 pm (it’s called self management).

  • metaltoad

    There’s an online time tracking tool available that’s a better than online spreadsheets. This one allows you track tasks and send invoices. Oh AND it’s integrated with QuickBooks for anybody that needs real accounting software.

  • http://www.revmedia.com dhecker

    That one looks great. I think I’ll give it a shot…

  • TimeTracker

    Check out EZtime @ http://www.ezwebtime.com, they have a great replacement for the QuickBooks timer. It is online and imports directly into QuickBooks. Our company has been using it for over 6 months now. Love it..

  • edgewerx

    We just started using quickbooks online time tracker. We can publish the customers/jobs easily and all time entering is done via a web browser. It all imports into QB when we want it to, no need to have them email it. We’re trying a 60 day trial… down side is that is costs $7 per user/per month. But, that isn’t that bad when you consider the ease of use.

  • Anonymous

    very nice from you to share that info

  • http://www.vitaleffect.com savagefire

    Basecamp (www.37signals.com), time tracking and project management. The time reports also export to CSV which means they can be imported into most other software.

  • ichi

    QuickBooks online is perfect. The whole accounting system is online, so I can run reports, check time, create invoices from wherever I am. (No need for back-ups, either!) Multiple users can log in and record time — with no access to the accounts — for no extra charge.
    And, their support for the online edition is outstanding. Really outstanding.

  • http://www.revmedia.com dhecker

    Unfortunately Quickbooks online doesn’t support the online banking integration and payroll systems that we need, but I agree it’s an excellent solution.

  • http://www.placeworld.com Duneboy

    I use Time Logger by Responsive Software and have for about 5 years. I recently updated computers and re-evaluated my options, since I didn’t think I still had the CD or license information required to move Time Logger to the new machine. I found nothing out there that would allow me to easily toggle from project to project and client to client. If you are an independent developer/designer/consultant, be sure to get software designed for you, not employees. (Turns out it was easy to migrate TimeLogger to a new machine without the original installation file, and Responsive provides instructions for doing so on its website.)

  • strgt

    I’m working in a Time traking tool. I’ m developing it with PHP 5 using the Zend Framework. I started it to use it in the office I work. I plan to release it under GPL.

    Let me know if someone is interested.

  • SoletiX

    > Let me know if someone is interested.

    Yes, of course. Post the download link here in the comments, so everyone who has commented already will be notified (when chosen the option)

  • ichi

    >down side is that is costs $7 per user/per month

    Hmmm. I can have unlimited time trackers in my QuickBooks user list without affecting the subscription cost. Also, they don’t have access to any accounting. They’re limited to only entering their time; no other permissions.

  • dev_cw

    Has anyone checked out Tmelog 3? Only for Mac, not an invoicing tool, but looks interesting.

  • Rich

    I have been using Harvest and I like it because you can import your clients from Basecamp into it.

  • Sara

    Wondering if any of you of tips for successful timetracking implementations especially when it has to do with software developers (who are non-billable)?

  • jwage

    I have found http://www.dekkotime.com to be one of the best free web based time tracking tools out there..I have had experience with 3 others before this, and it is by far the best.

  • Cb

    Please take note and beware: the Quickbooks Time Tracker service does not allow more than 20 entries on a weekly timesheet. I do more than 50 different tasks a week for up to 10 customers. There’s a lot of feedback on this limitation but no reassurances from Quickbooks. I’ll look elsewhere, thank you.

  • dj

    I am an independent designer and use Traxtime by SpudCity. So far I have found it to meet my needs for small contained projects but it is particularly useful to keep track of all those ‘little’ updates to web pages that a client may send through sporadically…

  • r_h_p

    I have a simple spread sheet solution, that tries to automate the invoice generation etc.

    I’v used it for a year and then some … but once you get beyond a handful of employees it can get a bit klunky.

    I cannot believe why there is no simple and OSS solution for something like this. (Hmmm … should try writing a quick tool php/mysql and ajax enabled … drop me a line if you would be interested in beta testing it … and no point in writing it for just me!)

    I tried basecap but IMHO it sucked from a features point of view.

    My blog (http://parsad.net) has the spreadsheet solution. It does T&M, basic payroll and taxes, and invoicing.

    Rajesh

  • Steve at Zed

    I have just finished writing a

    timesheet

    and

    expense claim

    web service for QuickBooks. It has full two way integration with QuickBooks and uses the QuickBooks Web Connector.

    I would welcome any feedback on this. It works for QuickBooks 2004 Pro and up (US, Canada, UK we hope to add Australia soon). http://www.zedoffice.net

  • ahuang

    We currently use Get My Time and it works very well as a web based timesheet that integrates seemlessly with Quickbooks and is inexpensive at $2.75 a user. However one thing a couple things I’m looking into with software are:

    1) Integration w/ Outlook (I generally plan and track my time with outlook and labels then have to manually input that info into get my time) It looks like EZ Time has some offerings that I might look into, but would like to see some more options.
    2) Have some way to easily see the status of a project against budget Toad Time seems to display that info fairly easily however I would prefer some way to see it broken down by task and potentially to see an estimated number next to it.
    3) Some kind of intergration with Microsoft Project would also be nice to have it somehow import and track the tasks that are in a mpp schedule.Standard Time seems to have some offerings in this realm

    So any recommendations or insights about tools that could potentially do these things would be great!

  • anonymously

    I have the same issue where I need it to let me post more than 20 entries a week… I’ll look at some of these other time trackers but I love the ease of downloading the online quickbooks tracker…

  • Jana

    I use SideJobTrack, which works pretty well for a one-person office. Their timer is SO easy to use! It generates invoices too, which a lot of the free time trackers don’t do. There are a few little bugs in the program, but overall the usability is great — and it’s free!

    But because it’s limited to one-person use, I’m looking for another option. I’m wondering if Dave’s review above applies to QuickBooks Pro or QuickBooks Online? Dave? Anyone?

  • Jana

    I just spoke w/ customer support at QuickBooks; they say there’s no entries-per-week limit on QuickBooks Pro Time Tracker. If you’re using Pro, does that jive w/ your experience?

  • Greg

    Is there any time sheet program with ALL of the following features?
    1. Integrates with Quickbooks,
    2. Directly connects to Quickbooks, so you dont have to export and import timer lists
    3. Does not require a rip off subscription to a web based service (i.e., you buy it and upgrade it periodically as QB gets updated)
    4. Does NOT have 50 f-ing other functions that I dont want or need.

  • http://www.jeebers.com dereko

    If your looking for something that has time tracking and timetracking only then the time tracking software from 1time (http://1timetracking.com) is the way to go.

    Really easy to use and has email reminders for employees so the manager doesn’t have to micro manage the service. It alows you to export to CSV so you can import it to Quickbooks or any other software for that matter. Also keeps tracking of the cost of the project to date including expenses. pretty handy.

  • JET

    I’ve been experimenting with various project management tools and have discovered an excellent site. It is a very user friendly, web-based application that is well worth taking the time to explore. Take a few minutes and look at Projjex.com. The tutorials are excellent & you don’t need to be a Rocket Scientist to figure out how to use it. It even offers a free version so you can try it on for size.

  • A.J.

    Hey I saw the great conversation going on and figured I should drop my $.02 in, since I’m part of the industry. I’m a part of a company that provides a sweet online time tracking tool called TSheets.com. It integrates with Quickbooks and allows you to do mobile time entry from a cell phone. It sounds like what you’re talking about, but it obviously isn’t a perfect fit for everyone.

    Great Convo.

  • TimeTracking

    I second that emotion! I’ve been using TSheets for about 6 months now, and absolutely love it!