By Kelly Drill

Why Track Your Hours in Real Time?

By Kelly Drill

Quality time tracking data is critical for measuring your productivity, accurately estimating project costs and billing your clients. Most web professionals log their time after the fact – using a calendar, an Excel spreadsheet or an online timesheet.

But there are some very good reasons to log your hours in real time using a timer-based tracking tool. Timer-based tools are quick and easy to use, reduce the potential for human error, and provide the real-time data you need to better serve your clients.

Here are a few compelling arguments for tracking your time as you work as opposed to using a calendar-based or timesheet system.


A good time tracking tool should complement your work style, not clash with it. Manually entering times and activity descriptions is inherently time-consuming and cumbersome (exactly the reason so many developers and designers are resistant to time tracking in the first place).

Real-time apps allow you to track time as you go by hitting “stop” and “start” on project timers. When you’re finished for the day, you’re finished. Because your hours have already been captured, there’s no need to spend an extra 15 minutes entering your time.

More Accurate Data

If you log your time after you’ve finished an activity, you’re relying on your memory to reconstruct what you’ve been working on. Unless you can count on zero distractions and perfect recall, you’re likely to make a mistake now and then.

Not only will a timer-based system make it faster and easier to record your time, it will also significantly reduce the potential for error; and more accurate data means more accurate invoices, better project estimates, and the assurance that you’re getting paid for every minute of your hard work.

Better Customer Service

Tracking your hours as you go also allows you to better serve your customers. Good timer-based apps include detailed, real-time breakdowns of your time usage, which means you can more closely monitor your clients’ project budgets and identify challenges early, not after the fact.

You’ll also be able to answer your clients’ critical budget questions on the spot and make adjustments as necessary based on actual – not estimated – time expenditures.

Choosing the Right App

You’ll find that there is certainly no shortage of time tracking apps on the Internet, both downloadable and web-based; and since most offer a free trial period, you can test drive several until you find the tool that’s right for you. There are a few important considerations to keep in mind when reviewing your options, namely price, functionality and usability.

With regard to price, you’ll discover that time tracking apps range from free to $12 and up per user, per month. While a no-cost tool may seem like a no-brainer, many free apps offer only scaled-back functionality or limited projects and users. On the flip side, bear in mind that the most expensive app isn’t necessarily the best.

Take the time to review all available options until you find a full-featured product you can afford. Rest assured, it’s out there.

Likewise, be sure you’re paying only for functionality you need. Many time tracking apps also include invoicing, which is great if you don’t have an invoicing tool, but unnecessary if you do.

Avoid accounting headaches and extra costs by choosing an app that allows you to produce custom reports you can import into your existing invoicing tool.

A time tracking app can’t do anything for you if you don’t use it. While timer-based tools are undeniably more efficient than timesheets, when it comes to usability, not all apps are created equal.

As you review your options, pay attention to how quickly you can start, stop and switch between projects as you work. If it’s more than a couple of clicks, you can probably do better.


Regardless of the app you choose, a real-time hours tracking tool is an investment worth making. Over time, you’ll see your productivity go up, your administrative overhead go down, and your customer service improve thanks to accurate, up-to-the-minute data.

  • Jason

    Not a bad article. I like that you make a solid case for using a time-tracking app, and the article reads well and moves quickly. But it’s incomplete … I think you could go further by mentioning 6-10 online apps that you’d recommend the reader try, with varying features.

    Otherwise, I enjoyed reading this … nice job, thanks.

    • Thanks for the feedback, Jason! Since I can’t offer an unbiased opinion (I work for a company that offers a time tracking app, which is what I use), I didn’t think it was appropriate to list specific solutions. But you’ll definitely find lots of product reviews out there if you’re just beginning your search. Good luck!

  • Ran

    What about a couple of recommendations? iPhone/Android/Web ?

    • Thanks for the comment. I didn’t list specific apps because I’m biased. Our company built its own web-based time tracking app – Hours Tracking, http://hourstracking.com – which is geared primarily toward small to mid-sized teams. No mobile app yet, but we’re keeping it affordable for small businesses at $1 per user, per month for the full feature set. Thanks for reading and good luck with your own search!

  • Morten Amundsen


    good advice, and one my team is following. We are using Toggl with great success. It also helps
    that it has an API, so that we have had the opportunity to integrate it into our existing legacy tools.


  • Regardless of the app you choose, a real-time hours tracking tool is an investment worth making. Over time, you’ll see your productivity go up, your administrative overhead go down, and your customer service improve thanks to accurate

  • I’m a huge fan of Billings for Mac (http://www.marketcircle.com/billings/). When you combine their full-featured desktop application with their iPhone app, keeping track of time and expenses is seamless. I also appreciate the ability to move estimate line items directly into working line items.

  • I’m a big fan of timer-based time tracking, so much so, I build one too! http://www.88miles.net

    Again, I’m a bit biased but once you get timer-based tracking into you work flow, it’s far easier to remember to do it. Trying to remember how much time you spent on a project after the fact is kind of futile, and you just end up not doing it.

  • I’m webdesigner and i use to track my time on my projects this free http://www.paymo.biz/ because of they have also desktop application widget and it is very ease to use for tracking my time and it is free.

  • Great post! I use http://www.freshbooks.com/ for real time tracking. The accuracy of my projects have improved greatly. I clearly state to new clients how I basically use a stop watch timer when working on projects. I also clearly outline this on my website where I’ve dedicated a page to explaining ‘how I work’. Have a look: http://www.finntheo.com/how-i-work/.


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