Five Time Tracking Tools To Take Back Your Day
By Tom Tate May 23, 2015
There’s no denying that maximizing your precious time takes skill and discipline, but sometimes you need a little help. Ready to take back your day? Here are 5 tools that’ll help you better manage your time.
Pop quiz: What rock song below best describes your relationship with time?
Is it “Time Is On My Side,” by The Rolling Stones? “Good Times, Bad Times,” by Led Zeppelin?
Maybe it’s “Another Time, Another Place,” by U2? Or “When My Time Comes,” by Dawes?
If you’re like me, it’s probably “Help!” by the Beatles.
No matter what song you choose, there is no denying that maximizing our precious time takes skill and discipline – but sometimes you need to get by “with a little help from your friends.” Or apps.
Ready to take back your day?
Here are 5 time tracking tools that can help take you from “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” to “Rockin’ Around The Clock!”
Understand Where Your Time Goes
The first step to maximizing your time is to understand how you are spending it. An incredibly well-received app that assists with this is RescueTime.
RescueTime is an application that runs in the background on your computer and mobile devices to track how you spend your time. The free tier tracks time spent on websites and in specific applications, and also allows you to set alerts and goals to improve your focus.
RescueTime will send you a weekly email report that outlines your activity, which provides a good overview of how you spend your time. With that data, you can gain insights that’ll help you make continuous improvements.
At the time of writing this, RescueTime offers a premium plan for $9/mo (or discounted at $72/year – 4 months free.) Premium features will grant you more detailed alerts and reports, as well as the ability to block distracting websites and more.
Using Your Time Wisely
After you have a better understanding of where your time goes, you need to find out how you can better maximize the precious time you have. I highly recommend utilizing a tool called TomatoTimer, and managing a personal schedule using Google Calendar.
TomatoTimer is a free online tool that uses a simple technique known as Pomodoro.
Simply pick a task (or list of smaller tasks), set the Tomtato Timer for 25 minutes, and go!
The key to success is to stay focused. When you’re working with the timer, you must remain engaged with the tasks at hand – so try to avoid straying into sidebar conversations with coworkers, checking the latest email that came in, tweeting your thoughts on last night’s TV lineup or thinking about dinner. Believe me, I know it’s tough. I’m frequently thinking about dinner.
After the 25 minutes are up, take a five-minute break. For this, I recommend doing something that you love. Walking, jumping jacks, grabbing a coffee, checking social media or watching a YouTube video. Do something distracting and enjoyable, because after the five minutes are up, you should roll right back into another 25-minute Pomodoro. After you do a few, take a longer break – usually 15 minutes, or an even longer meal break if the timing works out.
For more on the Pomodoro technique, check out this great article.
For many years, I’ve used Google Calendar (like most) to manage meetings and appointments. Here at AWeber, we use Google Calendar all the time to organize meetings.
Now there are countless articles written about meetings, and meeting management, but needless to say, meetings can be a productivity-zapper. Google Calendar in this regard can be a foe, more than a friend.
So how can you make your calendar work for you, and not against you?
Here’s a tip that I use on the reg: If you feel like your time is always booked by others, and you can’t get in the zone, try using Google Calendar to reserve blocks of time just for you.
If you like to spend the first 25 minutes of your day planning or managing your inbox, set a recurring meeting every day to do so. This lets others know that you wish for them to respect that time, and it’s a healthy reminder for you to maintain a consistent routine.
If you really want to get crafty, book one or two 25-minute time slots each day using Google Calendar to reserve for Pomodoros. This will help ensure that you at least have an hour a day to focus on your most important tasks. (I recently started doing this, and it works like a charm!)
Getting Paid For Your Time
For some of you, your pay might be based on time. We’ve all heard the phrase “time is money,” and if your business operates with hourly rates and billable hours, you know how true it is.
I’ve tested many great time-tracking tools in the past that are specifically built with billing clients in mind. Features typically include the ability to set up projects, tags/labels, budgets (either time-based or by cost,) reports and invoices. Many time tracking apps even sync to online accounting software to instantly export timesheets and generate custom invoices for clients. Automation, for the win!
Since you probably don’t want to spend a lot of time researching all of those tools, below are a couple of my favorites.
Harvest is perfect for small businesses and freelancers who bill based on time. Simply track your time using the web interface or mobile app, and you’ll get instant access to a wide range of reporting, invoicing and forecasting reports.
Plus, there are a variety of add-ons to sync Harvest with other project management, CRM, accounting and issue tracking tools to integrate with your existing workflows – which means you can shave off precious hours spent duplicating work.
Though it may be a bit pricey for some, Freckle is super intuitive. Logging time is a manual process, but after using their timer a few times it can become a simple habit. Simply add hashtags to all time entries for tagging and sorting.
Freckle is also great for teams. Reports can be run to see how much time has been spent across all projects, and by whom. You can even invoice directly from the app, or produce a PDF, Excel or CSV for your clients.
Whether you try Harvest or Freckle, once you analyze where your team’s time is going, you can begin to discuss how to optimize everyone’s focus and productivity.
Feel free to do more research if you need to integrate with a specific service. There are many more options out there, and perhaps a tool like Zapier can customize your time-tracking and billing workflow.
Take Back Your Time
I’ll leave you with a few words of caution. You can spend a lot of time managing time! Don’t get bogged down trying to perfect your time management skills. You will spend less time doing, and more time preparing yourself to do. Instead, make incremental changes over time (no pun intended) and continue to be mindful of where you spend most of your efforts.
The best you can do is try something new. And I’m certain you’ll be rocking and rolling through your work-week in no time.