Ever wonder where all your time went?
Ever shut down your computer or closed your laptop at the end of the day and thought to yourself, “Good grief! I didn’t accomplish nearly as much as I had hoped to!”
I’m guessing the answer is yes. If it’s any consolation, you’re in good company. Most people aren’t able to accurately account for their time. They let it slip through their fingers.
That’s unfortunate. Wasted time means less time to do what you really want. It also means less income and more stress. That’s no way to live life, especially when it’s so easy to solve the problem.
The solution is simple: you need to track your time.
If you’ve been reading my emails, you know how I feel about time-tracking. It’s one of the most important things you can do if you want increase, or even maintain, your productivity. The problem is, it’s also one of the easiest things to dismiss. Writing down when you start and stop each task throughout the day is inconvenient. Worse, it’s easy to forget if you haven’t developed the habit.
Fortunately, there are a ton of apps available that will track your time for you. Some are free while others cost a small fee (anywhere from $0.99 to $50). And they require varying levels of input.
Personally, I’m a pen and paper guy. But I realize most folks aren’t Luddites like myself. They enjoy apps they can use on their phones and laptops. I aim to please. So here are 6 time-tracking apps that will get the job done.
#1 – Toggl
Of all the apps out there, I’ve most enjoyed using Toggl. It does exactly what it’s supposed to do: track your time. Better, it does its job without a lot of unnecessary bells and whistles. The app is as straightforward as it gets.
Toggl organizes data by project. Just type in the name of the project or choose from a list of previously-created projects. Hit the start button and get to work. When you complete the task at hand or want to take a break, just hit the stop button.
When I first started using Toggl, I kept forgetting to hit the button. A nice feature is that you can manually enter time missed. So you can fix small mistakes and improve the accuracy of your data.
You can generate easy-to-read pie charts that give you a bird’s-eye view of the time you’ve spent on various projects. If you’re a visual guy or gal, you’ll love them.
Toggl offers a free version and a paid version ($5 a month).
It’s platform independent. You can use it in your browser regardless of whether you’re on a Windows machine, a Mac, Droid device or iPhone.
#2 – RescueTime
RescueTime logs your online activity.
That can be helpful if you’re spending way too much time on Twitter and Instagram. The app will show you in glaring detail how many hours you’ve spent on sites that are unrelated to your work. It’s hard to lie to yourself about your Facebook habit when RescueTime is showing you (to the minute!) how much time you’ve logged on the site.
It also tracks the time you spend on various applications, such as email clients, spreadsheet programs and word processors.
The app is more flexible than many people realize. You can tell it when to start tracking your activity (for example, 8:00 a.m.) and when to stop (6:00 p.m.). You can assign tasks to certain categories. For instance, you might assign Facebook to a category you call “Break time.” You can set goals to track your productivity and set alerts to notify you once you’ve spent an allotted amount of time on a particular site (for example, 45 minutes on Facebook).
I’m just scratching the surface here. There’s a lot to RescueTime that I’m leaving out for the sake of brevity. If the app sounds like interesting to you, I recommend trying it. At the very least, it will probably be an eye-opener in terms of your daily activity. It definitely was for me.
Like Toggle, there’s a free version and a paid version ($9 a month).
It works on Windows, Mac OS, Droid and iOS.
#3 – Chrometa
Chrometa is a lot like RescueTime. It tracks your activity. That includes not only the sites you visit, but also the tasks you work on while at your computer.
For example, if you visit Facebook several times a day, Chrometa will log that time. If you work on a spreadsheet for your boss, it will log that time too. If you write an email to your business partner, rest assured Chrometa will capture the time.
The folks who run Chrometa have coined the phrase “passive timekeeping.” That’s just fancy talk for saying you don’t have to click a start or stop button or select projects and tasks (like you do with Toggl).
One of the downsides to using Chrometa is that there’s no free version. Worse, they run a subscription model, which means you have to pay a monthly fee. Here’s a breakdown of the pricing structure at the time of writing:
Startup Account: $12 a month
Basic Account: $19 a month
Plus Account: $29 a month
The Startup Account only allows you to use Chrometa on one device. If you want to use the app on your Macbook Air and iPhone, you’ll need to open a Basic Account.
I like Chrometa a lot for what it does. It’s impressive in how much it can do with regard to tracking your time. But for my purposes, it’s overkill. It’s also way too expensive.
Having said that, a lot of small businesses that need to track the employees’ time – law firms, accounting firms, etc. – swear by this app. So if you run a business and want to keep tabs on how your staff spends its time, $19 a month is probably a good investment.
The good news is that Chrometa is platform independent. You can use it on Windows, Mac OS, Droid or iOS.
#4 – ATracker
ATracker is a simple app that reminds me of Toggl. It has a completely different interface and offers a different set of features, but it’s simple and easy to use.
It will track every task or activity you load into it. It also knows intuitively that you’re not working on two tasks at the same time. For example, suppose you’re working on a spreadsheet. If you click on a new activity, say updating your social media accounts, ATracker will automatically pause the time on the spreadsheet.
That’s pretty smart.
You can set alarms to remind you about certain tasks and activities. You can also review an activity log and make changes if needed.
The good news? It’s free.
The bad news? It only works on iOS. You can use it on your iPhone, iPad and iPod. But that’s it. No Windows. No Droid. And no Mac OS.
#5 – Hours
Hours has been getting a lot of attention over the past couple of years. And for good reason. This little app tracks your time through one of the simplest and most visually-appealing interfaces I’ve seen.
Once you set up a project, a single tap gets you started. Hours will track your time, create reports and generate an activity log. You can set alarms and timers, and download your data into a CSV file or drop it into a PDF.
Color-coded tasks make it easy to identify specific activities. You can review your progress by referring to a timeline at the top of your screen.
The team that created Hours (Tapity) definitely knows what it’s doing when it comes to UI (user interface) design. It won the prestigious Apple Design Award in 2011 for an app called Grade.
It wasn’t a fluke. Hours has the same elegant look and feel.
As I’m writing this, the app is free. But that may be a temporary thing. I’ve seen it for sale for $4.99.
Like ATracker, Hours only supports iOS. That means iPhone, iPad and iPod. Bad news if you’re a Droid user. But if you have an iPhone, you’re in luck. This app is a winner, even at $4.99.
#6 – OfficeTime
OfficeTime is an industrial strength time-tracking app, sort of like Chrometa. It’s packed with a laundry list of features.
In addition to tracking your activities and logging your time, it can organize data by a range of parameters and export it into spreadsheets for customized sorting. It will also generate attractive, colorful graphs that will show you have you’ve been spending your time.
If you happen to send invoices to clients – for example, you’re a freelancer – you’ll love OfficeTime’s invoicing feature. It’s not perfect, but it does a great job.
One of the downsides is the user interface of the desktop version. It’s a bit clunky. That said, the iOS version looks very nice (though not as elegant as Hours).
OfficeTime is available for both Windows and Mac OS. Both versions cost $47. That’s good news is you hate subscription models. There’s also a version for iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod) that you can download from the App Store on iTunes. At the time of writing, it’s free!
If you’re like me, OfficeTime will feel like overkill. It’s like craving a slice of pepperoni pizza and being presented with 10 different pizzas, 5 salads and breadsticks. It’s a great app, but just way too much.
The ‘Ole Paper And Pen Method
As I mentioned earlier, I prefer to use pen and paper to record my time. It gives me the flexibility I like and saves me from having to log into an app on my phone or laptop. I then enter my data into a spreadsheet and sort to my heart’s content.
I realize that my time-tracking system isn’t for everyone, but it has worked like gangbusters for me.
Here’s what I suggest…
Give my system a try. If you hate it, check out Toggl. If you have an iPhone, download Hours or ATracker.
Start simple. If those apps don’t suit your needs, test drive RescueTime. If you still feel you’re missing out on important features, take Chrometa or OfficeTime for a spin.
Work in that order. Simple to complex. Remember, the goal is to track your time so you can know whether you’re being as productive as possible. Don’t get bedazzled by these apps’ bells and whistles!