SEARCH

How-To Geek

Ask the Readers: How Do You Track Your Time?

Whether you’re tracking time for a client or keeping track of how you spend your day to bolster productivity, there’s a variety of tools and tricks you can use to get the big picture on where your time is spent.

This week we want to hear all about your time tracking tools, tricks, and tips. How do you manage your time? What apps do you use to categorize and sort it? No matter how loosely or tightly you track your time or whether you use an analog or a digital system, we want to hear the ins and outs of it.

Sound off in the comments below and then check back in for the What You Said roundup on Friday.

Jason Fitzpatrick is warranty-voiding DIYer and all around geek. When he's not documenting mods and hacks he's doing his best to make sure a generation of college students graduate knowing they should put their pants on one leg at a time and go on to greatness, just like Bruce Dickinson. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 10/17/12

Comments (44)

  1. Amy

    I’m still an old fashioned girl. I use the Franklin system of prioritizing ABC, 123… I categorize my tasks into personal and business. I also ensure I can view my to do list and calendar anywhere by using Microsoft’s exchange server, iPhones task list, and Outlook on both my PC and Mac.

  2. Areeb

    Old School. Remember whatever you have to do and keep an eye on the clock.

  3. Bristo

    I use the classical method, the tools that I rely on are: brain and a clock, and sometimes a to-do sticker (If there are a lot of tasks to accomplish). I believe that using simple methods for scheduling tasks can increase the productivity and reduce the load on the mind, but nonetheless, I also believe that if we depend too much on tracking tools (especially the digital ones) we might neglect our proper memory, which is, in the first place, the only one that matters and that we must cultivate. Therefore, by relying on such tools, we unconsciously decrease our self-awareness and intelligence, thus, weaken our brain’s natural ability to remember and organize information.

  4. Scott

    I use kanbanflow.com, with two boards to manage task prioritisation and backlog. One board called ‘Current Work’ has three columns ‘Do Today’, ‘In Progress’ and ‘Done’. The other is called ‘Backlog’, which splits tasks into priority groups – ‘Distractions (NU+NI)’, ‘Goals (NU+I)’, ‘Interruptions (U+NI)’, ‘Interruptions (U+NI)’ and ‘Critical (U+I)’, where U is Urgent and I is Important (and N is Not). At the end of each day, I move things from my Backlog to my ‘Current Work’ board, with the idea to keep complete Goals before they become Critical. That way I can focus on ‘Current Work’ Do Today so I don’t feel overwhelmed and can plan my day. As priorities change or interruptions pop up, it’s just a matter of moving tasks between boards. I have both tabs open in my browser all day – this is probably good for knowledge workers strapped to their desk, not so good for those in meetings all day. In that case, go with the calendar on your phone.

  5. TheFu

    Watch. I learned to read both analog and digital versions. It is amazing.

    Actually, I’m a bit fanatical about having the correct time. I was forced to setup an NTP server since a few systems running that extremely popular, alternative OS – MS-Windows – weren’t able to keep time within an hour a day. It was really sad. Ended up forcing those machines to sync their times every 15 minutes.

    Ever Sunday morning when winding the grandfather clock, I set it and all other clocks in the house to the NTP time server time. After 2 yrs of careful weight changes, the grandfather clock is finally within about 1 second per week of accuracy.

    Strangely, the digital Timex watch is off more.

    For tracking client time, I use a work log, on paper. I record start times before each task, what task is performed and another time if a break or other interruption happens. At the end of the day (or week), this is put into a custom spreadsheet to client billing.

    Having the log on paper is nice for all sorts of reasons. Not being able to email the log easily means clients don’t ask for it. Having it helps my memory of what I was doing at any point and gives the clients AND my boss a good feeling that I really was doing {X} at 3pm last Monday.

    I’ve been using this method since the 1980s, though the spreadsheet part wasn’t added until around 2000.

  6. Samon53

    I have recently identified myself as a Chronic Procrastinator, from reading the book ‘The Procrastination Equation’(An extremely good book backed up by many scientific studies http://procrastinus.com/). After doing the short survey in the book I rated in the top 10% of procrastinators and on the website I scored a worrying 100/100. While I’d tried strategies to manage time in the past I’d not stuck to them or had found them ineffective.

    Having actually realised the extent of the problem I have started drawing up more charts and timetables and making the activities in them extremely specific so as to really prompt you to get on with them. If you put just a generic activity like work you are never going actually react to a notification about it I go. Start off by assigning work periods for different tasks, breaks etc. then add in further details when you break off working for next time. Try actually specifying the exact task you are going to do.

    I draw up charts for work to do lists and timetables for different time periods. One application I used was RescueTime which tracks all of your web use and categorises it. While useful for data it did not really help me in actually saving time, though it may be more effective for some and they do offer a pro service. I find it sometimes provides false reassurement as you tend to assign task that are still useful but not your main goal as productive.

    I use Google Calendar with notification on both my phone and PC (Checker Plus for Chrome is extremely Good for this: https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/checker-plus-for-google-c/hkhggnncdpfibdhinjiegagmopldibha).

    I have an extremely reliable watch with both analogue and digital displays with all the bells and whistles but for -when I got it at least- a very reasonable price £22. (https://www.google.co.uk/products/catalog?q=timex+expedition&hl=en&noj=1&gbv=2&prmd=imvns&biw=1920&bih=955&um=1&ie=UTF-8&cid=8787663981810776135&sa=X&ei=ni9_UOWYLKT44QS-h4GQDg&ved=0CJYBEPMCMBM)

    I have set-up two computers next to each other one for work one for play the work one with multiple monitors (I’m thinking of trying RescueTime again and setting it up to only allow work). Context for chrome is great for setting choosing just the applications that you need so as not be distracted by new emails feeds or add-ons etc.

    I also multi-task a lot washing up or cleaning why not watch a TV program or radio that you were planning on watching show on-demand so as not to be distracted by watching it later when working. Try not to do thinking work (for me Games Design) and entertainment at the same time it just makes you less productive and more distracted.

    I’m a heavy sleeper myself so have three different alarm clocks letup- a Teas-made, Dawn light, and maths puzzle- . If you can limit your sleep to the minimum your body will allow without feeling tired you can save a lot of time. I have recently embarked on a new fitness regime to help reduce my sleep time.

    Finally working as a group can really benefit some people I find myself a lot less distracted if everyone one around me is working. Procrastinators anonymous(http://procrastinators-anonymous.org/) is a good group for support which I’m just starting to use.

    In conclusion there are loads of ways to improve your productivity even if like me you find procrastination the Bane of your life. I’m still only part way through The Procrastination Equation so still have not found all the ways that can help me improve, I have only recently started to really fight my procrastination (and am currently still unproductive) and expect to learn more ways to win, so watch this space.

  7. David

    I use a Java application called Rachota. You can find it on Sourceforge It has some good built in reports and all your data is stored in XML files if you want to use it someplace else.

  8. Greg

    For work – a pad of recycled printer test pages and a fountain pen for time tracking, three columns of in/out and which ticket the time is for. Planning is done in the bog standard Outlook calendar if required. Also a daily “these need doing first” list in Onenote which gets updated each morning.

    For home – whichever random bit of paper and FP is handy.

    Life’s to short to stress over continuous lists of things to do imo.

  9. Joan Pons

    We use WorkMeter in my Co. It records automatically the time in my pc, my blackberry and my officephone. I can also add information about meetings, projects, or other accctivities. We love it because it records only the time (not content), and only information I marked as productive is shared with my boss, so is very privacy respectfull (anyway, i can stop it anytime if I want)
    We used “declarative” systems before, but we found that the margin error was more than 50% in many cases. Its an european product, not very known in usa, but very popular in this side of the ocean (if you want to know more, look in youtube for “workmeter” keyword)

  10. LadyFitzgerald

    I’m retired so I don’t have to obsess over keeping track of time. I wear a wrist watch when away from the house so I can easily see what time it is at a glance (far easier than fooling with a cell phone, especially since mine stays off unless I actually need it, which is rarely). At home, I have clocks scattered around the house so I can see the time at a glance (when I bother to glance). If I have to be somewhere, such as a doctor’s appointment, I put it on my calendar and use an alarm clock to make sure I get up early enough (otherwise, I don’t bother with the alarm clock; I get up when I get my nap out). If I have to be several places in a day at certain times (which is rarely), I write down a list (usually short) on a 3 x 5 card I keep in my pocket or purse (I don’t always carry my purse).

  11. techandlife

    For recording time on client projects, I use a free open source task timer called Light Tasks. Works in Windows and Linux. You’ve already mentioned it on How-To Geek!

  12. GiannaV.

    I suggest you try Worksnaps (http://www.worksnaps.net). It is a tool specifically designed to track the time of remote workers. We have many contractors who worked on the project from remote locations. Tracking their time not only means tally their work hours, but also means making sure that they have indeed worked the hours they claimed. That is how Worksnaps came in handy. It tracks the time as well as taking screenshots, capturing mouse/keyboard volumes and sampling active applications used. All the information is submitted to the server and the project manager can review and verify the work hours. We do use Toggl to do self-reporting time tracking, but for remote workers, Worksnaps is an essential tools for us.

  13. TechGeek01

    I generally keep it old-school. I mainly just keep an eye on the time. The fun part is how I manage my to-do list.

    I generally break it into categories. Basically, I have a folder in Dropbox for my to-do list. Each textfle within is a category, or small chunk ofthe list. Within each of these liss, I have a bunch of items. All I have to do is delete the items (or add them) when necessary.

  14. Seabat

    I am twice retired – Navy after 22 years and risk manager after 18 years – I don’t wear a watch and I don’t keep up with time anymore.

  15. Nathan

    For clients, TimeClock at http://www.timeclockconnect.com They keep track of hours, notes for jobs, multiple client lists, multiple location lists, expenses and hourly rates. It’s also backed up on line and the phone app is outstanding. I would not trade this tool for the world.

  16. Irish_IT

    When it comes to the job, we use Spiceworks for ticket time tracking. It is a great opensource software that does everything but the kitchen sink! Inventory, Help Desk, Time Tracking and the list goes on.

  17. Archives

    Stayfocused

  18. Desmond

    We use an application called ‘TimeTracker’.
    Very handy and adjustable to your projects needs.

    http://www.gammaresearch.com/Software/Timetracker/

  19. Saeed Iranzad

    I have not a crowded life. I think a mobile phone is a good device to plan your every day’s life these days.
    My android phone is both my watch and calender and my planner and secretary.

  20. Chester H.

    I use a program called Time Tracker. This records all programs by actual time used. If I use Microsoft Word I can classify this as work Item with Time Tracker. Most Items come preclassified, however you can reclassify them yourself. You can also define your own categories. The program provides a pie chart for your time usage to the screen by percentage. You can export your results to a CSV file for later analysis. The program is still freeware. It supports Windows 98 to Windows 7.

  21. David

    I use a spreadsheet to record the start and stop times. I also have codes indicating what task it applies to. I add up the times for each of the codes to get the total spent on each task.

  22. OJMDC

    People seriously do that? Who tracks the time spent on each task?

  23. bnp

    I do not need to bill time. But time determines how I work. I like to work at the computer in 30 minute intervals. Therefore I keep a kitchen timer for 30min countdown. I use evernote to track actionable, maybe actionable, Defer, and Keep for all my tasks, etc. Once a week I make a schedule of what I want to work on. All my projects tagged with various things but they all have a time estimate I would need to work on. >10 >30 over ten minutes, over 30min, etc. I also keep chores that need to accomplished this week.. ie “move the outhouse we are getting complaints.” When the timer goes off I stretch and move to my next item. Recently a health smart person said. take a break and walk for 5-15 briskly. I have now incorporated that.
    cheers

  24. spike

    @Bristo: Actually, the use of external storage to remember tasks clears up your brain so it can think harder about what you are working on, and you become more productive. It doesn’t hurt your memory; actually it helps you use and develop your brain’s potential.

    @OJMDC: Anyone wanting to be profitable does that to get more done in a day. It pays.

  25. Thomas

    I’m rather fond of Grindstone. The “autopilot” feature is kind of useless but everything else in it is great.

  26. George

    I use a watch! I know its very traditional, but I just dedicate all of my time to it and keep an eye on the computer clock, Its simple, but incredibly effective!

  27. r

    …I simply look at my watch…and see the time.

  28. Marc

    I use a watch

  29. Dwight Moore

    I work on an In House PC Call Center. I time is track from start to end however I don’t have to track per event except lunch and breaks.

  30. Christine

    Scott, thanks so much for your comments on kanbanflow.com. This is exactly the functionality I’ve been looking for. Excellent free version and very reasonable for the paid version. So, let me get back to loading up and categorising a rather long list of tasks.

  31. Ken Hu

    I write down everything I do and how many time I spend on it during the office hours. I use Tomboy(a desktop note-taking application for Linux) to do that.

  32. Ken Hu

    I write down everything I do and how much time I spend on it during the office hours. I use Tomboy(a desktop note-taking application for Linux) to do that.

  33. Al Guevara

    I use AllNetic Working Time Tracker.

    http://www.allnetic.com

    Its an application that can “sense” when you “dont use/do use” the computer. It thus tracks/doesn’t track, depending on you working or not. Very honest tracking software. It tracks how much time you spend on different projects and tasks, since it knows mouse/keyboard movement. Going out for few mins? It stops tracking. I love it.

    Still, Im gonna try that KanbanFlow mentioned, seems very nice! As long as one cant get online.

  34. John W.

    We’re using Time Doctor to track our billable time. Its major feature that is not available in other software is the priority feature and the ability to know how much of the day a person is focusing on their priorities. If anyone wants to try a time tracking software I suggest you read this blog first, it explains why most time and attendance software is flawed.

  35. keith

    I recently did a massive search for a time tracking program that met my needs: simple, accurate reporting that can be filtered by task/job, and above all, free. I’m now using TimeClockFusion and it meets my needs. It’s not without its faults, but it does what I need it to do.

    I also researched a more advanced time keeping solution for one of my clients that had the same needs as above, but also needed to have it located on the company server (access anywhere with better security) and to enable multiple employees to log in and out and also have the accountant be able to generate reports and do direct deposits. I settled on TimeTrex (the open source offering – self hosted). It was a pain to implement and get running correctly, but it works and the reporting options are great.

    I’m still open to suggestions though, especially for my own 1-person business of web design, tech support, et al.

    If a software developer asked me for ideas on a simple timekeeping program, I would vote for the option of being able to set reminders if the task is left open for a set amount of time. Although I am pretty good about logging out when I stop working on something, I’ve seen employees working for my client forget to log out and then it creates extra work/time for other people to correct it. Something like what is used in power saving modes for laptops and other mobile devices might transfer quite well to timetracking software.

  36. keith

    Doh! Just read the comment right before mine. :)

  37. Stephan Paternotte

    ManicTime (www.manictime.com)

  38. cwcarlson

    Besides a to-do list on my phone, I wrote a little C application that allows me to “clockin/out” and check how many hours I’ve spent at work. It allows me to clockin and out multiple times a day and tells me the total time I’ve been clocked in. That way, when I’ve hit 8-10 hours, I know I can or should go home.

  39. PhylisSophical

    I’ve used Grindstone2 with great success

  40. Richard

    I also use Grindstone ..a great free program that is very customizable. It provides time tracking by project and even has pie charts. I tried to have my wife use it since she telecommutes for her job. No luck :- (
    She is a free spirit ………………

  41. MSB Lane

    I bill by the hour and have created a time and expense tracking system in MS Access that also generates invoices. I’m sure I can find something online that does something similar – but I am a bit of a control freak, so the Access db works well for me.

  42. Kelly

    Hours Tracking is another good web app – http://hourstracking.com. I was sold on pen and paper before that, but I’m glad I made the switch. Much easier to hit start and stop on a timer.

  43. Hanno

    I’ve been using Grindstone (http://www.epiforge.com/grindstone) for over three years. It’s simply superb. It takes me 10 seconds in an 8-hour work day to track my time. Generating reports for my project manager or customer is easy and internal storage is all XML, so it’s relatively easy to access the data and put it in a different format.

  44. Kumar

    We use Replicon – http://www.replicon.com/olp/employee-time-tracking.aspx for time tracking.

Enter Your Email Here to Get Access for Free:

Go check your email!