A Buyer's Guide to Time-Tracking Software

By James A. Martin | Posted March 13, 2008

If time is money, then how much money are you wasting every day? Time-tracking software can help you figure that out.

Many small businesses with hourly-wage employees have used time-tracking software for years. Ditto for consultants, attorneys and other professionals who charge by the hour. Time-tracking software helps them easily record time spent on each task, on each project, or in any way their workday needs to be tracked. They use that data to calculate payroll or invoices.

But time-tracking software can benefit you even if you don’t charge hourly rates or have hourly-wage employees.

For example, tracking the time you spend on a project lets you quickly estimate how long a similar project in the future might take you to complete. If you’re paid a flat fee for your services, records of your time can help you more accurately price those services.

Tracking Your Options
Small businesses can take advantage of a number of time-tracking software options such as Web-only time-tracking services, Windows (and a few Mac) software applications. You can also opt for software that runs on handhelds, such as Palm OS (operating system) devices. Those applications either run entirely on the handheld, or they have a utility that syncs your time entries on your mobile device with a desktop time-tracking application. Here are a few examples of what's available:

In addition, some small business accounting programs offer time-tracking utilities. For example, the QuickBooks Time Tracker add-on program lets you and your employees enter, track and submit time spent on the job. The information is input into a password-protected Web site and can be downloaded and imported into QuickBooks for invoicing and payroll. The Time Tracker service starts at $10 per month for one person and goes up to $200 monthly for up to 200 people.

In general, you can expect to pay anything from zero dollars (for freeware tools and some Web-based offerings) to $5,000 for software with 100-or-more user licenses.

What You Want
Keep the following features in mind when evaluating time-tracking software.

Reporting tools. Pay attention to the reporting capabilities in any time-tracking application. You’ll want as many options as possible. For example, can you quickly generate a report that shows how much time you spent between October 15, 2007 and January 10, 2008, performing a specific task (such as holding meetings) for a specific project? Nearly all time-tracking programs offer at least some reporting capabilities.

Export options. Make sure you can export time-tracking data and reports to Microsoft Excel, PDF or other formats, or to accounting or other business applications such as Microsoft Project. Exporting is important because it gives you more ways to use the time-tracking data. And if your software has an exporting feature and you decide to switch to a different time-tracking program later, your data from the old program won't be locked in that application’s proprietary file format.

Support for multiple users. Some time-tracking programs are designed for individual use, while others are for multiple users. Example: MAG Softwrxs’s Timeless Time & Expense comes in Personal ($50) and Enterprise ($65) versions. The latter supports multiple users and provides multi-user time reports and other features not found in the Personal version.

Also, check to see if the program supports multiple user entries made over a network. CyberMatrix Corporation’s Employee Project Clock ($75-$5,000, depending upon the number of licenses) offers this feature, which helps simplify the process of aggregating time-clock data from multiple users.

Expense tracking. Does the time-tracking software also let you enter expenses related to projects or clients? Some, such as Timeless Time & Expense, offer this capability.

Support for handhelds. Some time-tracking programs are available specifically for handheld devices. Iambic’s AllTime ($40), which works on Palm OS devices, is one example. However, pay attention to handheld OS software’s exporting capabilities. AllTime entries must be exported to the Palm Memo application or to TinySheet, a $20 Iambic spreadsheet application for Palm devices. TinySheet, in turn, syncs with Excel on your desktop—meaning you’ll need two programs (AllTime and TinySheet) to export time-tracking reports to Excel.

Other time-tracking programs have handheld OS utilities that sync entries made on the handheld to the desktop application. Earlier we mentioned Responsive Time Logger ($89 for one user, up to $2,999 for up to 100 users), which includes a Palm OS utility for recording time entries. This is particularly useful if you perform a lot of work on the go—such as at client offices.

Web-based. Some time-tracking programs exist entirely on the Web. For example, MyHours.com (also mentioned earlier) lets individuals and companies perform basic time-tracking and reporting capabilities using any Web browser. You can export reports to Excel, though you can’t generate invoices using the myHours service. A new addition to the service, MyHours Mobile (currently in beta), lets you use the service via a mobile Web browser. At the moment, use of MyHours, on either handhelds or computers, is free.

Stopwatch. Most time-tracking programs include a stopwatch feature. Click the stopwatch to begin recording a time entry, then click again to stop or pause it.

Recent revisions or updates. Small, independent software companies develop many time-tracking programs. As a result, they might not be regularly updated or revised like programs from leading software developers. Before buying the software, try to determine how recently it was updated. You can usually find this information on FAQ or support pages, such as this one for Spud City Software Company’s TraxTime ($39-$64).

Free trial. The majority of time-tracking programs provide a 30-day free trial.

More Time-Tracking Choices
Some time-tracking software/services not previously mentioned include:

Dovico’s Timesheet (Web-based software). Available for one user ($156); multi-user prices also available.

Complete Time Tracking Standard (Windows-based). Designed for individuals ($49). with a Professional ($74) edition for multi-user environments.

Timesheets MTS Software. Timesheets Lite ($32) for basic time-tracking software; Timesheets MTS ($64), which adds expense tracking and invoicing; Time Clock ($59), employee time clocking software with payroll functionality; plus an older version of Timesheets Lite for free.

Ace Project (Web-based) Project-management software that features a time-tracking component. Available in three versions -- free (supporting up to five users); $24 per month (for up to 10 users); or $39 monthly (for up to 20 users).

Scoutwest Inc.’s Standard Time. Available as Web-based, Windows, Palm OS and Pocket PC software. Prices begin at $149 for one user.

The Bottom Line
It takes discipline to regularly track the time you spend on work projects. But eventually, it can become second nature. And the insights you’ll gain into how you spend your time pays many dividends. At a minimum, you’ll get better at balancing your workload because you’ll be less likely to inadvertently take on too many time-consuming projects at once. That’s good for your fiscal—and mental—health.

James A. Martin has years of experience covering technology, and he's also the author of Traveler 2.0, a blog that provides technology news and views for travelers.

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