The perfect time tracker

I just discovered an odd little website called ididwork (via Chris Bowler). It’s basically a personal or small-team Twitter, but with built-in tags and the ability to analyze your logged comments. The intent is that whenever you do something during the day, you log it into ididwork and then you (or your manager) can analyze your time.

Well, okay, that’s kind of cool, but to be honest it’s just one more damned web app that I’d need to track, so the ididwork service itself seems like more effort than I’m ready to put into it. Chris Bowler wonders whether there’s a desktop solution (so far as I know he’s out of luck, but maybe someone will tip him off to something wonderful and he’ll share).

For myself, though, ididwork makes me wonder why this kind of thing isn’t built into a time tracker. Currently, most of the time trackers out there can be used in one of two ways: you either track your time for a project in a chunk and write what you did in the notes (easier to manage, harder to see specifically how long a task took) or you can open a new timing ticket for every task (major pain in the ass, but makes retrospective analysis extremely simple). What if instead, while you were timing, you could hit a hotkey, enter a short description of what you just did, and the timetracker would log that snippet with the active session along with the time that you entered it?

OfficeTimeI currently use OfficeTime because it’s the best of a large selection of imperfect solutions. Specifically I chose OfficeTime because:

  • It lets me start/pause and stop/restart any timing session and only rounds once (rounds when you stop, removes rounding if you restart).
  • If I start a new session (in another project or not) the current session is automatically paused.
  • It allows me to pause any active session and start a session for any active project from the menubar.
  • It has robust reports that let me easily filter past sessions, invoice sessions, and check off sessions as invoiced or reported.

No other time tracker that I’ve found has quite this configuration of features (particularly not in a package that’s so straight-forward and simple to use; interface bloat is a serious problem for time trackers). Where OfficeTime fails me is that it is incapable of showing me the times when I paused and restarted a project, and I usually forget to fill out the comments field as I go, which causes me some headache at the end of the day. Additionally, thanks to my one-session-per-project-per-day usage, when looking back after a week or two it’s almost impossible to remember how long a task on any given day took (assuming that I remembered to note it in the comments field at all).

If all that OfficeTime did was offer an easy way to enter comment snippets and associated them with a timestamp (either real time or, preferably, relative to the active session) then almost all of my issues with it would be solved. Heck, I wouldn’t mind if it just appended “2:13 Finished feature X” to the comments field of the active timer (assuming 2:13 is 2:13 into the timer, not 2:13 PM) most of the weaknesses of the program would be solved (from my workflow’s perspective). Additional analysis tools would be a nice bonus, perhaps, but might just be interface bloat.

Of course, I’m not picky. If some time tracker other than OfficeTime implemented comment logging (assuming that it already had my must-have reports, pause/restart, simple interface, and only-rounding-once features) I’d be more than happy to switch over. Because that particular selection of features sounds to me like about the perfect time tracker.

10 responses to “The perfect time tracker”

Leave a response

  1. Stephen says:

    Hi!

    I’m the lead Visioneer for OfficeTime, and yes, we do listen to the community and add smart features that can be put in intuitively and elegantly without creating bloat.

    If I understand you correctly, would a hotkey to type a timestamp do the trick? Or do you really need something more.

    I know where you’re coming from and personally I solve it by stopping and starting timers more often than I pause timers which leaves a good list of what I’ve been up to during the day.

    — Stephen
    http://www.officetime.net

  2. Ian Beck says:

    At the moment I’m picturing this as the nicest workflow for comment logging for me:

    – In whatever program I’m in, I hit a hotkey and OfficeTime tosses a simple textbox up (sort of like the quick entry panel for software like Things, OmniFocus, etc. but likely with just a text field).
    – I enter a short comment about what I just finished or started.
    – The comment is added to the Comments field of the running task with a timestamp without OfficeTime ever being called into focus (preferably a timestamp relative to the timer, not to the actual time). This way I can look back and say “Ok, at 1:32 into the task, I finished such-and-such” but at the time my workflow is as smooth and uninterrupted as possible.

    You could probably manage it differently; the two things that tickle my fancy are easy and fast to access from anywhere, and having the comment associated with a specific time relative to the timer. Specific design is less of an issue.

    I’ve tried stopping and starting, but my problem is that then I have to fill comments out when I stop and start (which can throw off my flow and half the time I forget, anyway). Additionally, my employer has me enter my time into their online tracking software rather than using OfficeTime’s reporting/invoicing features, so both my life and theirs is easier if I can just enter one chunk per client per day.

    Thanks for visiting!

  3. John says:

    Have you checked out Intervals? While Intervals does require you to track time against projects and/or tasks, it tries to make the process easier using web-based timers. You can run multiple timers and label each one, then apply them to the corresponding project or task once done. It does require a little more work up front, but once you have that data it becomes invaluable for reporting and estimating future work.

  4. Ian Beck says:

    I haven’t tried Intervals; I generally shy away from web-based time trackers because they’re comparably clunky compared to desktop programs. With OfficeTime I just take a short trip to the menu bar and I’ve paused or started a new project. With a web-based one I have to switch to a site-specific browser, adjust something in the web interface, and then switch back.

    After taking a quick look, too, Intervals looks a little too involved for my needs. Things is serving my task management needs, and like I said I’m generally skeptical of web-based apps when the task is something so central to my workday.

    Thanks for the suggestion, though! I’m always interested to see new solutions and Intervals is certainly one of the snazziest trackers online that I’ve seen so far.

  5. Stephen says:

    That is a good idea and I have noted it as a possible feature in a future release.

    We will be implementing another feature that may help you. You will be able to select multiple sessions and smartly combine them into one session. Which means you could start and stop your timer all-day, enter a comment for just one of the sessions or for several of the sessions, and have them all smartly combined into one single session with the comments time stamped.

    Thanks for the great feedback. It’s people like you that help shape OfficeTime.

  6. Ian Beck says:

    Stephen: Ooh, that is something that would be useful! That way even if I didn’t remember to make a note, it still wouldn’t add all that much to my end-of-day overhead.

  7. Chris says:

    Hi Ian

    Glad to hear others are looking for a similar solution that I am. I have come up with a desktop solution for tracking my doings throughout the day, but that seems a bit of a different focus than what you are looking for (time tracking).

    One other option I would mention—Harvest. Although it’s web app, it has a nice widget for OS X. And although it’s intended for billing clients, I’ve found it useful simply for tracking time on tasks.

  8. Ian Beck says:

    Hey Chris,

    Yeah, what I need is really just a way to ping myself relative to the time that I’m already tracking. A log file would be of limited usefulness for me because I’m less interested in what I’m doing at any given point of the day than in how much time some billable task took. Given the lack of readily available tools, though, I may just need to resort to a roll-your-own type thing.

    Harvest is pretty slick; I hadn’t seen that time tracker before.

  9. Time Tracker says:

    Hey Ian!

    How about having a look at TSheets.com? With a Google gadget, Mac desktop widget, Jott.com integration, clock in/out via SMS, and an iPhone 3G specific app, there’s a bit of something for everyone at TSheets.

  10. Ian Beck says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, web-based apps are not very appealing to me. People keep saying “We’ve got a Mac widget!” as if that makes it all better, but honestly that’s next to useless. Widgets are out of sight, out of mind, and out of easy reach. A native program (which can add notifications and access via Dock, menubar, and command-tab) is far more useful.

    Which is another way of saying: web-based time tracking companies, please stop trying to pimp yourselves through my comments. If an actual user has a recommendation (as Chris did above), that’s fine with me. But I am uninterested in serving as your advertising space.

Leave a response

Clicky Web Analytics