Of all the necessary evils that come with being a self-employed web designer, time tracking is quite possibly both the most necessary and the most evil. Forget about the billing aspect for a moment; it's efficiency that's the service provider's bread and butter. When you are the engine of your business, understanding when and how you actually work is the only way to facilitate building a better machine.
Far too many mornings I arrive at work with monumental goals for the day only to sit down and check my email first. Before I know it, I'm up to my waist in odd jobs, none that were planned for and all of which could have waited at least a few hours. Throw in a little Twitter, a couple phone calls, and WHAM! — it's lunch already.
Which brings me to the evil part; I hate time tracking. The only time I actually take a serious interest in it is when I have nothing better to do, i.e. not enough work. And when things pick up again and I actually need to take notice of how I spend my time, the last thing I want to deal with is recording what I'm doing at all hours, much less in 15 minute intervals.
Believe me, I've tried. And failed. Repeatedly and in various formats. The only feasible option I have left is something entirely automatic, a "set it and forget it" solution as they say, impervious to human whim.
Lucky for me, I found RescueTime.
What is RescueTime?
RescueTime is a simple time-tracking application, or rather productivity monitoring application, that requires zero data entry from the user – very much like applying Google Analytics to yourself. By installing a tiny client on your local machine, RescueTime passively tracks whatever application, document, or web site is active on your desktop and then pushes that data to a personal online dashboard for later analysis. It also records idle time by asking where you've been when no action occurs for two or more minutes.
Your online and offline data is then automatically categorized and given a productivity rating from Very Distracting (-2) to Very Productive (+2) with a neutral rating of 0 being assigned to items like email usage and other general business. Though RescueTime does an extremely accurate job of auto-categorizing your time, it's also entirely customizable allowing you to shape your results into the best possible representation of your personal productivity.
Invaluable Insight or Big Brother?
As a solopreneur, I'm totally in love with this app. It doesn't require any of my time, it delivers actionable and previously unobtainable data about my personal work habits, and it's very reasonably priced (with a Solo Lite version that's "Forever Free" and a premium Solo Pro version for just over $5 per month).
That said, as a former student and one-time corporate employee, I can't imagine being monitored this closely by the authorities. Honestly, I'd go bananas. So on the multi-user level, I don't have much to say for it. In the end, RescueTime is a force to be reckoned with, and like any sort of power it's only as respectable as the person wielding it.
Bottom Line: If you're monitoring your own work habits with it, it's brilliant.
Specs & Features
- No data entry required
- Free and premium versions for individuals and businesses
- Customize the productivity level of applications, websites, and individual documents
- Record idle time (phone calls, meetings, breaks)
- Compare your productivity to the user average
- Enterprise-class security & data encryption
- Mac & Windows compatible
Download RescueTime for free at RescueTime.com.