I’m often asked how I kept track of the time spent on projects for clients when I was a freelancer. To start off, I didn’t do any tracking, which was stupid. I guestimated, even when it was clear that I was way below the mark.
I was so scared that I would lose clients if I charged them the right fee for the correct project hours, that I was willing to let my freelance business operate at a loss. After one too many months of living on the breadline, I came to my senses. Or rather, my poverty levels slapped some sense into my poverty-addled brain.
If this sounds familiar (and I’m sure it does to all the freelancers reading this), you can stop with the suffering already, and I know just the tools to help you do that.
Time-tracking tools are exactly that: they help you track the time you spend on projects. They are useful because:
- They can help you become more productive: if you knew how long each task would take to complete, you would be able to manage your project hours, and eventually, your time and business, better
- When you’re commissioned for a project, you can track the hours you’ve assigned to the project tasks and let your client know when they’re almost at the end of their allocated hours
- They will show you, in black and white, just how much you undervalue your time and skills, when you undercharge for your services (a common freelance affliction). And that moment of realisation, when it does happen to you, is a sobering, but empowering one, because then, you can do something about it.
The time-tracking tools
There are quite a few time tracking tools on the market, and while their goals are broadly the same (helping you to track your time, so that you can bill your client appropriately), there are some differences between them. We review four of the most popular ones for freelancers.
This is a great tool with a freemium version. When you start working on a project, you start the timer and stop when you finish (see timer in the top left of the image below).
You can also work by teams and by projects (see left-hand menu of above image).
I started with Toggl as a freelancer, moved on to Harvest (reviewed below) when I grew my team, and went back to Toggl when I realised that I didn’t need all the bells and whistles of Harvest.
Toggl review: Highly recommended. There’s a free version, which is more than enough for freelancers. It’s intuitive, easy to use and even the paid versions are affordable.
Best described Toggl’s rich cousin. Whereas Toggl is aimed at those with a more nimble business, Harvest is aimed at growth businesses.
You can send off quotes for your project, track your project hours against the project code and lots more. You can even track your hours against your retainer (see image below), which is very handy. Certainly beats those Excel spreadsheets.
Harvest review: It’s a great tool for freelancers who are ready to scale up their business. Like Toggl, the dashboard is intuitive, there’s a free package for solo users and the paid packages are also affordable.
Probably the granddaddy of them all. It’s the time-tracking tool to use when you’re managing remote teams.
If you were working on a large project and you sub-contracted parts of the work, you would definitely find Hubstaff useful, particularly if you’re working with people you haven’t worked with before. All you have to do is send them the Hubstaff invite:
The tool is platform-agnostic, which is great for people working across multiple locations and system requirements/limitations:
Much like Harvest and Toggl, you can assign project codes which you can time-track. The difference is that Hubstaff is specifically for people managing remote, freelance teams, which is reflected in its tools and functionalities, for example, its timesheets and security measures.
Hubstaff also integrates with 29 project management tools like Asana and Trello, (the merits of which we discussed in this post: the best project management tools).
Hubstaff review: I was really impressed with this tool. The owners have thought of everything. It’s clear that they understand the challenges of managing a remote team and have provided well thought-out solutions to those challenges. I used to manage a remote team, and if I’d known about Hubstaff then, I definitely would’ve used it.
Time Doctor is a comprehensive time-tracking solution for businesses, freelancers, and other professionals. It’s designed to boost your productivity and make sure that freelancers (or their sub-contractors) get paid for the right number of work hours. It can also increase transparency by taking screenshots of the freelancers’ computer screens during work hours (and only during work hours).
Why it’s different from other tools
Time Doctor has several unique features designed to ensure that time tracking is accurate. It will also remind the person when they come back to the computer to start tracking time again, as well as asking what task they are working on.
Time Doctor review: The fact that it works, even when there is no internet connection available is very handy and extremely useful when working with people with poor internet connections.
Time Doctor also integrates with project management and collaboration software such as Asana, Trello, Google Apps and Slack.
All four time-tracking tools (Toggl, Harvest, Hubstaff and Time Doctor) operate a freemium model, where it’s free for one user (albeit, with limited functionalities) and a minimal fee for the paid versions.
Over to you: how do you keep track of your project hours or are you still very much an Excel user :)?
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Also published on Medium.