It's About Time: One of the Hardest Things about Being a Freelancer
Of all the challenges of being a freelance WordPress website “Implementor” … bookkeeping, invoicing, legal stuff, dealing with difficult clients, finding time to read blogs and keep up with new things, learn code, maintain or repair websites … the one thing I struggle with the most is tracking my time. Even though I bid many of my projects on a flat fee basis, I still do project work. Even on flat fee jobs where time is not directly billable, it is important to keep track of time to get an idea of how long tasks/projects take to be sure that I am not underestimating (or overestimating) the amount of time it takes to complete a job.
If you’re like me, tracking time is not something that comes naturally. I recall a former boss, when I worked for an advertising agency, telling me, “if you think about the project in the shower or as you are falling asleep at night, that is billable time.” My approach is more like, “this will be a very quick task so it’s not worth tracking/billing the time” … and two hours later, I have gotten lost in the project and never turned on a timer and then forget to bill for my time, or have to guess and typically under-guess for fear of over-billing.
[Tweet “”this will be a very quick task so it’s not worth tracking/billing the time””]
I love shiny new objects, so trying out different time tracking tools can be an entertaining time suck. Years ago, I used an app called Klok. This was a good tool, as it let me edit my time when I forgot to turn it off, and to view reports by client. The downside was this this was not a cloud-based application, so I had to sync the data between computers/devices, which was a hassle because I switch between a desktop and laptop frequently. It did introduce me to digital time tracking, versus the old-fashioned method of writing in a notebook or on a scrap of paper and often guessing how much time I actually spent on a project.
After abandoning Klok about a year ago, I looked at several options and chose Harvest. What attracted me to Harvest was its ability to sync with QuickBooks, to create estimates and then track hours against that estimate, and it has a desktop and phone app with a timer that alerts you when you forget to turn it off. Because I have an employee, I pay $22 per month for Harvest. What I don’t like about Harvest is that the timer does not show the name of the client in the timer; sometimes I accidentally select the wrong client from the dropdown and I don’t have a way of knowing this because the window doesn’t show the client name.
In addition, I have discovered that I don’t really use the estimating feature that much because I have a custom document/format for proposals which works fine (I do like that Harvest sends the estimate and allows the client to select “Accept,” which makes the process very simple and streamlined. QuickBooks will allow an estimate to be sent through the QuickBooks system, but there is no option for the client to accept it.) The syncing hours to QuickBooks has also not been a huge benefit for me – mainly because I am not very good at using the timer consistently, so sometimes I have to go back to look at emails to determine which projects have time to be billed. So this is not necessarily a problem with Harvest; when I have been good about using the time, it does save time in invoicing to bill clients directly from Harvest. On the other hand, it’s not a big deal to look at a monthly report (I bill monthly) and create invoices in QuickBooks based on the hours in the report.
I have started using Teamwork to manage larger client projects. This has a timer built in, which is handy. It is awesome to have everything in one place – to link time to the project management tool. The reporting is excellent, and teamwork also integrates with QuickBooks.
I do not use Teamwork for all of my client projects, because it is overkill for websites that are completed and only have occasional edits/maintenance requests from clients. Because of my experience of connecting projects to the timer with Teamwork, however, I began a search for a timer that would work with the project management tool I use the most, ToDoIst.
Toggle & ToDoIst
ToDoIst is super easy to set up and use (and is only $28.99 per year). Even better, this week I discovered that it integrates with the time tracking system called Toggl. Wow, this is a great combination! There are multiple ways to start a timer … with Google Calendar, with ToDoIst, with Gmail and with a desktop app and phone app! Not only that, but for the features I need, Toggle is free!
[Tweet “I LOVE ToDoIst and Toggle”]
Freckle and Timely
Before discovering Toggl, I also tried Freckle and Timely.
Freckle is a very pretty and has an easy to use interface. It is rather expensive for me and one employee, however ($32 per month) and it does not integrate with ToDoIst.
Timely is also great looking – it is based on a calendar, so for someone like me who likes to look at my calendar to visualize my time, it is helpful. There is not an integration with ToDoIst, however, so that was a deal breaker for this option for me compared to Toggle. Timley is free for one user and up to 5 projects. For unlimited users and projects, it is $14 per month.
I plan to cancel my Harvest account this month and make the full transition to Toggl with ToDoIst, while also keeping Teamwork for larger jobs. I am sure I will revisit this system at some point in case something new and better comes along (perhaps something that intuitively tracks every moment of my day and automatically applies time to the right projects without having to turn a timer on and off?), but for now this seems like a great fit.
[…] My favorite time tracker, when I am tracking successfully, is Toggl. I have written about why I like this the best. […]