Where does the time go?
Time seems to be a focus of modern life. TV shows, meetings and invasions start on the hour. Why? because we must coordinate. How else could we organize our mass culture and synchronize our worldwide supply chain. Before this mass culture, things were different, I’m sure. Life was ruled by the natural cycles of day and season. The medieval clock tower chimed the dawn of a new era in human capacity – the capacity to segment our lives into ever smaller, more abstract sections. The reason why is varied, but unquestioningly accepted.
The Need for Time tracking
But I’m not here to make an argument against clocks and time. How could I? I’m a part of this culture. My entire life has been on a timeline – Past, present and future. My point? In order to empower ourselves we need to ‘take back the clock’. The minutes and hours of our days are the data of our lives. And, what makes that data so valuable to the mass marketers [and network executives and school administrators], makes that same data valuable to us, small business owners. The only difference is that the big guys know it and we don’t. Until now.
A few weeks ago I wrote about Data logging and my discovery of the Quantified Self website. I began to see personal data collection (personal informatics) as a means to self awareness and personal growth. A key feature of growth and learning is feedback. [Stick with me here.] Feedback is were you become aware of the results of your actions. The feedback loop – action and result – should be immediate and clear. The passage of time is not very clear. It isn’t constant. To humans, time is subjective. Hours fly by or slow to a crawl. Measuring time is perfect for a computer. Computers suffer from no such altered perception of time. To computers, time is objective. And, of all the things that should be objective in YOUR business, it should be time. Why? Because, in Business, time = money.
Which brings me to time tracking apps. [pheww]
What I personally want from a Time Tracker App
When I saw Ben’s time tracker sitting in the top menu of his iMac, I felt embarrassed. My method of recording my start and end times in a spreadsheet seemed like a 16th church bell tower. He uses ‘Billings’ which I quickly found out is Mac Only or “No PCs allowed”. Thus my search began in earnest. I wanted:
- Something inexpensive. My overhead, Man. Trying to cut the overhead and Keep it low.
- Easy to use, smooth and quick
- Visually nice. You have to use it all the time.
- Unforgettable – needs to remind me, like “Hey, you are on the clock buddy!”, really wanted the menu bar function.
- Invoicing – How I did it before was with a spreadsheet and copy/paste into PayPal invoices. yuck
Like most people interested in Web Technology and building stuff, I’m an avid fan of Jen Simmons’ “A web ahead” podcast. In a recent episode,[min. 35 or so] she gave a big shout out to Harvest. She spoke so highly of it that I had to give it a try.
Harvest allows you to track time and send invoices (online and print outs). It also does employee timesheets and has visual reports of time spent. Includes add-ons for basecamp, inDinero, and Outright. Includes a 30 day trial with plans prices from $Free to $90/month. You can track time with a widget, webpage page or phone. Check out all the features and stuff on their site.
My experience and feedback
I signed up for the free trial. It took no time to start tracking time. I was looking for the menu bar integration and settled with the Windows Gadget, which I’d never used before. Almost immediately, I was faced with the Project, Client, Task conundrum – each is tracked and used differently. Creating invoices showed me where I messed up with these and I had to back track to clean it up. I can’t explain in detail, but my advice is to try some invoices before digging too much into the program. Once that was done, however, invoicing was easy and straightforward.
stuff I liked
Support was great. There are emails to welcome you and invite you to webinars. I did have a problem which was fixed in minutes by an email to TJ Schuck, developer.
The invoicing was cool. As Jen Simmons says, you find time you wouldn’t typically invoice and it’s like Harvest is sending the bill, not me. It makes invoicing clients less stressful. I find that I trust the invoiced hours knowing that I tracked them so precisely. And, the invoices have a professional appearance.
The meat of the program, the time tracking was cool, but not outstanding. The best feature was looking at the past week and seeing the time I had tracked. That’s the sort of feedback I’m looking for. It becomes a game. How many billable hours can I get in before lunch? How many hours am I spending doing my CodeYear Tutorials? My AgeOD American Civil War game?
stuff I didn’t like
That Windows gadget stinks. I wish for a menu bar like on Ben’s mac. I started getting used to it but why should I.
You can’t create a task in the widget. You have to bounce over to the webpage (handy link directly on the widget) to add anything new [nor edit the time]. But, here is the thing, the webpage and the widget don’t update fast enough – there is a lag.
Also about the widget, I couldn’t get the time to display in the HH:MM format, even though that’s how I adjusted the settings in the webpage. Advice – work in the webpage and think of the widget as an extra addon.
I forget to turn it off timers and it’s a hassle to think of it constantly. I suppose I could turn the gadget to “Always on top”, but then it interferes too much. I figure that I will adapt to the tool, but again – why?
Cost – I’m not the only one raising an eyebrow at ‘Software as a Service’ pricing. Harvest (and others of this type) are a value for the service – the tracking and the invoices and the reports are worth it … when I think about it. But, … I guess I’m a cheapskate. Or, I’m stuck somewhere between the free plan and the $12/ month plan. If I had employees, the $40/month plan would be a ‘No-brainer’ decision.
stuff I wish for
Here’s my problem: I forget to turn the timer on or off. If the controls were in the taskbar, or a browser plugin or somewhere I look all the time, it might be better than the gadget, which I’ve never used before and only use for the Harvest app. Is there a way to have it flash or subtly remind me that it’s recording. Even if the widget became red, or went to “Always on top”, or had a little pig eating and growing fat – that would be better than a tiny play / pause button. Feedback – make it clear and immediate.
For all you Macs out there, these issues are addressed in the new Mac app – Will they update the PC version?
Looking back over what I was looking for, how did Harvest measure up?
- something inexpensive? <shrug> It’s a wash. I wish for something cheaper, but I understand the value. Is $100 bucks a year too much to pay for a utility like this?
- Easy to use? Yes, It got me tracking time and printing invoices without many roadblocks.
- Visually nice? Yes, I like the orange and gray color scheme
- Unforgettable? Nope, still looking for the reminder
- Invoicing – Yes, the invoice features are exactly what I needed.
Not a slam dunk recommendation, but a solid choice if you are interested in tracking your time and invoicing clients. I do trust the company – evidenced by their solid work in the startup community of NYC and wicked fast support response. I figure I’ll try it for a few months and keep my eyes open for other apps.
Regardless, I’m sold on the time tracking … way of life. It seems the world is mesmerized by the clock, by data. My plan is to stop running from it, to embrace it enough to control it, before it controls me.