Time Tracking Tools for Authors



When you’re trying to figure out why you’re not as productive as you want to be, tracking your time is a great idea to figuring out where exactly your time is being misused. You might have a general idea, but what exactly is it and how much exactly are you wasting?


Actually tracking that can cause more stress and more work than it’s worth, which is counterproductive. The idea is to figure out what’s taking away your productivity, not adding more non-productive tasks.


This method is worthwhile and a superbly helpful tool, so I decided to find something that would make it easy. Test-driving apps and software is something I love to do. That’s driven many of my authors, co-workers, and friends nuts, but in the end, I locate the apps that meet our needs the best and go from there.

So, I’ll share with you my reviews of the top time tracking apps.


First of all, there are a lot of time tracking apps that appear on the Top 18 lists that don’t belong there. They’re project management apps, which are great and do a lot of other things. However, when you’re working on narrowing down why you’re not producing, all the other bells and whistles get in the way. I wanted a tool that did nothing but track time. So, this is the list of the apps I found that do ONLY that.


Spreadsheets

I love Excel. I’ve been working in it for nearly thirty years. I know how to get it to do amazing things. I’ve created simple and complex spreadsheets and workbooks.


It’s also the first timecard system I’ve ever kept. Were using this in the 1990’s when I first started and the companies I worked for then are still using Excel timecards today even though there are simpler, easier apps out there. Excel is reliable, sturdy, and it’s already a part of their expense budget. If you don’t have Microsoft Excel, you can still use Google spreadsheets and/or Airtable.


However, since owning my own business full-time, my time management has become increasingly more complex. I’ve outgrown my spreadsheets. In order to track my time here, I need to have my rows and columns set up already, which makes my timecard a bit cumbersome as new tasks come up.


However, if you’re just starting out, you can easily create a spreadsheet, a Google spreadsheet, or an Airtable spreadsheet and create your time tracking.


It’s a great starting point.


Pro

  • Free or already paid for

  • Flexible

  • Easy to use

  • Great for starting out

Con

  • As my business grows, it’s starting to become cumbersome


Harvest

I wanted to move into something that helped me streamline and automate what I’m doing. Basically, I wanted a smarter worksheet.


I gained another client, who does website design here in Alaska, and they use an app called Harvest. It was easy to work with and it kept me on the same tasks in time-tracking as the rest of my team.


The problem with Harvest is that it’s a time billing program, so it’s set up to keep track of your billable time in big buckets. Great for invoices, but not great for trying to figure out where my time was being mismanaged.


Everything is centered around projects. It’s easier to scroll through them to choose which project you want to track time to because your projects are selected from a drop-down menu instead of having to scroll through rows or columns, but I still had to go through and add a ton of projects and subprojects before I could even get started.


Pro

  • Easy to use

  • Great for invoicing

  • Tracks time where you are: computer or mobile

Con

  • This is a paid app, but it’s not expensive


Clockify

As my author businesses has grown, I’ve discovered a bunch of smaller tasks or larger, multi-activity tasks taking up time I hadn’t planned on. This is the only reason Harvest wasn’t my solution. It’s a great app and can be hugely useful for authors. However, with so many smaller tasks popping up, I realized that’s what I needed to invest my focus as I tried to figure out what was eating at my time.


I needed a tool that still tracked time by task, but was more flexible so I could capture all the things I do in between my big, trackable tasks.


So, I went to Clockify where I found exactly what I needed.


You still need to set up your customer. I have Real Indie Author and Whistling Book Press.


You still need to set up your projects. For Whistling Book Press, I’m setting up each book as their own project.


You can assign trackable tasks, so I added the outline, each chapter as I write them, line edits, proofs, formatting, uploading, landing pages, graphics, and launching newsletter automation.


The thing I needed, and the thing that made Clockify my go-to solution was that as I track my time, I can add a note as to what I’m actually doing. So, when I go to write Chapter 10 of my current manuscript, I can make a note that I’m “preparing,” and then make another entry that I’m writing, and I can jot down my word count in that writing window.


This app makes it easy to dial down into the detail of what I need to see what’s going on. I’m locating the things taking too much time, I’m locating my triggered activities (watching Hulu instead of working), and I’m gaining control.


And it’s free. You can pay for the upgraded app, but there’s no real reason for it. It works great for authors as a free app. You can download it to your desktop and if you forget to turn it off, you can open it on your phone and turn it off there. It’s great.


Pro

  • Easy to use

  • Great for invoicing and project tracking

  • Tracks time where you are: computer or mobile

  • Easy to dial down to the smallest level you need

  • Great free plan

Con

  • It sometimes locks up on the desktop version, forcing you to work off the dashboard.



ToDoist

This one is very close to being a task tracking app, but it’s mostly a project management app. It’s on this list because there are quite a few authors who use it for tracking their time.


There are things that are great about this app. You can quickly add tasks if something just pops up and you need to track time to it. And you can also schedule tasks as well as create recurring tasks.


You can easily organize your tasks in sections and subtasks, and you can prioritize them.


You can also move your tasks around because it’s a Kanban board, a task list with flexibility and maneuverability.


The best thing with ToDoist is the graphs they use to show you how productive you’ve been throughout the week. Clockify does this too, but I like the graphs in ToDoist better.


ToDoist is good, but for me the time tracking was a bit overkill. I use Click-Up for my project management and ToDoist is more of a light project management tool than it is a time tracking tool.


Pro

  • Easy to use

  • Tracks time where you are: computer or mobile

  • Easy to dial down to the smallest level you need

  • Great graphs to visually see how productive you are

  • Great free plan

Con

  • A bit overkill for simple time tracking


Conclusion

Time tracking and project management are two different tasks and when I’m looking to raise my productivity, I want to look at tracking my time so I can see where it’s being spent.


The things I found as sell-point won’t be for you, and the things I didn’t like could be exactly what you’re looking for. Don’t be afraid to invest time to locating and creating a tool that will ultimately help you save time in the end.


After trying everything out, I’m using Clockify for time tracking and invoicing.


And I am invoicing Real Indie Author and Whistling Book Press to help me gauge the ultimate success of my companies.


What are you using? Let me know in the RIA Discussion Group.


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