How do you handle tracking your time against projects? I threw out my Stickies, Excel spreadsheet, and lists, and went looking for a project timing and billing application that I could actually use. Here’s what I found.
I thought my needs were pretty basic so you can imagine how I felt when someone (someone named Jack, who also lives with me, who’s the father of our children, and provides no support for my home business, and snickers when I ask for help) suggested I get QuickBooks Pro for Mac because it had the ability to track my projects and generate an invoice.
That much I could do already with my note pad, some Stickies, a few Excel spreadsheets, and a bunch of TextEdit documents, and cut and paste into a Word document. You see the problem already, right?
But it works. It’s just that the effort to make it work was becoming more than the work itself.
My needs are simple. I have clients and projects. I need to track the time devoted to the tasks which make up each project. I don’t want to go to school to learn how to do it.
How hard can this be? Add a client, add a project, track the tasks, add an hourly rate here and there, track a few expenses, spit out an invoice that looks better than a Word document with plenty of cut and paste.
I looked through a dozen different Mac applications that handle project timing, tracking, and simple billing.
QuickBooks Pro got ditched early. It comes with a manual. That’s too much work.
I tried MyTime and it looked like an excellent, inexpensive solution until I read that the developer would stop development in favor of a new version. Uh oh.
Small Business Tracker looked good but bothered me at $99. A number of time and project tracking applications hadn’t been updated in a year. Or two. Sometimes three. That’s a bad sign.
Others looked promising, but I tend to avoid Mac applications that start with a “0” in the version number. Bad sign.
Time Slice was my first choice because they’ve been around awhile, but trying it out scared me. Too many options and a learning curve that appeared daunting.
I was just trying to replace Stickies, Excel, TextEdit, and Word with something more intuitive.
What I found and settled on was TaskTime4. Anything with a version number beyond 0.91 or 1.1 looks good to me, so version 4.3.3 just smacked of maturity.
I know that’s not a great criteria for the selection process, but it’s a start. The proof, as they say, is in the taste of the pudding.
All I wanted was something to track clients, track projects for each clients, track tasks for each project, add an hourly rate and taxes, and generate an invoice. I already have an accountant who cleans out my shoebox every three months (mostly so it doesn’t become a copier paper box full of receipts and bills at the end of the year).
TaskTime4 is made for Mac users. It’s simple, straightforward, doesn’t require an inch of manuals or 3.5 megs of PDF instruction.
Add a client. Add a project to the client. Add tasks to the project. How hard can that be?
Frankly, it wasn’t. I had that part set up in just minutes. TaskTime records “Sessions” (the time you spend doing something; a taks for a project), has a separate tab for basic Expenses, Flat Rates, and a customized Invoice.
Let me repeat. Add a client (works with Mac OS X’s AddressBook). Then, add a project. TaskTime4 asks you to add the project to a client. Duh. Exactly. What’s that take? Less time than it takes to scroll through a two foot Sticky, for sure.
The Project Session has more options but is so simple even Jack could figure it out without asking me more than seven times. A Session is really a task. There’s even a timer, though you can edit the start time, stop time, and total time.
I’m repeating myself, but only because I need to fill the space (Tera says we need a certain number of words for each article), but there’s a tab for Expenses, a Flat Rate (as opposed to an hourly charge), an Invoice, and room for notes.
Except for the Invoice part, that’s about it. It just works. The invoice part is cool. Click “Make Invoice…” for a selected project, and the pop up window displays the completed invoice, but with buttons for a Clipboard copy, to Print, to Email, or save as a PDF.
It actually took longer to search for time tracking apps, try out a few, discard a few, than it did to set up TaskTime4.
No, it’s not the end all, be all of project management or time tracking. Just remember the criteria. If your objective matches that, give TaskTime4 a try.
My only complaint is one you see in many Mac applications. Windows. Too many windows (like Photoshop palettes) here and there. I like everything in one place so there’s probably some kind of left brain, right brain issue to contend with. Otherwise, TaskTime4 was money well spent.