If you want to make progress on anything, you achieve it with selective, deliberate practice. A key to good deliberate practice is tracking your improvement, including the time spent on your activities, as well as other metrics you deem important.
If you’re trying to become a faster reader, for instance, what better way is there to find out if you’re reading any faster or slower if you don’t track your time spent reading a certain number of pages?
You could just use the stopwatch on your phone to track time spent on different tasks, but that doesn’t work as well as using a timer application that keeps track of different projects.
The reason is that you would need to add a step, like manually entering that information into some kind of spreadsheet if you wanted to see what time you spent on which activities. This would be more time consuming, inefficient, and costly than using technology to generate reports for you.
I’ve tried multiple time trackers in my search for some of the best options over the past several years.
While opinions will always differ, and new applications come out all the time, I think the following options are some of the best and a great starting point for anyone looking to start time-tracking. For those who already track their time pretty religiously, the following information should also be useful if you’re looking for a change or an upgrade as well.
When looking for productivity apps, I prefer to stick with freemium (so why would my timer apps be any different). In addition, I prefer productivity applications that are accessible on both mobile as well as desktop and that sync between devices automatically. Further, I like to be reminded to track my time, as I think is useful for many people. People want tools that will make it easy to remember to start and stop when they actually start and stop whatever it is they’re doing. If an application will make something that makes my weekly review easier, that is always a plus as well.
Note, this application is only for iOS. I know, I know, I’m totally alienating people who don’t use iOS here. If you don’t use iOS there are other great options out there.
I really liked how easy this application makes it fill the gaps in your day that you would otherwise not track. You essentially make tasks that fit into various categories, and the tasks show up on your home screen. You can easily track your time and switch between tasks by tapping between them.
Price: Free (iOS only) or $8/month/user for team featuresor $80/year (saving you $16 annually)
- Easy to switch between tasks
- Great for teams, but could get expensive
- iOS widget
- Useful visualizations (but not on mobile application)
- Rounding/snapping of time (useful for freelancers, those who bill in different increments)
- More habitual use of timer b/c easy to fill in “dead time”
- Add our recent utilization of the Amazon servers and database platforms, and you benefit by gaining world-class security and daily backups.
- Mobile version is free, but desktop version is $8/mo
- Once you have created a certain task, it’s tempting (and the main purpose) to use tasks you’ve already created, instead of making a new task that is slightly different but in the related project. This means I was less tempted to make new tasks with different notes. I personally like to make my “tasks” that I track essentially record my billing notes for particular projects, so that I can know what I did and when. With this, I’m tempted to hit “research” over and over rather than specify what I’m actually researching, which I would do using Toggl or Clockify.
- Only available on iOS; web version requires subscription; visualizations not available on mobile/freemium version
- No billable reporting/visualizations
- Web access (this should be a free feature, in my opinion)
- Sync across devices
- Detailed reporting/visualizations
- Automatic online backup
- Team productivity and profitability calculation/management and creation
Integrations: Apple Watch
I have been using Toggl for several years and I do not plan on switching any time soon. My favorite thing about Toggl is the desktop application with an autotracker which asks if you would like to track items based on recognition of keywords on the screen you associate with different projects. It also sends a weekly email and has graphs/visualization to see where your time went. Oh, and all of the best features are free for individuals.
Price: Freemium or Starter ($9/user/mo.) Premium ($18/user/mo.) or Enterprise ($49/user/mo.)
- Weekly email sent on Monday that details where all of your time went. Makes performing a weekly review easier.
- Syncs between all devices
- Options for different projects and clients
- iOS widget
- Numerous integrations
- The desktop application is awesome (auto tracker, Pomodoro timer, etc.; syncs with mobile automatically)
- Mobile application newly updated and works very well (easy to change times, native calendar integration, visualizations)
- As of 2018 the mobile application makes it even easier to switch between tasks to make consistent tracking a breeze
- Offline time recording
- Mark entries as billable
- No tasks that you can automatically select like Hours. For me this is more of a pro, but for many it’s a con.
- Lacks reminders on web app the (desktop version has reminders)
- No rounding/snapping
- Scheduled reports to email
- Time audits
- Locking time entries
- Billable rates
- Exporting (PDF, CSV XLS) (free for other applications)
- Rounding (free in Hours)
- Project time estimates
- iCal feed (free with Todo.vu)
- Priority support
See full feature list provided by Toggl here.
Integrations: SO MANY. To name a few: Trello, Asana, Evernote, Gitlab, Google Drive, Google Calendar, Zapier, Quickbooks, Teamweek, Wunderlist, etc., etc. Mobile application now syncs with native calendars on your phone.
Todo.vu is probably the most feature-packed option here in terms of being more than just a time-tracker with visualization and reporting functions. It’s simultaneously a CRM manager, task management platform, time tracking and billing application all in one. These features also make it best for teams, freelancers, and businesses that need enhanced billing and other options. Unfortunately, to get these features, you do have to open your wallet.
Price: Freemium (one user with limits); $5/user/mo. for Premium; $9/user/mo. for Business Time
- Task management + time tracking
- CRM — keep track of all your customers and their contacts in the same place as your time tracker and task management platform
- “Snooze” tasks you don’t want to deal with now. Tasks can be “snoozed“ for an indefinite time or scheduled to wake up when another task is completed. Easy to push tasks.
- Billing is a premium feature, but highly customizable. You can set different billing and tax rates for projects/staff, and it generates sales as well as invoice reports.
- Each workspace has its own email, so if you work on a team, you can all email tasks to the same workspace.
- Export your task time data to CSV files or directly into Google Sheets for archive or further analysis for free
- Repeating tasks — what I appreciate is you can set an interval before a task recurrs where todo.vu will remind you of the upcoming recurring task. You can make tasks recur on any number of days, any sequence of weekdays, weeks, months or years and also “Nth weekday of the month” sequences.
- A lot of great features, but most of the great features are premium (e.g., no reports and billing without a paid subscription)
- The interface is busy with many different icons and functions. Those who like more simplicity may find this to be a negative.
Integrations: Google Sheets
- Time analytics
- Billing — “Set billing rates on projects and staff. Select which time is billable, raise detailed invoice reports. Provide clients with detailed time reports.”
The only true entry on this list that is completely free, and with many useful features to boot. The main problems currently are that Clockify is web-app only, and the mobile application was difficult to use. The normal web-app works well, with minimal glitches. I’m excited for all of the features clockify promises, as well as the potential for many new integrations. Android users will one day have access to a Clockify mobile application as well.
Price: Free forever • Unlimited users and features
- Completely free for individuals and teams
- Many new upcoming features (including an Android app, Reminders, Browser Extension, open API (custom integrations), time audits, time rounding, and more)
- Was created by previous Toggl users, who wanted a free time-tracking application
- Billable hours (same rate for each project, but still a cool feature) (edit: Reddit user neofromthebay pointed out to me that “w]hen it comes to clockify, you can actually set the billable rates on individual level, per each project. Billable rates setup tree is actually quite deep. If you charge different rates for different team members, you can set that on a project level. Just to to projects>click on a project to edit it > team tab gives you that ability.”)
- Very similar to Toggl appearance-wise
- Minimalist interface
- New Mac desktop application
- Summary, weekly, and more detailed reporting
- Full feature list
- Few integrations at the moment
- Mobile site on my iPhone was very awkward and difficult to use
Integrations: Few at the moment, but Clockify will be releasing APIs soon to give developers the ability to create integrations.
Author: Ryan Ullman
Ryan Ullman is an associate attorney at Spence | Brierley in Baltimore, Maryland, a boutique firm that assists its clients in all manner of civil litigation. He is particularly interested in technology, productivity, peak flow states, music, and the outdoors.