My Love/Hate Relationship with Time Tracking Apps!

I have a love/hate relationship with time-tracking apps, but I am a firm believer that if you run your own business you need a time-tracking app if you want to:

  1. Spend less time doing the things you don’t like and more time doing the things you do
  2. Be more efficient with your business
  3. Be more profitable

*Disclaimer: I use Mac computers, so this review is based on either desktop apps for the Mac or web based apps that can be used on any computer or a combination of both. Whenever available, I also used the mobile version of the same app for time tracking when I’m away from my desk.

A few of the products I’ve put through trial by fire are:

I eventually gave up on each of those and continued my search for the perfect time-tracking app. Now, of course I know that there is no such thing as the “perfect” time tracking app, but I was hoping at least to find the “pretty good time tracking app with most of the features I need and love but not too many of the bugs or stupid User Interface or dumb features I don’t need” app.

Before I talk about my current time-tracking, here’s why I moved on from the time tracking apps I used before.

OfficeTime

time tracking

Pros:

  • Super easy to learn
  • Good idle time detection/handling

Cons:

  • Totally manual – you end up spending your whole life clicking buttons, especially when frequently changing between a series of short duration events
  • A separate window for each project means it’s a very disjointed app that doesn’t let you easily track all your activities in one place. You end up with a million little timer windows open or concealed on your desktop
  • No automatic time tracking

RescueTime

time tracking
Pros:

  • There is a free version that works for me, bonus!
  • Totally automatic time tracking that means you don’t need to spend a single second actually tracking time.

Cons:

  • Doesn’t record projects or tasks, at least not that I found. It’s really only good for tracking the KIND of work you’re doing, not exactly what or for which project/client
  • The productivity ratings are very black and white and don’t allow for context or variability. Eg, for me a certain activity isn’t always distracting, neutral or productive, it depends upon the reason I’m doing it, if I have something more important to do etc
  • RescueTime’s handling of offline time is very limited. I seem to recall there are only 3 options for assigning categories to offline activity categories, which is plain stupid if you ask me

Timely

time tracking
I fell in love the clean simple interface of Timely, it’s concept and many of its design features. There were reasons I loved it, but also reasons it frustrated the hell out of me and I eventually just gave up on it,

Pros:

  • Syncs with your Google Calendar and allows you to automatically enter Google Calendar events as time entries with one click
  • Ability to track your movement by GPS and enter that as an entry with one click
  • The ability to show and record (again with one click) Gmail emails as time entries.
  • Automatic tracking of computer activity via Memory Tracker desktop app.

Cons:

  • Quite expensive.
  • Some of my favourite aspects of the Timely user interface and the way it looked changed with the introduction of the Memory Tracker desktop automatic time-tracker app and the associated “Memory” view in the main app. (Many of my favourite aspects of the Timely user interface were in the “Day view” in the main app and while this is still available Timely is ditching this view in favour of the Memory view and I am not a big fan of the User Interface in the Memory view so this was a major reason for me to look elsewhere for my time tracking needs).
  • I experienced lots of bugs with Timely. Eg It took ages before I could get Gmail, Google Calendar and the various other integrations to sync & work reliably. Eg you’re meant to be able to enter Google Calendar events as time entries with planned time and (adjustable) logged time at the click of a button. For some reason Timely always entered the planned time as zero and the logged time as the Google Calendar event duration so I always had to manually enter planned time and adjust logged time.
  • I experienced the bug where two timers are running simultaneously (despite the fact that I only started one of them and it’s also meant to be impossible to do this, even accidentally).
  • The inability to add a new project on the fly. So you have to exit out of the timer window go to projects, create a new project and client then return to the timer window then enter and start your time entry. Sloooooooooooowwwwww!!
  • No categories or tasks/sub-tasks, just tags and sub-tags. Kind of seems to work the same but the lack of categories is a bummer.
  • No idle time detection – ie if you leave a timer running you have to manually figure out what to adjust the timer to (although there is info in Timely to help you with this it’s crazy that an app this clever doesn’t give you an idle time pop-up when it detects no keyboard or mouse activity for a certain amount of time).
  • I think the biggest thing that frustrated me about Timely is that it is such a clever app in many regards but then totally stupid/lacking in a few key areas that you might accept from a free or crappier app but that drive you crazy in such an expensive and generally very clever and slick piece of software. Eg why do they have a calendar like view (week and day views available) that doesn’t show an accurate perspective with hours of the day and also gaps where no time was recorded? Taking this one step further, if they did this they could then add the option to easily add time entries to idle time “windows” with one click and so on.
    Also, reporting is very limited, text only no graphs and not many options/views.

Toggl

time tracking

Pros:

  • Free, super easy to use and a great user interface/design.
  • Good idle time detection and handling.

Cons:

  • Mostly manual so you end up clicking a million buttons throughout your day and spending a lot of TIME tracking TIME!!

So, what time tracking app am I using now and what am I loving/hating so far?

TimeCamp

I am currently using TimeCamp. As of this writing, I’ve been using it only for a few months or so, but I’ve been spending quite a bit of time with it and here’s what I’m loving so far:

Pros:

  • Free version works for me (one user).
  • Automatic time tracking that can even automatically assign activity to a project or task by keywords you assign (in reality tasks are just sub-projects in Time Camp if that makes sense. You can also add sub-sub-tasks/projects which is a bonus).
  • Clean and easy to use interface (apart from the “graphic” time sheet view – see below.
    TimeCamp records not only project and task and notes and associated computer activity but also categories a la RescueTime. This means you can monitor not only how long you are spending on each project/task but also how much time you are spending on different types of online (and offline) activities. So, it’s like Toggl and RescueTime rolled into one!
  • Kind of syncs with Google Calendar events via a Zapier zap that enters NEWLY CREATED Google Calendar events as time entries automatically.

Cons:

  • The “graphic” calendar style timesheet view is poorly designed – hard to read and you can’t really use the information in it easily, which means a huge amount of potential of such a view is lost.
  • TimeCamp seems to work best when you always rely on automatic time tracking and don’t manually start a timer/project OR you always enter everything manually and only rarely rely on the computer to do it for you. This is because it doesn’t seem to be able to reconcile overlaps/differences between activities recorded automatically and those you’ve recorded manually.
  • The idle-time pop-up window isn’t the best, but at least it appears to give you the option of assigning offline/idle time to any number of projects or tasks (even if it is difficult to tell if you’ve been successful in doing so).
  • When you have “prevent overlapping time entries” selected sometimes TimeCamp won’t let you change notes or the task itself, even though this doesn’t change the time entries.
  • Reporting isn’t limited but there is no customisation available in the main time sheet reports, which are text only, which makes them far less usable.
  • When you re-assign all computer activity from one time entry to another TimeCamp keeps showing the same duration for the time entry from which I have just removed all entries AS WELL AS adding it to the new one.
  • Mobile app doesn’t appear to have the ability to automatically record mobile activity, ie Time Camp is a manual time tracker only in mobile.
  • Google Calendar/Zapier integration only adds newly created Google Calendar events so Google Calendar repeating events/events that pre-date TimeCamp don’t sync/import.

Conclusion
TimeCamp, for my money, is by far the best TimeTracking app out there at the moment. It’s free and it does 95% of what I need and want out of a time-tracking app. Most important of all, it does it without needing a tonne of my time to add/edit time entries manually. After all, the whole point of a time tracking app is to allow you get on with your day without spending most of starting and stopping a timer or editing time entries.