Welcome to the next post in my Analyse Time Usage mini-series, part of the Looking-Glass Translations productivity programme!

Last week, I discussed the productivity benefits of monitoring how you use your time.

This week, I’d like to expand on this by talking about how to monitor your time using a few fantastic tools to help you take things to the next level.


First, a word on manual vs. automatic.

Time sheets are boring and not very accurate, since they rely on you being really on the ball and really honest.

It’s all well and good wanting to do everything yourself (and speaking as a control freak, I understand!), but you have to accept that this is not the best use of your time.

The key to productivity is to work smarter, not harder. You should therefore focus your personal efforts on essential tasks only. Time is money, after all – especially in the services industry.


Why do something yourself when a free tool can do it for you?

I’m talking about time trackers.

That’s right, technology can now play your boss – a fantastic development for anyone a little undisciplined, anyone whose work day is highly varied, and anyone who likes to have a little external accountability.


So what good are these tools to you?

Well, they’ll help you:

  • see how long you spend on different activities and set goals
  • identify inefficiencies
  • identify time wasting, which will help you to dig deeper (why does your attention stray to lolcatz in the afternoon?)
  • identify your peak productivity periods for different activities (I proofread best in the mornings)
  • monitor time-sensitive projects and services (e.g. billable work charged at an hourly rate)


Free time-tracking tools on the market:

There are hundreds of tools to choose from, and I’ve listed just a few below:


Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux | Apple, Android, Mobile Web

One of the simplest time trackers out there. Add a task to the list and click ‘Start’. The timer will start counting and won’t stop until you click ‘Stop’. At the end of the day, you can access a computer-generated time sheet and reports on how you used your time. Multi-platform. Great for very focused people.


Available for: Windows

The next level up from Toggl, Grindstone is a to-do list on steroids. Essentially works more like a sophisticated project management tool, and still requires you to manually switch tasks to get the most accurate results, but remains popular among those not ready to give up time sheets for good. Also includes a rate calculator, a reminders feature (e.g. ‘get coffee’, ‘have a break’, etc.) and a simple reporting system.


Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux | Apple, Android

Still a tool based on to-dos, Klok displays your jobs in a similar way to Google Calendar or comparable applications. It also allows you to organise your work into projects or clients and offers dashboard reporting for easy-access visuals. You can import scheduled meetings from your favourite calendar tool. At the end of the week, Klok will allow you to view Excel time sheets and even generate invoices (via third parties) based on your reports.


Available for: Windows, Mac

The next level up from Klok, Slife will automatically track how you use your time right down to email level (a feature also available from other tools, but which can be disabled if you have privacy/confidentiality concerns). Will only allow you to track online/computer time, but does allow you to set productivity goals.


Available for: Windows

Very popular, despite only being available for Windows right now. A very serious, technical time tracker with lots of graphs and extra features such as a stopwatch to manually time specific tasks (otherwise works automatically). Able to track both online and offline time, as well as work away from your computer. Can be used for teams.


Available for: Windows, Mac, Linux | Android | Chrome, Firefox

Multi-platform and able to automatically track both online and offline time, as well as work away from your computer. Offers similar features to ManicTime, but is less technical. Stand-out feature is the ‘productivity pulse’, which uses your activity ratings to calculate how productive you’ve been that day. The paid option allows you to block distracting websites, and will also enable you to review your productivity for an entire year. Can be used for teams.


My favourite tool… for now

With so much choice out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Personally, I find that I switch between tasks throughout the day, even if I try to keep multitasking to a minimum. For that reason, I prefer an automated time tracker.


That’s why I love RescueTime.

A similar tool to ManicTime, RescueTime is far less technical and displays everything visually, which is ideal for checking at a glance how my day is shaping up. Below you’ll find a screenshot of my activity one day earlier this month (non-computer work not yet included):


RescueTime screenshot


As you can see, you’re offered a neatly colour-coded display that shows how you used your time throughout the day (or month/year). On other pages, this is broken down into individual activities and even individual documents if I want.

The tool also scores how productive you were that day based on how you’ve categorised your activities, and the grading system is quite nuanced. While ‘social networking’ is generally seen as ‘less productive’ overall, I can mark Facebook as extremely distracting, while Hootsuite is actually considered ‘productive’, since it’s for work.


The greatest gift that RescueTime gives is true accountability.

Unlike some of the other tools in this list, you don’t have to tell RescueTime what you’re doing to be monitored; it will look at what you’re actually doing at any given time – so if you intended to spend an hour on that big project, but actually spent 20 mins watching YouTube videos instead, RescueTime will know.

If you install it on your mobile, you won’t be able to cheat, either.

That means that it will tell you exactly how you’re spending your time and shame you into improving if you’ve allowed your work day to become fragmented. This is a particular problem for freelancers who have no one else to keep them on task.

What’s more, the Pro version makes billing customers a whole lot fairer. Just because a project feels like it took hours, your client shouldn’t have to pay for more time than you actually spent working. This tool takes out all the guess work, which means you can be a much more ethical partner.

It’s also handy for when you’re learning a new skill and want to see how much work you can get done in a certain time.


Just want to block distractions for now?

For some, the tools I’ve discussed in this post may seem a little heavy-handed. If that’s you, why not give these tools and apps a whirl:


Do you already track your time? How do you do it? Do you like to do things manually or do you already trust in a computerised assistant to keep you on track? Please do share your experiences!


Need more productivity tips?

Try these posts for an energising boost:


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