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When you’re in the zone and lucky enough to experience peak productivity windows, the last thing you want to do is remember to track your work hours. That’s where a time tracking app comes in. Rather than interrupting your creative flow to track the clock or relying on your memory after the fact, a time keeping app does all the work for you, automatically.
The best time tracking apps allow you to create accurate invoices for clients, see how long different tasks take to complete, or help ensure that a flat-rate project doesn’t cost more money to complete than it brings in. Whether you’re tracking time for personal productivity or to streamline your business processes, a time tracking app can simplify the task.
After considering more than 40 tools, we found the five best time tracking apps for freelancers and small businesses.
The best time tracking apps
Toggl Track for a free time tracking app
Harvest for tracking hours and expenses in teams
Everhour for viewing and managing team availability
HourStack for visualizing time differently
RescueTime for reducing distractions
Looking for ways to make tracking time even easier? Add automation to your time tracking app and automatically start events, create projects, and notify your team when you start work on a task.
What makes great time tracking software?
Tracking time as you work lets you invoice more accurately than estimating that time once the task is complete. Having a higher degree of accuracy creates trust for your clients, too, but it also benefits the business. When you know how you spend your time, you can analyze it and make smarter business decisions as a result.
When evaluating the best time tracking apps, we considered the following criteria:
Real-time tracking. Nearly all time tracking apps let you track in real time, meaning they give you a running clock that you launch when you start a task, and that you can pause or stop when you finish.
The ability to edit time tracked or manually add time blocks. The best apps let you correct time tracked after the fact, such as if you accidentally leave a timer running while you take off for lunch. You should be able to edit the time log to subtract however many minutes you weren’t working. You also want an app that lets you enter a block of time post hoc in case you forget to launch a timer at all. For example, if your phone rings and you jump into a 20-minute consulting call, you might not start a timer, but you do want to log and bill for those hours worked.
Reporting features. The most powerful time tracking apps offer dashboards and reports that let you break out daily, weekly, or monthly time spent per project, per person, or per client.
The ability to create an invoice or export data. Once you aggregate all your time spent on your work, you have to be able to take action on it. All these apps let you either automatically create invoices from the time tracking data stored in the app or export that information into PDFs, CSVs, or Google Sheets to share with the right people.
What’s not included in this roundup
Here, we focus specifically on time tracking apps for freelancers and small businesses. We don’t consider employee monitoring software, which often includes some type of time tracking. Employee monitoring tools are better suited for organizations that need to keep a close eye on when employees clock in and out and whether they’re working when they say they are. That’s generally beyond the scope of a freelancer or small business.
Additionally, we don’t include project management, invoicing, or accounting apps that come with an add-on or built-in time tracker. While time-tracking clocks can be very helpful inside these tools, we assume if that’s what you need, you’re likely shopping for a more robust solution.
Best free time tracking app
Toggl Track (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows, web, and browser extensions)
If you need a time tracking app but can’t pay for one, you should use Toggl Track. The time tracking tool has a generous free tier of service that gives you access to all its apps (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows, web, and browser extensions) and includes all the core functionality you’d expect in a time tracking app.
Toggl Track works so effortlessly primarily because it doesn’t ask much of you when you start timing a task. With many time tracking apps, you have to have a client, project, and task entered into your account before the app will let you track time. If you don’t, you have to set your task aside for the time being and enter them. With Toggl Track, you can track your time right away and worry about the details later.
Additionally, when you use Toggl Track through the Chrome or Firefox browser extension, a Toggl timer button shows up in just about every web app you could imagine, from Google Docs and other Google apps to Help Scout. Because you always see the Toggl Track button while you’re working, you have a continual reminder to track your time.
Toggl Track has some of the most detailed options I’ve seen in a time tracking app. For example, in the Toggl Track Chrome extension, you can automatically start and stop tracking time based on whether the browser is open or not. It also has excellent idle detection, which helps you maintain high accuracy across your records. When the app detects your computer has been idle but a timer is still running, it offers ways to correct the recorded block of time. That way, if you’re interrupted while working and get sucked into a 20-minute conversation, Toggl Track can knock out those 20 minutes from your record. Toggl Track even has a Pomodoro Technique setting, so that you can work for a set amount of time on a project that requires your focus and then take a short break, all with simple stopwatch-like reminders.
For even more flexibility, use Toggl Track’s Zapier integrations to connect Toggl Track with your favorite apps like Google Calendar and Slack.
Toggl Track Pricing: Free for up to five users; $9 per user per month when billed annually for the Starter plan, which includes time rounding, billable rates, saved reports, and more.
If you’re looking for a simple time tracking app without extra bells and whistles, consider Clockify. While the free plan doesn’t offer the same level of functionality as Toggl Track, it does include unlimited tracking, unlimited users, unlimited projects, and unlimited reports—all for free.
Best time tracking app for teams
Harvest (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, web, browser extensions, and in other web apps via integration)
Among the best time tracking apps overall, Harvest is a top option for teams. It’s a stellar option for solo entrepreneurs, too, but it’s built to handle a collaborative workload in a way that’s clear and easy to understand. If tracking and organizing a team’s time isn’t your strong suit, then Harvest is a great app to help you get the job done.
Everyone on your team can install and use as many instances of Harvest as they like, including the desktop app, mobile app, and browser extension. The apps work offline, allowing you and your teammates to record time on tasks even when you’re not online. As team members run their personal timekeeping clocks, all the information flows into the administrator’s Harvest account, where it’s presented in both summary and detail. Harvest can automatically remind team members to submit their timesheets if you like, and the business owner can always edit, review, and approve team timesheets.
Additionally, Harvest integrates with a long list of apps. Some of the supported apps let you track your working hours directly from them (Asana, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, to name a few) and send the results to Harvest. Others are for invoicing and accounting, in case you choose not to use Harvest’s own invoicing tools. Harvest also has its own employee scheduling app called Harvest Forecast (sold separately) that tightly integrates with the core app.
If you need to connect Harvest to a tool that isn’t supported natively, you can make your own Harvest integrations using Zapier to connect to apps like Google Sheets and Dropbox.
Harvest Pricing: Free for one user and up to two active projects; $12 per user per month for the paid plan.
Looking for more robust team and project management features in addition to time tracking? Timeneye and TrackingTime both offer all the time tracking features you’d expect along with light project management capabilities.
Best time tracking app for viewing and managing team availability
Everhour (Web, browser extension, iOS (beta), and in other web apps via integration)
Everhour is a lightweight scheduling app that syncs with productivity apps you may already use. When you connect Everhour to a supported app, such as Asana, all the projects you’ve created in Asana show up as projects in Everhour. As a result, you can get up and running with Everhour faster than other time tracking apps because all your project details automatically get populated in Everhour.
The syncing aspect goes one step further to add a timer button inside the web-based app of your choice, allowing you to start and stop recording time from within the app. For example, in Asana, you’ll see a new button with options to Start Time, Add Time, Edit Time, and Add Estimate. In addition to Asana, Everhour also syncs with Basecamp, Bitbucket, GitHub, Teamwork Projects, Trello, and a few other apps. While having a timer button sync from the app of your choice is an excellent feature, it’s not unique to Everhour.
When used collaboratively, Everhour can track employee availability. For each team member, including yourself, you can enter a maximum number of hours per day or week to work on a particular project. Everhour also has an option to log scheduled time off. You can then look at the team’s schedule, and you’ll see available hours (by day) in green, time off as gray, and sessions that went over time in red.
The web timer doesn’t work offline, making it difficult to track time in certain circumstances. And while Everhour has an included invoicing system, it’s relatively lightweight. If you need invoicing functionality, you’ll want to explore its integration with more robust accounting apps, namely FreshBooks, QuickBooks, and Xero. You can also explore Everhour’s Zapier integrations to connect Everhour with other productivity apps like Google Sheets or Airtable.
Everhour Pricing: Free for up to five users, but without the ability to integrate with project management apps like Asana, Trello, or Basecamp; $5 per user per month when billed annually for the Basic plan, which requires a minimum of five users and offers integrations.
Best time tracking app for visualizing time differently
HourStack (Android, iOS, web)
HourStack is a collaborative time tracking tool that looks different from many other time tracking apps. It represents time in blocks or windows, just like if that working time were an event on your calendar. It’s not the only app that lays out your time in this fashion (Timeneye does it, too), but it does put more emphasis on planning your time before you start working compared to other apps. For example, you can allocate blocks of time on your calendar for tasks you intend to work on later in the week. You can indicate that you think the task will take one hour, or that you want to spend no more than an hour on it. Once you launch the timer, HourStack will keep an eye on the clock for you to help you stay within the expectations you set.
As with other time tracking apps, HourStack lets you create projects and tasks, which you can visualize using color-coding. Additionally, you can add labels to types of tasks to differentiate between them, such as business development and communication. You can color-code these, too. (The color options for labels are the same as for projects, however, which can get confusing.)
Another helpful feature is a time limit that you can set for each day. Let’s say you only want to work seven hours on Friday. HourStack can warn you when you go into overtime by showing your total time worked for the day in red at the bottom of the screen and through notifications from the mobile app.
HourStack integrates with several productivity tools, but you don’t get the option to start a timer from these other apps. Instead, you can sync tasks or calendar entries from one app into HourStack, or export and import datasets, etc. Integration options include Asana, Bitbucket, GitHub, Google Calendar, Google Sheets, HubSpot, Microsoft Office 365, Slack, Todoist, and Trello.
If you need to connect to an app that isn’t supported natively, you can likely use Zapier, which lets you create HourStack integrations with a wide variety of apps and services, like Gmail or Jira.
HourStack Pricing: $5.60 per month for one user for the Personal plan when billed annually; $12 per user per month when billed annually for the Professional plan, which includes reporting, user permissions, and unlimited guests.
Best time tracking app for reducing distractions
RescueTime (macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android, Chrome, Firefox, Brave)
RescueTime is an automatic time tracking app with a version for just about every platform you could want. To start using RescueTime, first install a small monitoring app on your computer. This software works in the background to observe your computer usage, which is then sent to RescueTime’s servers and presented to you in the web-based dashboard.
Since RescueTime knows which apps you’re using and for how long, there’s no need to manually log your hours (though the app still provides this option if you need it). The app will then attempt to categorize your habits based on a set of rules. For example, it classifies Facebook as “very distracting” and Evernote as “very productive.”
RescueTime’s most interesting set of features are designed to block distractions. It offers a website blocker called FocusTime, which allows you to block distracting websites when you need to get some work done. You can block certain websites based on category (for example, block sites categorized as “very distracting”), add exceptions, or automatically start FocusTime with an alert, like starting FocusTime after 30 minutes on social media or after ten hours of total time logged.
If you use Google Calendar, Outlook, or Office 365, you can automatically schedule FocusTime sessions by simply typing “#focustime” in any event name or description, and FocusTime will automatically block distracting sites. And that’s not all—there’s also a Slack integration that automatically updates your status and notification settings based on what you’re working on so your team knows when you’re focusing on deep work.
You can do even more with RescueTime by using RescueTime’s Zapier Integrations, allowing you to connect RescueTime to apps like Evernote and Trello.
RescueTime Pricing: Free for basic, automatic time tracking; $12/month for the Premium plan, which includes project and document tracking, offline time reporting, and features for blocking distractions.
This post was originally published in September 2018.
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