The good people at Time Doctor have given me access to an account, so I can try out their time tracking software for Freelancers. This is a sponsored post, but the Time Doctor team have given me complete editorial freedom, so I can write what I like.
Just to add to the fun, I’ve used Time Doctor to track how long it took me to write this post. Scroll to the end to find out how long it took.
Back when I worked in agency land, I used to have to do weekly time sheets, accounting for how much time I’d spent on which client accounts. It was a massive pain in the arse and I’m sure most people who work in agencies that require time sheets will tell you the same.
It’s not that the time sheets themselves are hard. It’s the tracking of where you spent your time. Most people I knew would be too busy delivering on the actual client work to track at the same time how long it would take them to do said work.
Fast forward to my current role as a director at my freelance agency, Montfort, and my need for time tracking has changed somewhat. I’m in the somewhat fortunate position where we don’t deliver time sheets to clients.
Of my retained clients, we have an agreement based on trust, where I commit to a certain amount of hours a week and they trust that I do them. It’s essentially a "use it or lose it" approach, but I would guess that I do often spend as much time on each account as I said I would.
This shows that I don’t accurately know how much time I spend on each client. I could be over serving one client and underserving another. It also means I can’t track the time spent on one-off projects, e.g. not retained but just delivering on a set project, so I have no idea if these work out to be profitable projects or not.
When the guys at Time Doctor got in touch, it sounded like a great opportunity to try out a time tracking system and if this had a positive (or negative) impact on my freelance work. Here’s my experience of using the Time Doctor software for the past few weeks.
In this article:
What is Time Doctor?
Time Doctor’s main feature is time tracking, providing a breakdown on how much time you spend on which projects, clients, and tasks. Time Doctor’s data is accurate to the second, so you easily bill clients based on tracked time.
For the purposes of this review, I was using the more basic Lite version, although there is a Pro version that has many more features for power users.
Easy to set up
First off, the sign up and installation process for Time Doctor was quick and easy. It took about 5 minutes to sign up, download and install the software before I was up and running tracking time on client work. I would have a more accurate idea of how long Time Doctor took to install, but I don’t think the software tracks how long it takes to install itself.
That said, you can tell that the Time Doctor team have worked hard on streamlining the installation of those software and optimising the on boarding experience for first time users.
You’ll need to refine
Although it’s easy to get going, I got a few days through tracking time and realised that my project description either weren’t accurate enough or I wasn’t setting up the projects appropriately.
This is an easy fix though and I was able to amend project descriptions and correctly assign projects to different clients in a more rational way than when I first used the app.
An unexpected productivity bonus
This was the biggest plus of using Time Doctor for me. Every time I went to switch back from taking a break, Time Doctor asked what I was working by popping up at the front of my screen. This was annoying at first, but it took just a few clicks or the simple tap of the "Go" button to tell that I was getting back to work.
Having the screen pop up in your face when you’re thinking of procrastinating is a fantastic incentive to get back to work. I must have had a more productive week by several hours a day due to this nudge to back on with my work.
Helpful digest emails
At the end of every day and the end of every week, Time Doctor sends you a digested summary of what you’ve been spending your time on.
The biggest realisation for me was that I live and work on my inbox. Processing email was the number one task of most of my days an definitely the task I spent most time in over an average week. This was a big wake up call, as I’m aware how unproductive spending time in your email inbox can be.
This triggered a positive change in me, where I started to batch process email by only logging in every few hours to check email and instead spent time tackling other tasks for longer period so. This move away from living in my email inbox definitely made me more productive and I was able to tackle bigger projects and tasks in a shorter amount of time.
Better client billing
As I was now better able to assess where I was spending my time, Time Doctor actually made me a more profitable freelancer by letting me know if I was spending the right amount of time with the right clients. I could easily see where I was over servicing or under servicing client and at the end of the month or billing period I was able to provide a more accurate I vice to client did I felt they needed it.
If the client asked for a breakdown of what I had done for them that month and how long projects took, then I had the information at hand when needed and could be confident that I’d provide them with an accurate picture of where their budget went.
Time Doctor mobile app
Time Doctor does have an iPhone app that can be used in conjunction with the desktop software. I admit that this was something that I didn’t fully explore but from the limited time I spent in the app I could tell it was a good companion to the desktop software.
For example, if I’m checking mail in the move, then I can open the Time Doctor app and let it know what I’ve been working in. This then syncs with TimeDoctor’s desktop software, so that time spent working while travelling is included in my digest and overview.
One thing I could see the mobile app is useful for is if you don’t enjoy the way Time Doctor’s desktop software pops up in front of you whenever you return from a break or look switch task. Instead of getting distracted while in your desktop, you could simply switch tasks using your mobile app.
As it syncs with the Mac app and online versions, the mobile app provides an alternative way to track your tie. Think of it almost as a egg timer on your phone that happens to give you details time tracking reports at the end of the working days.
Overall impressions of Time Doctor
I’m going to keep using Time Doctor as part of the freelance tools I use. I’ve found real benefits in accurately tracking my freelance work and where I spend time, most notably in a productivity gains and a more confidence in the reporting of where I spend time in client’s projects, both of which are especially important to a freelancer.
How long did it take me to write this post? Well according to time doctor I took a grand total of 1 hour, 58 minutes and 27 seconds. Not too shabby for a 1,300 word review.
Now back to the email inbox. I mean, back to that chunky client project. Thanks for the reminder, Time Doctor!