Time tracking is a hot topic in the creative industry. Some believe that projects should be planned out in advance and based on a flat rate (known as value-based pricing), while others charge by the hour for their services. If you are part of the latter, or even the former but work on retainer, you’ll need to diligently track the time you spend on each project, client, and task throughout the day.
Manually tracking your hours can prove to be a highly ineffective use of your time, not to mention potentially inaccurate and exceptionally mundane. To avoid wasting time – while tracking time – you should say goodbye to lengthy spreadsheets and invest in a robust time tracking app. Instead of wasting billable hours researching the perfect app to fit your needs, I've included six of my favorites below.
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Harvest is an industry standard when it comes to time and expense tracking. It offers a beautiful and intuitive interface that works across all desktop and mobile operating systems — it even has an Apple Watch app and a desktop widget for added convenience. Harvest also allows you to track your time per client, project, and individual task. You can even deduct “idle time” from your hours for those instances when you get distracted from the project at hand. Once you’re done with the project, Harvest can produce itemized invoices ready for delivery to your client.
What sets Harvest apart from other time tracking tools is that it fully integrates with 70+ other business management services including Quickbooks, Slack, Stripe, Trello, and Asana. The company also has a great track record (Ha! Get it?) for their customer support and focus on user satisfaction.
Like most software, Harvest has a free and paid version. The free version is perfect if you’re a solo freelancer working on no more than four clients and two projects simultaneously. However, if you require the comfort of unlimited clients/projects, a solo paid account is only $12 per month with additional $10 fees for extra users.
Takeaway: Harvest is great for an advanced freelancer or creative team that has a keen eye for detail and relies on other business software as well.
Toggl is a simplified version of your average time tracking app. Its one-click tracking style allows you to effectively track time in real-life without the other bells and whistles. Toggl offers all the core functionalities you’d expect, specifically time tracking and invoice generation. Once a job’s done or an invoice is needed, you can export reports to Excel, CSV, or PDF formats to share with your clients. You can also organize your timesheets by projects, clients, or other unique tags. Just like Harvest, Toggl works well on all mobile and desktop operating systems, and even includes a Google Chrome app.
Toggl is very much suited to team-based environments, as you’re able to segment team members into specific user groups. That way, you can limit accessibility privileges of team members based on their role — a great solution if you’re working in an agency with designers, account managers, and developers all working on the same project.
Toggl’s free plan offers pretty much everything you’d need as a freelancer: basic tracking and reporting, unlimited projects, and teams up to five. If you want some extra functionality, you can opt for the Pro or Business plans — both of which offer additional benefits like unlimited team sizes, billable rates, time estimates, and priority support for an added cost.
Takeaway: Toggl is great for collaborative groups of freelancers or a lean creative team working on a restricted budget.
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Built solely for Apple desktops and mobile devices, Hours is another elegantly designed time tracking app that should be on your radar. Its user interface and experience are extremely simple and focus almost entirely on functionality, making it easy to open the app and start time tracking without any obstacles on your first go. You can easily manage various projects or tasks by color coding them, and timestamps are easy to edit if needed. Hours also offers simple reporting that can be viewed in-app or downloaded and emailed to clients in CSV or PDF formats.
Due to its focus on simplicity, Hours is missing some core features and platform integrations found standard in other time tracking apps. But what it lacks is balanced out by its price tag: Hours is entirely free, making it a great solution for freelancers trying to keep operating costs at a minimum.
In its current state, Hours is primarily set up for individual time-tracking, which makes it a great solution for freelance projects or a retainer budget for specific employees within an agency. But if you’re looking for something your whole agency can use to track billable hours, then Hours isn’t the tool for you. The team at Tapity, which built Hours, claim they’ll be releasing a team version as well as a web-based version of their app shortly, but for now it’s a one-man app.
Takeaway: Hours is time tracking plain and simple. If you’re an independent freelancer, or work in an agency on retainer, this free app could be the perfect solution for you.
Tick is designed to be more than just a time tracking app by including a strong focus on time management optimization. When logging time into Tick’s timesheets, known as timecards, you’ll receive feedback on how much time is left to complete a certain task or project. That way you aren’t only tracking time, but are being kept on track yourself with consistent reminders on whether you are going above or below your estimated schedule.
Timecards can be organized by project or client, and they offer subcategories to track time for specific tasks (say design vs. development). You can actually set monetary or time budgets for individual tasks within a project; that way you’re able to catch problem areas within your workflow early on. Tick also removes the manual effort needed to track your usage of retainers on recurring projects by offering an option to set automatic resets for certain jobs.
Tick connects with over 400 third-party platforms and web apps, including highly functional integrations with project management software Basecamp and accounting tool QuickBooks. Plus, if you’ve got an Apple Watch, Tick has a beautifully simple app for tracking time on the go.
Pricing plans range from free one-project trial accounts to unlimited plans priced at $149 per month. All plans offer unlimited team members and access to the Basecamp integration, but if you’re working on multiple projects simultaneously or are doing work on retainer, you’ll need to opt for a more expensive plan.
Takeaway: Tick is a great solution for a team looking for an all-in-one time tracking and time-optimization app, especially if you use Basecamp as your main project management software.
Timely acts as a bridge between time tracking and scheduling. Its simple interface resembles your standard calendar app, giving you the ability to proactively schedule the flow of your work day.
From an organizational perspective, Timely is agile enough for team projects. As the account owner, you’re able to assign projects or tasks to specific team members, check on their individual workloads, and reorganize as needed. You can quickly assess logged time against forecasted time to make sure your project is on the right track.
The app also integrates with the most popular calendar apps, including Apple Calendar and Google Calendar, allowing you to sync your existing schedule to your timesheets. This means that whatever you put in your calendar will automatically patch over to Timely, making the adoption of this tool undisruptive for your workflow.
Timely offers two pricing options: Free and Regular. Free is the perfect plan for a freelancer, as it allows only one user and a maximum of five projects to be tracked at once. The Regular plan, at $14 per user per month, is more suitable for a team or agency and offers no limit on the total amount of projects allowed.
Takeaway: Timely is a time tracking app and scheduling assistant in one package. It's most suitable for beginner freelancers juggling no more than five projects, or lean teams of three to five.
Finally, we have TrackingTime — a simple, one-click time tracking app that is entirely free. You read that right: this tool offers you the ability to create an unlimited amount of projects, user accounts, and clients without adding to your overhead. It works great on all devices and desktop operating systems, and just like Toggl it includes a Chrome app. TrackingTime also includes minor project management capabilities like to-do lists and real-time updates to ensure your projects and teams stay organized.
While there’s no promise that it’ll stay free forever, the company has guaranteed that its tracking and collaboration features will remain free perpetually. I would definitely recommend you check out this tool before investing in anything more complex.
Takeaway: The perfect time tracking tool for a small-time freelancer trying to keep overhead costs at a minimum.