Time is Money

by David Booth

in it-support,

September 16, 2009

As the old adage goes – “Time is Money”. This is especially true for those who provide professional services. Traditionally, professional service providers such as accountants or lawyers have recorded their times on paper timesheets and then at the end of each day / week, their data entry staff would enter these timesheet into a central invoice / billing system. However for small boutique service providers like ours, this is not economically feasible. So how does one accurately and cheaply time and record the time spent on each customer and project?

At PicNet, as well as fixed timed contracts we provide our customers with additional services on an “ad-hoc” basis. The issue of recording how much time we spend on each customer has always been something we have always struggled with. For some time we had been using an internally developed timesheet system where our engineers and developers enter in the timer they have spent on each project. However such systems are dependent on either:

  1. Staff updating the timesheet whenever they perform a billable task; or
  2. Staff keeping a detailed paper record of billable tasks and updating their timesheets on a regular periodic basis.

Both of these dependencies have their inherent problems. Staff may forget to update timesheets after each job (especially when there are a number of short jobs throughout a day). The accuracy of timesheet record could be called into question if staff are performing a number of jobs in a day and job overlap each other. Keeping a paper timesheet is an overhead intensive task as it requires the staff to in essence fill out their timesheets twice and is reliant on the discipline of your staff to capture all required information on paper.

It seems then we require some simple, fast and easy to use application that will track and record the time spent on various tasks, without the need for extensive setup or configuration to start using. Ideally it will include:

  • A timing function to time the duration of each tasks with pause function to allow for inevitable interruptions.
  • Comments against each task to record some task details.
  • An easy to setup pre defined list of task categories.
  • A tasks history which can be queried at a later time (when updating the timesheets).

On a search of the internet, I found several professional Project Management and time sheeting packages included similar functionality. I came across TaskTracker, a simple java applet. However its lack of a task history and support for task comments made it of limited use. Task Timer seemed to be quite a fully featured project task management and timing application, however I found it to be overly complicated to setup and overkill for my simple requirements. Then there was Good Timing, an alarm and task tracking and timing application, which could be adapted to suit our needs, but was yet not that exact right fit. Finally having almost given up hope, I came across a Desktop Timer by Vertabase. This desktop widget was easy to use, quick to setup and tick all my requirements. To top it all off, it was free! About the only down side was that Desktop Timer required Adobe Air to be installed. We have been using Desktop Timer for about 2 months now and it has been invaluable in keeping an accurate record of time spent on various project and tasks, and most importantly allowing us to accurately bill our customers at the end of each month.

Has anyone else found a good application or system to help them solve their Time Sheeting conundrums?