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Time Tracker

By Mark. (The following is transcribed as originally submitted.)

Remember your first day back to grade school after a summer of lazing in the sun? Brand spanking new notebook in hand, the spine cracking as you open it for the first time, a pristine blank canvas awaiting your brilliant ideas, newly sharpened pencil carefully dating the top right corner with your best penmanship…

It never lasts long though. Scribbles and doodles, girls numbers, AC/DC logos in the margins — but it was so great to start a new year with a fresh approach. A clean slate.

Although times have changed, I’ve been doing the same thing each January. Backing up files, deleting old jobs off the servers, wrap up the years accounting - a ceremonial spring cleaning of sorts. Now with the new year underway I look at my day-to-day tasks and aspire to do things better, simpler. There is always one bottleneck that seems to be a cloud hanging overhead time. Or more importantly, time management. There must be a better way to track time — billable time, down time, project timelines.

Recourses.com (go to free resources › benchmarking) suggests 176.25 hours per month, per person are available after vacations, holidays and sick time. They suggest people should be 60% billable or 105.75 billable hours per person, per month.

60% might sound reasonable, but I wasn’t even close. So that leads me to question what I am doing different with my time and how I manage that time. What does your studio do to track time?

We are a design studio with 5 to 8 people working at any given time. We currently use a combination of iCal and Excel to track our time. Each docket has a separate excel file tracking totals per person, total hours remaining in estimate, total hours to-date etc.

We’ve looked into several time keeping and studio management programs, but are finding it difficult to decide what to invest the money and time into. Looked at Clients and Profits seems like the best application out there, but very, very steep cost. And it is a classic application, not a true OSX app. Stopwatch Plus and Time Sheet Manager seems like a very simple solution, but to take full advantage of the software you need to also use their Creative Billing software which is also a Classic app and seems like a very crude program. Time Assistant tested this out and it seems very good. One problem is I could not find out how to archive the old jobs. Don’t want to delete records, but also don’t want to see 200 jobs on the list when only 10 are active.

What do you use at your studio?

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ENTRY DETAILS
ARCHIVE ID 1722 FILED UNDER Business
PUBLISHED ON Jan.15.2004 BY Armin
WITH COMMENTS
Comments
ps’s comment is:

creative business periodially reviews office management programs. actually they have their reader comment on their likes and dislikes which makes for a kind of valuable review. i agree clients & profits is pricey, but even then is probably worth it as soon as there are a few people in the office. we use a program called studio manager. its filemaker pro based. sure it has plenty of flaws but it does at lot as well, if you know filemaker you can customize it. oh, and it cost much less than clients& profits.

On Jan.15.2004 at 10:14 AM
Bradley’s comment is:

We've been using Advantage here, which is working out quite well--it even has a feature where you can get in-depth information on any active job, ranging from budget to due dates to whatever. It's pretty cool and has streamlined things a bit more from where we were previously.

60% billable is pretty reasonable though; hell, where I'm at we're trying to do 1600 billable hours per year, which is 75% of your time. Or a helluva lot more hours per week.

Billable time in this profession is always such a funky thing--like, how do you bill time spent concepting? When concepting I'll often do everything but start drooling (and even then...), or I'll dick around here and read things until something starts clicking. Speak Up as billable time? Hmmmm...I like the sound of that, and who should complain if coming here gets me closer to solving the problem assigned?

On Jan.15.2004 at 10:44 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

FileMaker. Use it for everything.

On Jan.15.2004 at 10:51 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

Excel has worked for me.

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:05 AM
g’s comment is:

right now our office uses Filemaker for all the billing and time on jobs etc..

but we're looking into iWork to help everyone calculate our hours more accurately.. since right now people in our office keeps track of their hours in their own little way, whether it be iCal or writing in their agenda or palms.

we have a designated person in our office who tests out software to see if its relevant to our tasks etc..

i think he's trying to see if iWork can work with Filemaker ..

a good tool iWork seems to have is a timer that you can turn on everytime you start a new task and somehow i think it can log into the appropriate job number...

so far he has good things to say about it, its up to the big boys to decide to purchase it or not...

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:12 AM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

After researching all the existing solutions for years, I've decided to build an app that solves this problem for designers and studio. The crux of the problem is that documenting your work isn't being done as you're working. Plus - you were hired for your design skills, not your operations management skills. So, you should be designing - not documenting.

The other problem I see is that all the existing solutions a basically clockpunchers. I don't know about you, but that brings back memories of flipping burgers for a clown. Not a mindset that makes me feel creative and happy.

I wanted an app that not only *automatically* recorded how much time I was spending on stuff but how I felt doing it.

If you're interested check the OS X version.

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:29 AM
Tracy’s comment is:

Anybody tried Studiometry? I have downoaded the demo and played around with it. I like the way it works. It is missing the ability to be used in a workgroup environment though, so we decided to hold off on purchasing since that feaure is promised in the next version. I'd love to have something that worked like this, but maybe kept it's data in a MySQL backend, so that I could access the info from anywhere... either the App itself, or through a web frontend...

This developer seems very responsive to questions and it looks like he updates the software regularly, and seems to really tend to his forum on the software.

But I'll admit, the icon is... scary.

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:42 AM
Mark’s comment is:

If you're interested check the OS X version.

Garrick - Thanks for posting this. Figures, I am not in the office today and this computer only has OS 9 on it. I will check it out tomorrow.

On Jan.15.2004 at 12:21 PM
Armin’s comment is:

Like Darrel, I keep a nice Excel file with how much time I spent on what. I'm sure there are better ways like all that have been pointed out already.

At marchFIRST we had such a complicated system that we could actually bill one hour weekly under "Timesheet Filling." It took forever to fill one of those bastards, and every week we got sent a mysterious file that would load the projects we were working on for that week. I don't know why they bothered, we had very few billable hours… yup, that's why it went bankrupt.

On Jan.15.2004 at 02:58 PM
Brady’s comment is:

Mark,

Stay the hell away from Traffic Office Manager Used it at a former employer and it is a big stinking pile of garbage.

We are a 2-person shop and need something affordable (read: cheap). We are looking into StudioBoss for our office. Even the free version looks quite robust...

• Organize and track design projects!

• Store information about every aspect of a design project

• Find Projects quickly with organized lists

• Integrated auto-save and backup to ensure data

• Robust and intuitive search tools to find projects

• Attach Finder folders to projects for quick access*

• Attach Clients, ToDo’s, Expenses, to projects

• Archive projects when they’re completed

Full verion ($45) allows report generation including custom PDF reports and tracking hours via a Palm.

There is a Filemaker version ($99 + $45 for each add.) for sharing over a mixed platform network.

May be the way to go.

On Jan.15.2004 at 03:18 PM
dave’s comment is:

I've used Clients and Profits in OS 9.2.2 and X. It has some very annoying funtionality that got worse with the "Classic" version. It is one of the most aggravating apps I've ever used. On the other hand the Project Manager loved it for it's cost and time functions.

iWork is great if you are small and not working off-site. It syncs up very nicely with the address book and has a very carbon feel. I bought it. The price is right, but for someone who works on-site freelance, I just haven't been in my office enough to use it. I would recommend iWork.

The last place I worked had a hand-built, web-based time and project tracker, great control and easy to use, a very sweet app. They should really sell it.

On Jan.15.2004 at 03:22 PM
Kirsten’s comment is:

Our super smart programmer created a Time Management System that was web-based a couple years ago. Now we need something more powerful and we're testing out this free opensource program PHProjekt. You probably need a smartypants to get it set up but so far it seems to work nicely with tons of features.

On Jan.15.2004 at 04:34 PM
Darrel’s comment is:

Not sure if it does billing, per se, but you all might want to keep an eye on 37signal's upcoming Basecamp application.

On Jan.15.2004 at 05:44 PM
damien’s comment is:

I'm very much analog myself.

Would enjoy a great digital solution - but as yet, I find it easier to work with paper and pen.

I am also interested to see 37signal's basecamp app...

On Jan.15.2004 at 07:12 PM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

I've looked at StudioBoss and Studiometry. Frankly, I don't like the feel of FileMaker applications - cludgy, slow, with a funky interface. I've checked out Studiometry - actually, I know the guy that did the toolbar icons. Overall, I'm overwhelmed by it's interface. It's not something can see myself looking forward to using everyday.

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:57 PM
Garrick Van Buren’s comment is:

Benefit of FileMakers apps like StudioBoss though - they usually have a Palm version. :)

On Jan.15.2004 at 11:57 PM
marian’s comment is:

At digitopolis we had a custom Filemaker Pro setup that I never cared for too much. But I discovered that the best way for me to keep track of my time was with a pen and paper. I make a little booklet log, and I have myself trained reasonably well to just jot down what I'm doing in no less thant 15 minute chunks. Filemaker always fucked up my system, so i didn't like to have it running all the time, and there's no way I'm going to start a program just to log some time ... so the paper is the way for me (but at digi, a slave would then take my little booklet and log my hours for me in the System -- I was so spoiled!).

As for billable time, when I was co-running the place my billable time was at 30-60%. As soon as I stopped being a partner (and worked on contract for a year) my billable time shot up to 80-90%.

On Jan.16.2004 at 03:31 AM
Gahlord Dewald’s comment is:

I work for myself. So tracking time is critical. I do plenty of projects on per/project as well (and even though time, in this case, doesn't affect the bill, it does affect profitability so it's even more important to track).

I use a program called TimeSlice. I love it. I can't live without it. If it had a port to my Palm it would be even better so I could take it to meetings etc.

If you're currently using a cobbled-together solution (iCal and Excel qualifies here) for dealing with your time you may want to take a serious look at TimeSlice.

Use iCal to schedule your appointments and share the company schedule. Let the accountants and project leads deal with Excel. Let the drones work and just use Timeslice.

Geez, maybe I should work for them...

g

On Jan.16.2004 at 09:18 AM
kyle’s comment is:

I use iWork for all of my freelance projects. I tested out a few other programs before I found iWork and to me it was the most user-friendly, it has a nice interface, integrates with iCal and it relatively cheap.

Now that I've read more about Basecamp, if the price is right that might be where it's at.

Basecamp Milestones

To-Do Lists

Extras

On Jan.16.2004 at 11:04 AM
Javier’s comment is:

At our office we track time on paper - it is then entered by our bookkeeper into a custom app built on a PC in ACCESS (yikes!)

We have only averaged about 40% billable time - and are working hard to improve it.

We looked into Function Fox - a web-based subscription service - has anyone tried it?

On Jan.16.2004 at 12:01 PM
k3lly ’s comment is:

Funny you should mention the Fox (le Renard, for you Wayne & Garth fans).

At 35/mo. those who work for the sacred design team of "Me, Myself & I" might find this a bit pricey for an individual user. At my former shop we loved Function Fox, which I would recommend, especially if you have employees.

It's very user-friendly and makes it easy to separate different types of tasks for individual clients, which is helpful if you bill different activities in different ways. It also makes it easy to track employee productivity, daily/weekly/monthly hours spent on different accounts, etc.

There are also notes sections where you can list project objectives, ideas, etc. and appoint different people as "project manager" for individual projects.

I think you can still demo it without signing up for a whole year in advance...but if you and your employees like it, I think signing up for a year in advance will save you some moolah.

I enjoyed using it...Check it out!

On Jan.16.2004 at 01:18 PM
Time-Assistant Team’s comment is:

To Mark:

In your article you said:

"Time Assistant tested this out and it seems very good. One problem is I could not find out how to archive the old jobs. Don’t want to delete records, but also don’t want to see 200 jobs on the list when only 10 are active."

It’s always good to hear someone enjoys Time-Assistant!

In order to prevent Completed Projects from being selected in the lists, all your users need to set the "Show Projects" option in their personal Profiles to "Not Completed".

On Jan.19.2004 at 04:18 AM
Custom Kahuna’s comment is:

I've bought Studio Boss, but I'm still lookin' around. This Studiometry looks promising...

Hope it works for a one man show...

On Mar.04.2004 at 02:24 PM
Custom Kahuna’s comment is:

OK. So far, I'm impressed.

I hate to see Dennis Best's Studio Boss in my rearview mirror, but I'm diggin' Studiometry. I'd like to see something besides HTML-based templates (or, at least a more visual representation of what I'm about to print). And I need to know that these guys are gonna be there long term with Mac support. Credit card in hand... wondering if I should wait for version 2 (which is hinted to be coming out "soon").

Anyone used Studiometry for a long while now?

On Mar.06.2004 at 09:37 AM
Michael’s comment is:

We've been working with Clients & Profits for two months now and are very unhappy with how poorly documented it is, and with all the bugs that they've had 15 years to solve, and with how everything takes three times as long as it did in QuickBooks. We switched over because of the promise of integrated management of time, billing, traffic etc. But our experience thus far is that it has NOT been worth the big bucks they charge for it. And their telephone support is competent, but only available during the daytime, which any small business owner will tell you is NOT when they are doing book keeping or billing!

The funny thing is that I had heard so much good feedback about Clients & Profits for so many years. Seems like nobody ever mentioned any of this stuff to me. I'm wondering if anyone else had had this experience or if I my observations are isolated?

On Mar.07.2004 at 06:50 PM
Custom Kahuna’s comment is:

We use it at my day job. Everyone, including the controller, hates it. We run OS X (Jaguar) and C&P often quits for no reason. Support has been hit and miss. Way too expensive for all the hassle. Does Quark make this app' or what? :)

I bought Studiometry -- Tom gave me some very quick answers to a few questions I had which left a nice first impression. After snooping around in the demo for a while, I decided to whip out the credit card. Voila!

On Mar.07.2004 at 09:04 PM
Custom Kahuna’s comment is:

Studiometry 1.2 was released today, if anyone needs the update. The change list looks pretty extensive.

http://www.oranged.net/studiometry/

On Apr.12.2004 at 09:07 AM
Ian Soper’s comment is:

Studiometry is my choice. I've been using it for about a month or so and am very happy with it's features. It works for OS X & Windows and Version 2.0 which will be coming out in the next month or so will feature a multi-user newtworking feature.

Signup for the 2.0 beta here:

http://www.oranged.net/studiometry/beta/betasignup.php

On Jun.28.2004 at 03:50 PM