Keeping track of time

They say that time is money, and this is certainly true for the professional writer. If you’re billing a client according to the amount of time spent on the project, you’ll need to keep an accurate record of that. You could use a spreadsheet, which certainly has its advantages, but the beauty of Taskcoach is that it will actually record the precise amount of time you clock up – as long as you remember to set it going when you start work!

TaskCoach is a task management application, and has a number of things going for it. But first, what does it actually do?

It helps you organise tasks. You can have categories, which contain tasks, and within tasks you can have 'efforts'. I'm making it sound a lot more complicated than it really is! So let me describe how I use it.

Time strides on relentlessly, so you need to keep track of it!

I work for several clients, and so it's important for me to keep track of how much time I spend on various activities.

For example, let's suppose that for Client A I look for resources on the internet, represent them at meetings, and write a blog update once a week.

One of my categories in TaskCoach is therefore 'Client A', and there will be three tasks within that category, corresponding to the activities I've just described. I've configured these tasks with an hourly rate of pay.

Every time I work on one of the tasks I start a new 'effort'. That records how long I spend on the work, and because it knows what the hourly rate is it will calculate how much I've earned from that work. At the end of the month, I can easily see how long I have spent on each activity and therefore how much to invoice the client.

Moreover, should the client want me to, I can itemise the work not only by how much I've done per day, but even by each individual effort. For example, I can show that I worked for three hours from 6 am till 9, and then a further three hours from 2 till 5, or I can just indicate that I worked for 6 hours on that day. I could also view my efforts by weekly or monthly totals.

The only two things that are not that great are the export function, which seems to export the data in a text summary format, whereas the most useful option would be a detailed format that could be imported into a spreadsheet. The other is that I think it would be useful to be able to store the data in the cloud, so that you could access it any time, from any place.

If you don't work for yourself but work for an organisation, the hourly rate feature, or the budget facility (which lets you allocate a budget to the whole task), would still be useful.

Even if you don't charge clients for your time, there is still an imputed cost that is usually worth being aware of.

So what does this program have going for it?

  • It's easy to use.
  • It's accurate.
  • Tasks can be colour-coded.
  • It works on all the major platforms
  • It's free apart from the iOS versions.

I don’t think this replaces a spreadsheet – see, for example, 10 attributes of professional writers – #3: Meet the deadline – but it is certainly a useful complement to it.