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Last updated Feb 25, 2005.
If you or your employees are paid by the hour, you’ll definitely want to keep very accurate records of time spent on various projects. The low-tech solution is to write your times and tasks in a journal. A step up from this is to track everything in a spreadsheet. But both of these approaches are flawed because they require too much manual work. What you need is a simple solution that’s unobtrusive and flexible. What you need is Transcena Design’s OfficeTime, a program that tracks your work down to the minute. Then you can use this data to create detailed reports and invoices to ensure you’re paid every penny you’re owed.
OfficeTime is a universal binary application that works on any Mac running OS X 10.4 or later (there’s also a beta version for Windows). Upon its initial launch, OfficeTime pops up a Tips & Tricks window that takes a few minutes to step through, after which you should be acquainted with the basics of what the program can do and how to get started.
When starting with OfficeTime, you begin by creating one or more projects. For example, a freelance writer such as myself might create separate projects for a book, a magazine article, and a user’s guide (see the following figure). Each project has a default category assigned to it—such as Edit, Write, or Design— and each of these categories has its own hourly rate (you can have billable and non-billable categories).
Figure 334 OfficeTime’s biggest "buckets" are projects.
On the face of things, this may seem perfectly logical, but OfficeTime’s data hierarchy doesn’t match the mental model of how many freelancers and consultants work. The biggest "buckets" in OfficeTime are projects, but what I really need is a higher level of organization for clients. After all, I often work for the same client on several different projects, all of which I want to track and bill together.
Unfortunately, just as there’s no way to group projects by client, nor is there any way to specify project-specific rates for categories. For example, you might want to bill a corporate client $100 per hour for programming, but charge only half that rate for a non-profit group. This requires a work-around of creating separate programming categories, each with different rates. This prevents you from easily creating accurate reports of categorized sessions. For example, you might want a report of all programming sessions, but instead you have Program ($100) and Program ($50) categories that aren’t combined.
Once you’ve created the projects and categories that match the way you work, you’re ready to start using OfficeTime to monitor your minutes (OfficeTime can round up, down, or to the nearest minute interval that you require). Thanks to the use of a menu extra (see the following figure), it’s easy to start and stop timers throughout the work day without switching to the OfficeTime application itself. Whenever you start a session, the Mac briefly plays the sound of a clock ticking and the OfficeTime menu extra icon turns green. Conversely, when you pause or stop a session, there’s another distinctive audio effect and the icon changes color. If you prefer, you can also control OfficeTime via the Dock instead of the menu extra.
Figure 335 OfficeTime’s menu extra keeps everything accessible.
OfficeTime is smart enough to track when you’ve stopped working (perhaps you’ve stopped typing to answer the phone), presenting you with the option to keep the minutes, subtract them, or reassign to a different project (see the following figure). You can also manually adjust the time assigned to any session by typing in whatever you like, or create a new session just by clicking an icon, which is useful if you perform work away from the computer but want to be sure you are paid properly. If you make a mistake a start a session in the wrong project, you can easily correct it by dragging the session from one window to another.
Figure 336 OfficeTime warns if you’ve been idle while on the clock.
Not all editing is that easy, however. Each session has a notes field that you can use to keep track of specifics about that session, but notes are entered in a larger field at the bottom of the window, rather than directly in the Notes column (see the following figure). This is very un-Mac-like behavior and contradicts Transcena Design’s claim that OfficeTime supports live editing in place. Furthermore, even though you can select multiple sessions, there’s no way to change the category or notes for all of them at once; doing so individually is very tedious. Likewise, deleting categories is hard to because if they are used in any projects, OfficeTime refuses to allow you to delete them. Instead you must manually open the projects and reassign the category for affected sessions.
Figure 337 Editing session notes is awkward.
As a self-employed worker, I welcome the ability to edit session notes and times as necessary, but OfficeTime really should offer the option of preventing employees from tweaking their own time sheets. Though I tested it as a single user, be aware that OfficeTime allows a supervisor to import information from other employees to create aggregated reports.
OfficeTime has excellent reporting capabilities. Gorgeous 3D pie charts allow you to see the projects on which you worked during any particular time period, organized by category or employee (see the following figure). The ability to quickly generate reports and invoices is a great boon to productivity. Rather than waste time at the end of a project or billing period manually tallying your sessions, OfficeTime instantly totals the hours and minutes, applying the appropriate rate to determine the total amount you’re due, including reimbursable expenses. And the invoice templates are as easy to modify as any mail merge document.
Figure 338 OfficeTime’s reports are easy attractive as they are easy to create.
Despite its shortcomings, I do not hesitate to recommend OfficeTime to anyone who bills by the hour and works on a Mac. To see if it’s right for you, download the 60-day fully functional version of OfficeTime. If you want to keep using it, pay just $39.95 per user, confident that OfficeTime is backed by a 100% satisfaction guarantee.