This review originally was published on April 29, 2021, with the email subject line CT No. 79: "The politics of software" alongside an essay about project management tools and workplace expose storytelling.
Are you a content or production freelancer, or considering going freelance? You should probably track your time if you're not already.
Time tracking is an absolute drag, particularly if you like to bounce around between projects during the day. Like many, I got my start time tracking while working at an agency that surveilled my every task, making sure I was spending 30+ hours a week on billable work. When I left, I hated them for the nannying.
But I loved knowing how much time it took me to complete all of my research, tasks and deliverables. I knew exactly what I could produce with a 40-hour keyword research project or a 5-hour content optimization retainer. After 3 years of tracking every minute, I knew where I wasted time and where I was quicker to finish. I learned that everything took me far longer than I would estimate.
The same agency also taught me how they reverse engineered my profitability. Again, felt like a cog in the machine, but also: we only have so many hours in the day. People like spending some of those hours living their lives. The time tracking kept us accountable on both ends: I completed the work, and they didn't oversell my time.
As I'm once again entering heavy billing season, I want to make sure I don't overbook and overcommit myself, especially since certain common projects take longer than they used to. (The trauma of 2020 did a number on all of us.) Even though I mostly work on a project basis, I still track my time to ensure that my business is profitable and that I don't burn the fuck out.
To do that, I use Toggl Track.
Toggl Track at a glance
There are many time tracking systems on the market. I prefer Toggl because I enjoy looking at the 1970s-inspired logo and the colors in the reports. Also, it's free.
Toggl Track has features for both individuals and teams, and even on the free plan, I can:
- manage many clients
- manage many projects per client
- invite collaborators to projects
- tag projects across clients, so I can compare similar projects over time
- know when I'm spending too little or too much time on a project compared to what I scoped in the contract
- play with colorful reports, in case I need to prove my time tracking to anyone else (I probably won't because I'm an experienced consultant and I do what I say!)
Time-tracking data informs when I need to raise my rates or estimate more time. It helps me understand when I'm spending too much time on non-paid work, anticipate overtime, and work the schedule I want to work. There's a paid upgrade for organizations where I could analyze my profitability, but I'm not running an agency. I'm only running a me.
I don't use Toggl's other employee screening or project management tools, but I'd certainly consider them if I were running a larger business. I've never had any issues with Toggl -- and like I said, the features reflect my needs and the colors are pretty. Sometimes that's enough.