A look at Harvest, a time tracking application.

This is the third in a series of posts about my quest to find the holy grail of time management processes. OK, I’m not really looking for the holy grail; I’m realistic enough to know that there is rarely a simple solution to a complex problem. My first step was to reduce my side project overload, followed by improved discipline managing my time through better prioritization of activities.

A little more than a week ago, I had to admit to myself that I had outgrown my system of time management via spreadsheets. While spreadsheets worked fine to track hours spent on client projects, they didn’t provide me with the tools that I needed to analyze the time that I was spending across all client projects, business development activities, side projects and other activities that consume my time.

Based on recommendations from friends, I decided to try Harvest as a way to track my time. It took me most of a Saturday morning to get everything configured in Harvest, which will cost me $12 a month with their solo freelancer plan (with a 30-day free trial), but after using it for a week, I’m confident that it is time and money well spent to keep me on track.

I have projects set up for each client, major side projects, business development, information gathering (email, Twitter, RSS reader), and more. I can enter my time into Harvest using a desktop widget or a browser, but I’ve discovered that I prefer to enter it in the web browser. I can enter my time after I complete a chunk of work by specifying the number of hours (or fractions of hours) spent on a particular project, or I can let the Harvest timer track it for me. The timer is a really nice way to keep track of time: click it once when you start a task and again when you complete a task. However, I’ve had a couple of mishaps when I forgot to click “stop” on the timer, so I’m actually using a hybrid of the two models by also manually entering start and stop times in the notes for client work (I like the extra record for clients anyway).

Harvest Timesheet View

Another useful feature for me are the estimates. When you set up a project, you can specify an estimate, which helps me stay on track against the estimates I provided to the client. I also use estimates to track total budget available for projects with “not to exceed” specifications. Harvest makes this easy to monitor by reporting the actual hours used and the number of hours remaining in the estimate.

The various reports are flexible and easy to use. The overview report has an at-a-glance view of hours today, hours this week, and hours this month, compared to the previous period, along with hours broken down by active project. My favorite report is the detailed time report, which lets you specify a timeframe, client, project, and more. Most of the reports can be exported as a CSV file, and you can export all of your activity as a CSV file if you like to have your own personal backup (just in case they have an incident like the recent one at Magnolia).

Harvest Report

What have I learned so far on my journey toward better time management by using Harvest? I spend way too much time in email, on Twitter and reading blogs. While all of these activities are important to my business, I need to spend less time on each of these activities to free up more time for paying work and business development (my two highest priority activities).

What are your biggest time wasters? What time management tools, tips, or tricks do you use to stay on track?

  1. Great little article.
    I recently signed up with Freshbooks and I wish it has some of the features that harvest does. Specifically with the availability to track time vs. estimate.
    Another feature that would be nice, is the ability to change an estimate into a project.

    Quick note… you might want to reconsider your title. I thought you were having a problem with Harvest at first :)

  2. Have you looked into RescueTime? I like it because it’s zero-effort tracking.

  3. Another worthwhile candidate in the time tracking space is Intervals. Although it is coupled with other features like task management and project tracking, it is great for time tracking if you need more than the basics.

  4. i think I am a little late in reading the post. I have recently signed up for http://www.invoicera.com/. I feel they have good features but yes I can always look for more.


  5. Hi Dawn,

    Since Harvest also works via Twitter, all your tweeting time can be filed under ‘Admin’! You’re not tweeting, you’re tracking your time…

    As an aside, we back up our data completely in two separate physical locations, so barring an asteroid strike, it should be A OK.

    Thanks for the kind words about Harvest, we really appreciate the love. If you have any questions or ideas, drop us a line or stop bye @Harvest on Twitter. Have a great day.

    -Michael @Harvest

  6. [...] reducing my side project overload, managing my time through better prioritization of activities and using Harvest to track my time. One of the things I learned from tracking my time more closely is that I spend way too much time [...]

  7. I think that the days of the stand-alone time management app is going the way of the stand-alone social networking app. That is to say that there really isn’t that much need for yet another stand-alone time management or social networking app. Rather, what makes more sense is social networking or time management as a feature in a larger application that is focused on solving a relevant and important problem.

    For example, I use http://www.code-roller.com to manage my software development projects. Code Roller has document types in its system that correspond to the deliverables in a software development project. It also has the usual time management features such as a project schedules composed of tasks, gantt charts, burn-down charts, etc. When a design document gets approved the tasks get automatically generated for the project manager to assign to the various developers on the project team.

    It’s that integration between time management and the problem that you’re really trying to solve which is the sweet spot.

  8. [...] My Time Management Saga Continues with Harvest [...]

  9. Dawn,

    I’m a little behind at reading your series. It’s interesting to see you try to gain back control of where all your time is being spent. Good for you and congratulations on the success you’ve had so far. I think many of us struggle with this and it’s great you are dealing with it out in the open so we can all benefit from your experience.

    I’m looking forward to reading what’s next for you in overcoming your challenge.


  10. [...] 24th, 2009 (9:00am) Dawn Foster No Comments In my recent post about using Harvest to track my time, I discovered that I was spending too much of my time consuming information. As a result, [...]


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