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Time tracking tools

TimeBook and TaskCoach

I tried many time tracking tools over last year. There are lot of nice and graphical ones out there. Ideally, I wanted to have a tool in which I can plan tasks with due dates and keep logging time against each of those tasks when I actually spent time on those. I didn’t need to do this for any billing purposes, but I like reviewing regularly where I spend time. But as a manager, there are only certain times during a software product release cycle when I can actually plan and stick to plan. More often than not, my job is to ensure that I am available to help people so that they can stick to their plan. In this situation, all I really need is just a simple tool to keep logging time in a most painless way.

Let us discuss few options to plan and track time against the plan; and then just to track time.

Planning and tracking time against the plan

If you need to plan and track time against the plan, there are three tools I’d recommend from my experience. Microsoft Project, TodoList and TaskCoach. First two are for Microsoft WindowsTM, but the last one is portable. If you want to know exactly when all you worked on one task as opposed to total time spent alone, then TaskCoach is your best bet. Microsoft Project 2003 (don’t know about newer versions) simply doesn’t allow this unless you get Project Server with Timesheets. TodoList lets you create subtasks which you can model as timelog entries. TaskCoach is a perfect fit. I really liked it and it fit my needs very well. It is completely free, open source and has a dynamic community around it. The internal data format is XML, so you can get it out in any which way you want (you can do that with TodoList too easily).

Winner: TaskCoach

I can’t really think of any enhancement requests really for TaskCoach. May be, just a way to select an active task and keep logging time against that without having to go through multiple clicks.

Simply logging time

There are way too many ways to do this - just do a google search. Klok is a nice tool I used for some time and a simple Excel sheet for most of the time. While graphical/web tools look good, they are a pain if you need to quickly enter data. Like a command line twitter.

If you want a personal, command line twitter clone, it couldn’t be easier:

alias twit='echo "`date +"%Y-%m-%d %H:%M:%S"`|$@" >> ~/twitter.log'

Just use it like

twit whatever I want to tweet

But coming back to the original problem, I used timebook for some time and I loved it. I didn’t really need multiple timesheets to be there, but the simplicity of this tool is just awesome. You can easily add records and if you need to fix some stuff, you can always go to sqlite with sqlite manager. I still need to get time to look into the code to see what is the use of the BLOB column in the database table; but only thing I miss in this an ability to add notes as plain text to an active entry. That way, I don’t even need a separate program for note taking. You export the data into a CSV file and do whatever reporting you need using spreadsheet programs.

Winner: TimeBook