Managing Time as a Writer

Clock fleur de lis

I have a confession to make. I have no sense when it comes to time. As an artist, I fall into that right brain zen mode all too often and time seems to disappear. I’ll be writing a scene or sketching one of my scifaiku poems, blink, and the next thing I know several hours have gone by and my tea is cold. I am left wondering how the day got away from me.

As much as we all love our creative outlets, when you are a working artist or author, time is money. Keeping track of how much time you are spending on what you are doing helps you price your products and understand if you are losing too many hours gazing at your friends on Facebook or playing solitaire on your tablet.

While I prefer to use my paper-bound bullet journal to track my tasks and keep my activities focused during the day, I have been picking up the habit of also noting my time.

The apps below are ones that I checked out for my own use in an effort to corral my time usage. I like ones that have a desktop component along with the phone since I spend a fair amount of time at my desk as a writer. I was not approached by any of these companies to review their products. What I have to say about them is my own viewpoint and opinion.

Toggl
Free and Pro Versions

What I like best about this app is that there is a desktop version that coordinates with apple or android. You download the app and it rests in your desktop tray where you can toggle it quickly. Toggl keeps your time information in sync with all your devices. Since I work on a desktop in my home office, having the computer version is a real plus for me. The interface is simple to use, you open it up, label what you want to track and hit start. When you are done, hit the stop button. If you forget to start a timer, you can go back and guess your start time and back track. Your time information can be downloaded into a CSV file for storage. Toggl is designed to be used by teams of people, but I find it is great for a single author to use. You can even use it for Pomodoro writing purposes!

RescueTime
14 day free trial then $9 per month

Sometimes, having to manually start a timer or remember where you were on the internet can be daunting. RescueTime is designed to run in the background of your desktop and mobile phone and it tracks the time you spend at websites and applications. If you think you spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter, this program will show you the proof. It even has a way to block off certain sites if you have been there too long. It is compatible with Apple, Android, and Windows on your desktop.

Personally, I did not like that a third-party was tracking everything I did on the internet. As a writer, I do plenty of research for my science fiction or historical novels and sometimes that does mean wandering around the net in peculiar places. I never know when a fact is needed for a story and I need time to dig online and make a determination about a fact tidbit. Still, the interface seems easy to use and if the ability to shut down social media is important to you, RescueTime might be a good option for you.

Focus Booster
Free 30 day trial, $2.99 basic monthly plan

I’ve been a huge fan of the Pomodoro method of focusing your productive work into small timed sessions with small breaks between them. I use this technique to up my word count while drafting or to keep me going when editing a story. Focus Booster is Pomodoro on steroids for your computer or by using it online. It has a clean interface that starts your timer and allows you to create labels for what you are working on. In the paid version, you can download your files as a CSV file, create invoices from your timesheets, or create productivity charts with the program. I personally have not purchased a plan, but I do find it tempting since this would interface with my current work habits. If you like to use the Pomodoro Technique in your work flow, this service is worth looking into.

Timely
Free to 5 active projects. $14/mo for single user with more projects

Timely is a tracker with a different concept. It merges with your online calendar in order to combine scheduling of tasks and time tracking together. You schedule your work life and then log what you do. As an author, you might set up your daily calendar to block out times for writing, others for research, ect. Then you go to your chosen time tracker, pick the project you are working on and start the timer before you begin work. When you use Timely, your schedule is your actual timer, not a third party. As your timer runs for each task, you can see on your calendar how much time you’ve spent on each project vs how much time you had planned for it.

The app runs with most major calendars such as google and apple. There are apps for iOS and the apple watch to help you track time on the go. Timely will create reports of your time, do billing and invoicing, and allow you to export your data to Excel or PDF.

I’m still on the fence with this one. If I were a freelance writer, it would be very useful for billing and tracking time per client. The concept of using your online calendar as the actual timer is very elegant and intuitive once you understand the idea. I am an author and my “client” is myself. For me, this would be more tracking of work than I need and it would not interface with my work flow as other services that are more based on the Pomodoro technique. Still, I feel comfortable listing it as an option to writers since we all have different ways of getting our work done.

ATimeLogger
Free or $2.99 for upgraded App

This time management program does not have a desktop version, but it is available on both iOS and Android. It is very basic. Pick an activity from the app and then start the timer. It can be used for personal tracking or for work. The app will create either bar or pie charts for your time usage, allow you to create and set goals, and allow you to download your data via CSV or HTML. It is a basic time management system, but for a writer who simply wishes to know how much time they are using per task, it should be enough. The price is right too. For me, it would not be my first choice because I spend much of my writing time at my desktop, but for those of you who are tied more to your phones and are on the go, ATimeLogger might be the answer to your timing needs.

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5 thoughts on “Managing Time as a Writer”

  1. Alas, I find time management and time logging only frustrates me more, and takes even more time from my writing by adding time management. That being said, some writers need the discipline of time management. One thing I’ve learned over my sixty + years is there are too many personalty types and writers need to learn what tools work best for them. I experimented with time management and time logging, and if you haven’t tried them you should, with an open mind, to see if they help.

    1. I am relatively new to time management and logging. I’m not sure how much of it I will do, but I do have a pomodoro timer on my phone and desktop and think that I might stick with Toggl for a time since the basic account is free. I do see a value in keeping my word count and having a daily set of tasks here at my desk to keep me focused. I’ll discover if time tracking is a “time suck” or benefit as time goes on. Thank you for your input, Phillip. It is appreciated.

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