Secret Method to Tracking Time

There are many electronic systems available to help independent consultants track their time. But here’s a secret: some of us still find that we like our old-school paper-based methods best.

Many in the Solo PR Pro community have asked what I use — in this video, I demonstrate the “system” I’ve developed over my 15 years of consulting, which uses folders to organize clients and track my time.

If you can’t see the video above, you can watch it on YouTube.

It’s important to note that I also use this same system for volunteer positions and pro bono work, tracking time regardless of whether I’m going to get paid or not.

Obviously there are many software programs that may be more efficient, but for me, I found that I just wasn’t as religious about tracking my time when I have to open a software program to do it. Your mileage may vary — I firmly believe that the best system is the one you’ll actively use!

What about you — what’s your system for client organization and time tracking? Looking forward to hearing your personal experiences and recommendations in the comments…

  • Danielle Walker

    This is great – I’ve been using Freshbooks to track time and invoice, but there’s been something missing. I think we tend to forget about time-tested methods when something new and shiny comes along. I may go back to giving this a try. 🙂 Thanks!

  • @csteckb

    Kellye – This is an organized way to track time – my method, which has worked for more than 10 years, is to take a few minutes during the day to make entries of my activities in my Outlook calendar, noting the client name, the tasks involved, and the time spent. It’s quick and relatively painless, and gives me a record of activity that I print at the end of each month. I use this information for creating my invoices in Quicken.

  • Glad you found it useful, Danielle! I’ve tried other things, but I keep coming back to my good ol’ folders.

  • That’s a great method, too — I’m sure it’s easy, because you’re probably already in Outlook. I think you’ve nailed the key to a good system: “painless.” Thanks for sharing!

  • Deb Robison

    I use Freshbooks since practically everything I do is online and seems to work well. Just to add to the client-specific folder thing, I started something a couple of years ago when I learned that, and this is not meant to be an elitist thing, Moleskine sells these really flat notebooks that fit great into file folders. I use them for all my client meetings. They are easy to use for keeping track of everything and are nice to carry to a meeting. 🙂

  • Deb Robison

    I use Freshbooks since practically everything I do is online and seems to work well. Just to add to the client-specific folder thing, I started something a couple of years ago when I learned that, and this is not meant to be an elitist thing, Moleskine sells these really flat notebooks that fit great into file folders. I use them for all my client meetings. They are easy to use for keeping track of everything and are nice to carry to a meeting. 🙂

  • You’re funny about noting the “elitist thing” – Moleskine can have that connotation, but I would never think that of you! 🙂 That’s a nice tip (I’ve never seen those, and should probably check them out).

    I think the key is to separate notes by client or project. I once worked with a colleague who kept all her notes for everything in one spiral bound notebook (when she ran out of room in one notebook, she’d just start a new one). If I added up all the time I spent waiting while she flipped through that thing looking for something, I’m sure it would be many hours of my life!

  • Kate

    I use a combination of my paper notebook, Google calendar, and ClickTime to keep track of hours.

  • Hi Kellye — I use a variation of this (which only became necessary in the past 8 months or so) — I do the folder thing, and the notes, but the time I drop straight into an invoice in Word. For the math of expenses and time, I do an Excel sheet and save it with the same name as invoice; the invoice goes in the folder. When I get paid, I move the invoice (with payment advice stapled) and place in the Accounts Receivable folder. This is an extra step, but I’m better at tracking the time, and my accountant likes the organization of my AR. 

    Now, if I would just get in the habit of typing up my notes…

  • I really enjoyed Kellye’s video … thank you for sharing. I do a similar file system. 

    For time and billing, like Deb I also am using Freshbooks with good success. For clients that are straight hourly I can just press invoice and bill straight out. For some others I have had to create a dummy “draft” invoice to reconcile hours and then create a separate invoice, all from the Freshbooks program. Like Kellye, I’m also tracking pro-bono time, as well as “connections” time (like this!) and billing/accounting time. Recommended.

  • Kristie Aylett, APR

    Love your client-project specific folder system and might have to tweak my system a bit. I tried specific software to track my time but quickly returned to my tried-and-true Excel spreadsheet. It has columns for date, general project name, activity description and amount of time. Throughout the month, I add more rows and document the time spent on the client’s behalf. At the end of the month, I save it as a PDF and attach it to my invoice.  At the end of the year, I can total the time billed to each client and analyze the various projects.  For example, why did one news release take only 5 hours, but another dragged on for 15?

  • Thanks for sharing, Ron. Sounds like you’ve got a three-pronged system that works.

  • Interesting that many folks incorporate a calendar into their tracking system. Thanks for stopping by, Kate!

  • Great additional tips, thanks Sean!

  • Love that you use a system that also serves as backup for your client. Solo PR Pro Community Assistant, Jennifer Spivak, does something similar using a Google Spreadsheet, which I can check anytime I want to see how long things are taking. I don’t recommend that much sharing when working with clients, but it’s nice for subcontractors.

  • Phick Steven

    Looks fine. From my point of time tracking and management I have was a genuine user of Quickbooks, but the day from when they stopped the service I looked out to search for a better option and ultimately I came to know that Quickbooks still are operative and comes with integrated version with other products. And hence after a rigorous research I went with Replicon – http://www.replicon.com/olp/quickbooks-time-tracking-solutions.aspx

    The reason I choose this software is only because its hassle free, cloud based, featured with user friendly interface and easy navigation. Hopefully the superficial combination has given me a better platform for time tracking and management. Thanks to Replicon for the ultimate support.

  • Ellis Thomas

    Methods are many but goals are less. This is some what a kind of talk I have heard a lot in my life.

    Time management should always come in the first priority path for a better process. It has been precisely defined that a better time tracking has got a better move in the process.

    For that very reason in our office we have managed to manage and track out employees timing and working hours with Replicon time tracking software – http://www.replicon.com/time-tracking-softwares.aspx which is cloud based in nature and comes up with better user interface and easy navigation.

  • ME

    But Ellis Thomas is an employee of Replicon posing on the internet as an end user….
    https://www.google.com/search?q=ellis+thomas+replicon