Time tracking apps – what’s missing

Procrastination is a funny thing. I can spend days trying to solve a problem that might save me a few minutes here and there, or trying to get my working environment just right.

I’ve poured a lot of time into trying to find a suitable time tracking app. I mean a lot of time – and I still haven’t found one. In my view, there is a huge missed opportunity for something that sits between the apps designed more for freelancers – such as Harvest, and the apps designed for enterprise – such as Accelo.

Apps for Freelancers

There are loads of apps like Harvest. They let you store some data about your clients, projects and invoices. They let you track your time. They are hopeless at reporting and bookkeeping – and seem to assume that you don’t file accounts or pay taxes, and don’t track KPIs to grow your business. They’re also designed to integrate with payment gateways like Paypal and Stripe, that are an expensive choice for all but the smallest companies.

If you don’t fit neatly inside their tiny box, and you’re like me, you wonder why you’re paying $12 per user per month. If you do, you probably think the app is the best thing since sliced bread because it’s easy to use.

There are a few good self hosted options in the same category. The best I found were Pancake and Duet. Duet actually looks pretty good to me – and a few additions to Duet would make it suitable for us.

Apps for Enterprise

On the other end of the spectrum, there are enterprisey PSA apps such as Accelo and Bitrix24. We used Accelo for a bit. It’s actually the only app I’ve found that really understands retainers. However, it’s slow to navigate and though it tries to do everything, some features (e.g. CRM and proposals) are way behind its standalone competitors.

Bitrix24 is very cost effective and offers a self hosted option – but after Accelo, I decided PSA software would take up far more time than it would save for a company our size.

The Hollow Middle

The middle ground is something that makes simple tasks as quick as possible – but offers robust reporting and a degree of customisation. I was very excited (too excited) to find out that Xero Projects has just been released – until I found out that there isn’t any support for retainers – nor is there an API to extract data. WorkflowMax has also just had a lick of paint – but it doesn’t have a timer option and doesn’t support retainers as far as I can see.

Toggl looks good but the pricing is very aspirational. Perhaps they’ve just received VC funding and reality will settle in in due course.

Clockify is a Toggl clone from a former Toggl customer who seems to agree with me. It’s completely free! However, it doesn’t support rounding time entries nor does it have an API. Both of these features are on their roadmap and when they are implemented, I think it will be perfect.

The final app I found in the hollow-ish middle is Timestamp. It’s missing retainers and although there is an API, there isn’t any documentation for it whatsoever. That said, overall, currently, it looks like the best option for us.

Next Steps

The best options I’ve found are Timestamp and Clockify. They’d both need us to layer retainers functionality on top using their API as we do now with Harvest. With Timestamp, we’d have to figure out how their API works, which could be quite time consuming. With Clockify, we’ll have to wait for the API and rounding.

I’ve toyed with the idea of creating something in-house. I don’t think it would be a huge endeavour. I do think it would be a distraction from growing our core business, though, especially if we wanted to sell it to recoup our investment.

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