I have a confession to make. I've been designing web sites for almost 15 years, in a variety of capacities, and I had never once logged my actual working hours... until late December of 2009, when I met Freckle, Amy Hoy and company's latest app. Oh, I had an awareness of how long things took, of course, after years of practice I can quote almost exactly the number of hours a specific job will take (give or take a few). But I'm not talking about guesstimating how long something will take, I'm talking about recording how long something did take, in actuality. I had yet to experience the cold hard facts, the truth, which strangely, has set me free.
I'm sure you're familiar with the day in and day out stress of carrying on business. You're balancing multiple projects, you're on the phone, you're trying desperately to focus and achieve - but there never seems to be enough hours in a day. I can relate.
Hassle Or Help?
When I came across Freckle at first, I was impressed with the pretty, usable interface, and made a mental note to try it out so I could write an article about the interface. I had always imagined that time tracking was going to be a hassle. As mentioned, I've been doing this for years and I make a good living from home, why should I track my hours?
Anyway, I signed up, I chose the "Solo Plan", and what immediately jumped out at me was the simplicity with which I could track my hours. This had obviously taken some thought, and it was executed with precision.
I'll spare you all a detailed play by play of the last couple of months and get right to the meat and potatoes of this article. Tracking my hours has been very enlightening and very freeing, and a huge help. I would recommend Freckle to anybody who doesn't mind shelling out $12 per month for a deeper look at their working habits.
A Closer Look
I learned a few things after a couple of months tracking my hours.
- I actually work less hours than I thought I did (what a surprise when I feel like I'm working all the time!)
- I should re-think my hourly rate
- Time tracking is an incredibly valuable tool
I'll flesh these out in more detail below - let's take a look at some screen shots, because I know that's what you're here for.
A Big Home Page
When grabbing the screenshots for this JPG I was surprised how long this home page is! Almost 3000 pixels long! But hey, it's converting visitors into real customers (aka, me) so I'm not going to fault it. I'd be very curious what the conversion rate is for this site.
I love the choice of colors on this page, and the Slash7 mantra that software should be cheerful. Great concept and excellent execution.
Simplified Plans & Pricing Page
Ok, my first though about this page was that the layout changed... why? I can only guess and say that they've stripped all unrelated content from the page, including the more detailed top navigation that was on the home page, in an effort to focus users attention on the plans and the signup links. On the other hand, it could be that they were designed at separate times...
Informative Signup Page
The signup page includes description boxes to the right of the fieldset, and a clearly laid out form, including a radio button with an image for the type of credit card, which is a nice deviation from the select boxes many forms tend to take.
Unique Log In Page Design
The log in page is worth a mention because of the bright colors, right alignment, and the way it's situated in the browser window. It's a unique view of a log in page, and it makes me smile every time I log in, which must do something for usability, right?
I love the dashboard on this app because it's completely interactive. Rather than just grabbing bits of information from the other sections of the site, and giving a snapshot of where I'm at, the dashboard here does that, and also allows me to interact with the content. I can add hours by filling out a quick form at the top, with no need to use my mouse, and I can edit a time entry by pointing at it.
Keeping On The Pulse
I really enjoy how this page, which is just a quick monthly reporting of where my hours have gone, is called the Pulse. It gives me a clear, visual snapshot of where my hours have gone each month. You can drill down for more info on tags, hours, projects, or people by clicking on them.
Enlightening Project Page
I mentioned earlier that one of the things I learned from time tracking was that I should re-think my hourly rate. I've found that I'm usually coming in under budget on the number of hours I spend on each project lately. I must be getting faster! Getting faster is good news, and good reason to re-consider ones hourly rate. This page is enlightening because it shows the number of hours spent, how many are remaining in the budget, and helps to keep things on track and on budget.
Wowing Customer Support
You may have noticed those little pink "feedback" buttons on the left hand side of each page. Often they indicate a GetSatisfaction account, which is a great way to submit ideas, but not a great way to have a conversation, in my opinion, unless the company using it is constantly on GetSatisfaction. Freckle receives bonus points in my book for building what looks like their own feedback system.
Clicking the pink link pops up a feedback window where you can give advice or ask a question. I used it twice, and both times received a personal email back, from Amy, about my idea or issue and what they were doing to solve it. Great customer support, and what a way to build relationships with users. Kudos.
Time Tracking Has Been a Big Help
To sum up, time tracking has been a big eye opener and a real help for me. My productivity has increased, because my estimating has become even more accurate, and I have seen how much time I spend goofing off during the week. You'll remember I was surprised to find I had only logged an average of 30 hours per week. That works out to 2 hours less per day of actual working time than I would log for a full 40 hour work week. What am I doing with those hours? I suppose lunch counts for one, but the other must just be Twitter, blogs, coffee breaks, etc. Very interesting data to work with.
If you're not tracking your hours, I suggest you start. And what better place to start than Freckle? You can try it free for a month, and if you decide it's worth it, then you can continue using it and paying for it. I bet you'll decide it's worth it.
What Do You Think?
Do you track your hours? Have you used Freckle? I'd love to hear your opinion in the comments, especially if you have some useful bit of data about your working habits that you've mined from your hours.