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<Time is Money>
By Daniel Will-Harris

December 1,1998 - It’s taken me 3:14 minutes to write this column, well, if you include “thinking time.” Most writers aren’t paid by the hour, but by the word, which explains why so many of my columns are so long :) No, actually, I’m paid by the column, so if I actually did this for the money, my columns would be really, really short.

But in other jobs, I do bill by the hour, and in the past, keeping track of my time has been—well, how do I say this without getting in trouble—tricky.

I used my Casio Databank watch (a great watch, it’s what Al Gore wears so you know it’s honest, trustworthy, clean, faithful and reliable) which has a built-in timer. Or I’d note my start time in a Notepad file (in Windows Notepad you can press F5 to insert the current time and date). These worked, when I remembered to use them, and when you’re really immersed in work it’s easy to forget to note the end time. When you’re working on several things at once, it’s difficult to be able to split time accurately between them.

>Project Tracker

Now there’s a little piece of software which solves all these problems automatically, and at once. It’s called the VAKCER Project Tracker. Now I want to make this clear—I don’t make any money recommending products that i/us happens to sell.

This program is recommended anyone who earns their living working with a computer. In this case, the authors of the program showed it to me, and I was so impressed I recommended that i/us sell it, so it would be available to more people.

Project Tracker is a tiny little Windows program (less than 300K) that keeps track of how long you spend working in every program, and every file—down to the second. You tell it your fee for using each different application (and it includes all major and many minor graphics, web and word processing applications), and it logs the time you spend and totals the fees.

Project Tracker can track more than a hundred popular applications used in illustration, page layout, image editing, web design, word processing, 3D modeling, animation, CAD, database, spreadsheet, presentation, sign design, scanning and optical character recognition applications. Another small application can add virtually any program to it’s tracking list.

It works transparently, in the background. Once you set it up you don’t have to give it a second thought. You can create as many projects as you want for billing purposes, and have different fees not just for different apps, but different projects. It also lets you store information about each project and client, including general order information and what kind of media they’re sending you and you’re sending them. It’s very complete.

>Accurate and honest

Project Tracker is also very accurate—and honest. It only times the application that you’re actively working in, not just all the open applications. If you leave a program alone for five minutes, it stops the timer, so just because you have a program open, doesn’t mean it times it.

But Project Tracker isn’t restrictive—you can go in and edit how long you worked on a particular project or file, which is important if you worked on someone else’s machine, had a meeting, or did other work the computer itself couldn’t keep track of.

Vakcer-tracker1 

Here you can see how Project Tracker keeps track of all your open applications and documents. The file in bold is the file that’s currently being edited.

If you double-click on the pointing finger icon, you’ll see this:

Vakcer-tracker2 

This is a list of all the applications that have been tracked, how much time has been spent in them, your rate, your cost, and the number of documents edited. (Before you get all excited about the totals here I should let you know they’re fictitious!) Double click on an app and you’ll see:

vakcer-tracker3

This shows each individual file that was edited, when it was created and last opened, along with how many times it has been accessed.

>They’ve thought of everything

What amazes me about Project Tracker is how complete it is, especially for a Version 1.0 program. Here’s a case where the program designer has clearly spent a lot of time talking with people who work at the computer and finding out what they need for accurate and flexible time tracking.

The program is a collaboration between Michael Cervantes, a Cuban exile living in Puerto Rico, and Alex Vakulenko in the Ukraine. This is a fine example of how the web is uniting the world and giving us better software through the meeting of more minds.

Unlike many proprietary programs, Project Tracker allows you to export your data into many common formats, so you can import and use them in your spreadsheet, database, or other software.

Project Tracker automatically launches when you start your computer, automatically saves it’s files as it goes (so you won’t lose track of your time even if your computer crashes), and makes it easy to back up your tracking files. You can print complete reports, too.

Project Tracker costs $39.95 for the latest version (just $14.95 for V1, which is what I reviewed here), and it can pay for itself quickly if you actually spend more time on your work than you realize (of course, just being able to track for all your time doesn’t mean you can bill for it, but that’s another story). I did not have a single problem with the software—it worked accurately and reliably.

Here’s a truly useful utility that can help your business—as well as helping you personally get a better idea of how long you really spend on each project. The results may surprise you, but at least you will finally know “where the day went.”

Vacker Project Tracker is available from the Vakcer site.

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Daniel Will-Harris is a designer and author whose work can be found at http://www.will-harris.com. His site features TypoFile Magazine and Esperfonto, the web’s only typeface selection system. He may be reached via e-mail.

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Copyright Daniel Will-Harris, 2001, All Rights Reserved