Comparing Time Tracking Applications: Tick, FreshBooks, Intervals, and Cashboard
As software costs rise and companies need more mobile solutions for productivity tools businesses look increasingly to web 2.0, where a new generation of tools allow companies to conduct their business anywhere, at low cost. This is true of all aspects of productivity, including time management.
Businesses know that keeping a handle on time is one of the great challenges, and that companies who can rein it in are able to get more out of every project. This week we covered several of time management tools, judging them on their ability to track time, how easy they were to use, and which features they offered. The chart below lays out some of the differences, and we’ll talk about the other differences below that. If you’d like to read more about one of the applications, please follow the link through the application logos at the end.
|Send invoice reminders||no||yes||no||yes|
|Create custom reports||yes||no||no||no|
|Themes or templates||yes||yes||no||yes|
|Free plan project limit||1||2||1||unlimited|
|Unique project url||yes||yes||yes||yes|
|Import contact information||yes||no||no||yes|
We began with Intervals, a time tracking application with task and project management tools worked into it. Well suited for heavier users, Intervals has included tools to run reports, manage client lists, tasks, projects and people. It is laid out in a simple but pleasing interface with tabs of the various functions (i.e. Reports, Clients, and so on). To prevent clutter all elements on the page have been given open space around them so that users can easily find what they are looking for. At the time of this review there were only nine templates to change the color and layout of the interface, but users that want to personalize it can quickly add a logo through the Settings. Perhaps the best part of the interface is the banner area over the tabs, where alerts for overdue invoices, reminders to approve timesheets, and warnings are generated. No matter what tab you are under, Intervals reminds you of items that need your attention. Also in the banner area they have buttons for quick task creation and a popout “Scratchpad”, so that users can jot down thoughts as they work in Intervals.
Function-wise, Intervals is capable, offering its time management in the form of a spreadsheet or weekly hour graph. Timesheets can be approved, rejected, and viewed by date, status, or by who submitted it. The approval process (only approved timesheets can go onto invoices) is an efficient way for managers to control hours spent on a project as well as dispute errors. Anyone participating in Intervals can also use their timer at the bottom of the screen to time hours spent, and then submit it as part of a timesheet. Time tracking is primarily done through the reporting function (Reports tab), which shows breakdowns of time usage, billable and unbillable in pie charts, graphs, and spreads. Reports can be generated by people, projects, modules, trends, or activity.
Intervals also can also generate an invoice with timesheets, show overviews of projects through the Projects tab, and create tasks. Under each tab there are search and search filter options, and under the tasks you can set levels of priority (they call it “severity”). This well rounded set of functions would seem to be an useful addition to the timesheets, but in looking over the range of capability it is clear that Intervals’ main function is not time tracking, but rather it is a combination of time and task management. This is seen from the “Home” button where an overview of time and tasks is up front, as it is with the project dashboard, a dashboard for a specific project. Intervals has two features that are not common to the others reviewed: document storage (up to 250mb for paid plans), and a Google Map for client profiles, so that you can locate your clients more easily.
Also capable of managing time while providing some tools for project management is Cashboard, the time manager which breaks timesheets into daily or weekly views. Much like Intervals, Cashboard divides functions into tabs with the exception of placing its tasks functions under Projects and Timesheets. But where Intervals approaches time management with tasks in mind, Cashboard is more concerned with invoicing, as can be seen by the Dashboard and “Money In” tab, which shows payments, balances, and gives a chance for users to record payments. Button links for estimates and invoices are also on the Dashboard and project dashboards.
As a time manager Cashboard is easy to operate, with users able to enter hours logged in either the daily or weekly view. In the daily view, users can use the timer to log hours as they work, apply it to a project and have it added to an invoice. Time already included on an invoice will show on the timesheet, numbered with the invoice reference number and linked to it. Users not wishing to keep the browser open can use a timer on the Cashboard widget (Mac and PC).
A quirk of Cashboard is that some functions require several steps, which may confuse some users. For example, to enter time from a timesheet into an invoice requires creating a new invoice (Money In tab), pressing the “Import From Project” button, selecting the project name from the popout screen, then approving it on the Invoice Worksheet. Though we are still under the Money In tab at this point, we have changed several screens and are far from the timesheets. For users that want to focus on time management, this kind of quirk is a distraction that takes away from the simplicity of the interface.
For businesses that want to pair Cashboard with other business application, Cashboard has the ability to take in data from Basecamp, setup a payment gateway (paid accounts only), or export its data by XML. Users seeking customization will enjoy Cashboard’s settings for color scheme and documents and email templates. Cashboard also gives access to CSS and HTML on their server so you can customize estimates.
Tick has a different approach to time management, focusing more on your budgeting of time. Simplifying the interface into a just three tabs (Timecard, Projects, and Reporting) and taking away customization and invoicing, Tick is a streamlined tool for time managing that is easy to navigate.
The simplicity continues with the Projects tab, where users can create a project, give it a client, and enter tasks. With Tick everything is done with the same spare and eye-friendly design, so that even when we are setting up a project it feels manageable. It is here that we first see how different Tick is. Operating from the standpoint that time is the most valuable asset to businesses, Tick asks us to enter an estimate of the time necessary to complete the task rather than focusing on billables. As the project progresses and time is entered, progress against that estimate is shown on a sizable progress bar on the project’s dashboard.
Beneath the Timecard tab we have the option to enter in our time under the days of the week navigational bar, see hours entered at a glance, or select a printable weekly timesheet with spaces for approval signatures. To speed the already streamlined process, Tick offers quick links on the right allow us to quickly fill in the time form, and a downloadable widget for time tracking outside the browser. Built with Adobe AIR, the widget acts as a timer, and when you are ready to submit the time, shows the same quick links that are in the online version of Tick. The widget also has links back to the site, a button for a new timer (useful for separating time into different tasks), and a quick check of your progress against the estimate of time for the project.
The downside to Tick is that it lacks the complexity to do anything but track time and report about it, which would be ideal for service oriented users that only want to manage time. Users who want to export their timesheets into invoices are forced to use another application. With a paid plan Tick can work with Basecamp, but with a time tracking feature in Basecamp, the features of Tick sound redundant.
Freshbooks is a time management application that can do it all, and recognizes that today’s user for time management is tomorrow’s enterprise user needing the ability to expand. For this Freshbooks has crafted an application that handles time management, invoicing, reports, and project management – as much or little as the user wants. Through a “manage tabs” feature, Freshbook let’s users select what they, their staff, and even clients are able to see. Hide tabs for yourself to make the interface more streamlined, or hide all but the reports for clients so they can be up to date.
As a time management tool Freshbooks lets us log in hours (under the “Time Tracking” tab) on a daily, weekly, or monthly level, as well as assign it a project and task. As an additional feature users can also add in notes, which can be listed in the detail view of a project report (Reports tab). From the Timesheets tab a widget allows users to time their work, and give the entry a note just as they would from the Timesheet screen. Invoices that include time logged can be generated easily from the “Generate Invoice” sub-tab (also in Time Tracking), and items on the invoice can be presented as a group, single line, or detailed for the client. Timesheets can also be created by the staff and edited by managers, which is a useful feature for project managers. Separated by a tab (Staff Timesheets), staff timesheets are presented with the same interface as all timesheets are, so there is no need to relearn. Quick links on the side bring up reports with information about hours spent.
FreshBooks is a capable time manager, and the only of applications reviewed that has a monthly view of hours worked, but the tabs beneath tabs interface can be confusing. Several of the tabs have Preferences, and it is not always clear whether you should “Generate Invoices” from under the Time Tracking tab or go straight to the Invoices tab (to include hours into the invoice, you have to go through the Generate Invoices sub-tab). This can be overcome with the use of the Manage Tabs link, and is offset by the capabilities of the application — time management, reporting, invoicing, estimates, expenses, and client lists. Freshbooks also can import information from Basecamp and offers an API to share information across applications.
Of the applications we reviewed, Intervals had the most efficient interface, conveying necessary information without appearing cluttered or overwhelming, yet we found FreshBooks’ expense and estimates features an attractive addition to time management. As time management applications each was able to track and log time, though most users are likely to want to apply that information to invoices and reports, which makes Tick less appealing. For users that looking for value, FreshBooks offers a $14 a month starting plan that allows you to create as many projects as you like with a limitation of 25 clients. Heavy users can go to 5000 clients with FreshBooks with an option to raise that limit at cost. The least expensive of the starting plans was Tick at $9 and 5 projects, with Cashboard running a second at $12 and 7 projects. The time management and task application Intervals was the most expensive at $20 and 5 projects, but offers 250mb of storage with its starting plan (up to 5gb with paid plans).
In the end it is difficult to not hold FreshBooks higher than the other applications. From calendar views to the manage tabs feature, FreshBooks keeps time management simple for light users, and for users seeking more functionality the ability to send invoices, use payment integration, and generate estimates make FreshBooks a strong candidate. To read more about there applications you can follow the links through the logos below, or use the Listio search manage+timesheets.
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