Product Review - Time Logger - The Naked PC Newsletter (#3.08)

by Al Gordon

One of the joys of the shareware world is happening upon one of those programs that is "just what I was looking for." Better yet, EXACTLY what I was looking for, and without the bloat associated with commercial software that has to be all things to all people.

Alan Macy's Berkeley-based Responsive Software's Time Logger is my most recent "just right" discovery. In my day job as a consultant, Hourly Billing R Us, when time really is money, you want to keep the best possible track of it. And you want to be able to turn those time records into billing invoices with the least possible hassle.

I had been trying to make a go out of Intuit's QuickBooks Pro. This is immensely powerful software that can run a fairly decent sized company. From my purposes, however, I found that it was demanding way too many potentially billable hours.

Responsive Time Logger (RTL) is simple but powerful. Think of it as a stopwatch with a database attached.

The main window (customizable) is a familiar database records table, into which you can manually record time events. You can also automatically generate records by running Time Logger's "stopwatch" dialog. You activate the timer function when you begin a task, pause it when you take a break, resume timing, and so forth and so on until you are finished. Even better, I have discovered from use, is that when you forget a part of the above sequence, you can manually correct your errors. A helpful optional settings allows you to set minimum billing increments-- for example, the common 15-minute billing step.

While the stopwatch is running, you can minimize RTL, and start and stop the timing by right-clicking on the taskbar icon.

The interface provides ample fields for identifying jobs: client, project, subproject, activity, and a place for narrative about the work done. The fields are customizable. Once you have your client and project information in place, timekeeping is simply a matter of working with drop-down lists in RTL's dialogs.

There also is a client for Palm organizers, which allows you to keep time logs on your PDA and then import them into your RTL database.

The touch that absolutely sold me on the program was the way it helps you prepare billing reports. For one thing, it uses conventional .dbf to store data. That means that you can bring up the records in Excel, Access, or any other standard database management software and use their capabilities if you want. Even better, RTL's internal report system puts the data into your word processor. The program ships with a number of pre-fabricated word processor templates which you can modify, or you can create your own using a lengthy list of field codes. These are Responsive Time Logger-specific templates, by the way, not the word processor's own templates. (For Word, that means it's a .doc file not a .dot.)

Time Logger also can export to .qif (Quicken) and .iif (QuickBooks) formats, allowing you to input the information into either program. My personal method is to keep my checkbook in Quicken and use this feature to integrate the two. QuickBooks does have a "Timer" applet, but it is much less useful than RTL, and if you use it, you have to do an import into QuickBooks anyway, so its integration advantages are minimal.

Basically, you can make the look and design of your invoices consistent with those of all your other Word documents. In fact, once an invoice is created, it is a Word document, and you can edit to your heart's content. Time Logger notes whether you have invoiced a client for particular jobs, and keeps track of your accounts receivable.

"Customizable" is a hallmark of the program, a welcome relief from Intuit's "do it our way or else" protocol.

Responsive Time Logger isn't cheap--$89 for single-user, a sliding scale for site licenses. But if it helps you identify billable time that you might otherwise have forgotten, it can very quickly pay for itself.