How to Keep Track of Your Time

Tracking your time rather than reconstructing it at the end of the month turns out to be really important. As in, not-overbilling-your-clients-by-23% important. Whether or not you share your time records with your clients in real time, you do need to keep a time log.

Hopefully that is a no-brainer for everyone who reads this post, but I doubt it. I have known plenty of lawyers who reconstruct time at the end of every month — or every couple of months — from their calendar, emails, and memory. Even if you only put together your bill at the end of the month, you need to track your time as you go. These are the major tools for doing that.

However you decide to track your time, pick a method and stick to it. When you sit down to assemble your invoices, the fewer places you have to go to get the raw data, the better. The more methods you use to track your time, the more mistakes you will make.

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There is nothing wrong with paper. In fact, paper has a lot of advantages when it comes to tracking time. Just keep a cheap notebook or a stack of index cards with you at all times, and write down what you were doing and how much time you spend doing it.

(There are all kinds of print-your-own templates and fancy time-keeping notepads out there, if you want to get fancy, but you don’t need them.)



Spreadsheets are pretty ideal for timekeeping, and with Google Docs, iWork, and Office cloud apps, they are quite portable. In fact, with Google Docs, you can even have multiple people billing time on the same spreadsheet at the same time.


Text File

Text files can work really well for timekeeping, actually.

In Notepad (Windows), you can enter a timestamp by pressing F5 (this does not work in other apps). Do this every time you change tasks, add a few notes, and you will have a running time log. If you put your text file time log in Dropbox, you can access it from your phone and tablet, making your time log portable.

If you use AutoHotKey (Windows) or TextExpander (Mac), you can add timestamps in other apps (the F5 shortcut only works in Notepad on Windows), and set up shortcuts for your frequently-billed tasks. Text files are not fancy, but they make for quick and easy time records.

(If you want to get really fancy, use an app like Drafts to automatically append your notes with a timestamp to a timesheet.txt file in your Dropbox.)

Passive Tracking Software

Timekeeping is tedious. There are ways to take shortcuts and bill more accurately, though. Chrometa, for example, tracks what you are doing on your computer, tablet, and phone (you can also add time manually) and assemble timesheets or export your time to FreshBooks, QuickBooks, Clio, and Xero. I’ve tried Chrometa before, and it really is easy to use.

Timekeeping Software

There are plenty of software packages that include a timekeeping component. I have mostly used Freshbooks, but all practice management software has timekeeping functions, and so do many accounting packages. The nice thing about using timekeeping software is that your invoices are basically assembled as you go.

There are plenty of ways to track your time, but there is only one important criterion for picking a tool: pick the one you actually use. The tool is basically irrelevant; the important part is capturing your time accurately as you go.


  1. For our clients, we like to use a google docs spreadsheet. Punch in the work time, and hrs spent for each item of work. For payments, insert a separate line and make sure everything sums together at the top. Then share with your client, allowing them “view only” privileges.

  2. Avatar Eurotrash says:

    Timelog just works perfectly for me. Have experimented with various systems, but this one does it for me: Works on the PC, iPhone and iPad and is completely cloud based.

  3. Avatar Karin Ciano says:

    Thanks Sam for this great post. Paper timekeeping is fast, cheap, simple, portable and contemporaneous – I’m a fan.

  4. Some great ideas here. Although I now keep time using Open Practice (which has a stop watch if you need it) I am still a fan of using paper to keep time – especially something that shows a running account from the morning to the evening – it lets you see where the gaps are really well in a visual way.

  5. Avatar jimrodz says:

    I use a time tracking software to keep track of time, attendance and productivity.
    I’m a freelancer so I need everything to be software-based. However, there are times that I need to go down to manual procedures and use basic tracking methods like spreadsheets to record time and other notes – which is a hassle for me.

    So for time tracking, aside from those that were mentioned above, I use Time Doctor for this. I’ve been using it for almost 2 years now and I love its features.
    Time Doctor is such a tool that helps freelancers (like me) to get their time sorted out.

  6. Avatar Malby says:

    After suffering through Timeslips (way too buggy, and too complicated for a small firm) and Tabs3 (wayyyy too complicated for a small firm), I found Harvest, which is delightfully simple and serves all of our needs.

    • Avatar Malby says:

      I was one of those end-of-the-month billers in BigLaw back in the day. Daily notes but one big monthly timesheet completion session that I dreaded. In my own firm in the digital world, I find that programs like Harvest are inviting enough to use in real-time and inspire one to review and finish up the day promptly. I cannot imagine how end-of-the-month billing is anywhere near accurate or tolerated by firms or clients.

  7. Avatar Paul Spitz says:

    I’ve just switched from Freshbooks to Clio (for reasons beyond time-tracking). I preferred how Freshbooks handled timekeeping. That big timer popup was harder to forget about than Clio’s format. The other day I was interrupted by a phone call, and forgot to turn off the timer in Clio because it is so unobtrusive.

  8. Avatar Paul Elkins says:

    Great post. I’m an associate at a medium-sized firm that already has (and is stuck to) the accounting software already in place. So, because I don’t need accounting or invoicing options, Clio, Freshbooks, etc., are too powerful (and pricey) to use for simple timekeeping. I’ve tried tons of standalone apps and basic paper, but I just started using the app “Hours” (free for iPhone on the app store, called Hours Time Tracking), which allows you to keep time by client, matter, and task (I just use the first two). Not only does it have a timer feature (which is manually adjustable), it also keeps your time relative to the hours of the day, so you can look back at the end of the day to see what you did, for how long, and when. You enter the description for items you worked on using a notes feature. All of it is exportable as a pdf (or csv) via email. The best part is that the app has a widget that be used right from the notifications view (i.e., you don’t have to actually enter the app to start and stop a timer). It’s a great app, and is the best I’ve found for my situation, where someone else actually invoices my time but I need to keep a personal backup.

  9. Avatar Erica Birstler says:

    Great point about entering your time in the moment. It is so easy to forget items to bill as time or expense, and that digs right into your profits!Today It is essential to have a mobile tool to make your entries, whether it is a notebook or a mobile app, it must be with you at all times and easily accessible. It is important to make a habit of entering on the spot. Many practice management programs can also link your calendaring/tasks with your billing so that as long as an event is scheduled, it won’t get lost in the mix.

  10. Avatar William Anderson says:

    So Sam you didn’t really say what you use.

  11. Avatar tim says:

    If you’re going to use a spreadsheet, I suggest using something like this template I made after I got tired of trying to compute minutes to tenths of an hour. you just put in when you start, and when you stop (easy with text expander snippet “ttime” to create the time stamp, and then the formula does the math for you. Then, at the end of the month, just sort by the Client name column, copy everything for that client, and paste into an excel invoice with the same fields. No muss, no fuss, no math.

  12. Avatar Bryce Phillips says:

    I find that our webbased system ActionStep works very well for time keeping against a matter. It also comes equipped with the ability to have multiple timers open at any given time. Actionstep also has an app for Android and Apple that makes capturing time when away from the office and an after hours call comes in. ITimekeep is another software solution that gives you mobile time entry. I enjoyed my time using it.

  13. Avatar Jamie Conrad says:

    Not keeping contemporaneous track of your time is malpractice. In my last law firm, a bunch of us had to recreate our timesheets after we thought the originals were lost. Then they resurfaced. The two bore only accidental resemblance to each other.

    I’m a solo practitioner, so I just tear an 8 x 11.5 sheet of paper in half cross-wise and that gives me two pieces of paper that generally have just enough room for me to keep track of what I do each day. It’s cheap, simple, and has no learning curve. So far (10 years) I’ve managed not to lose the stack before I create my bills — but that is the one weakness with the system.

  14. Avatar Steven J Fromm says:

    Hey Sam: Hope you are doing well. I use Timeslips and it is OK, but I am not really totally happy with them. Are there any outfits out there that are comparable to Timeslips that you pay for the program once and not on a monthly basis. There seem to be many that charge monthly but I am having trouble finding those that have a one-time payment (of course you pay for upgrades down the road). Any suggestions Sam?

    • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

      There isn’t a lot of software worth using that still sells on a buy-once pricing model. There are good reasons for that, but if you aren’t interested in paying for software on a monthly basis I think you might as well stick with Timeslips.

      • Avatar Steven J Fromm says:

        You mean on a one time basis for Timeslips, right, Sam? I know the trend is to the monthly arrangement but I am old school and old. LOL!
        For a cost conscious one man tax or estates firm, which do you recommend on the monthly basis method?

        • Sam Glover Sam G. says:

          The reason why many software developers have switched to a monthly fee is because it gives them a reason to keep on supporting and improving the software. Companies that sell on a buy-once model often put more resources into sales than development.

          But Timeslips is $1,000/year, according to its website. Which means you are either not as cost-conscious as you think or you are using a very old version.

          We’re working on a timekeeping software portal with a full-blown comparison chart. But until then, I’m happy to recommend FreshBooks as an easy and affordable solution. Or if you use practice management software, just use the included timekeeping functions unless you have special needs.

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