As a freelancer and small business owner (you’d probably be surprised at how often those two coincide), I’ve spent some time looking for ways to track how much I’m working and what I do with my days. For me, this has a couple purposes. If my hours are billable (they’re usually project-based, but once in a while I bill by the hour), I can keep track of how much money I’m owed. The second purpose is simple time management — it’s a lot easier to keep on task and on track if you know where your time is going.
I’ve recommended a couple different apps for the latter — my favourite is still iDoneThis — but I haven’t had a chance yet to talk about the former. With Ding, I’ve finally found an app that really hits the spot for tracking billable hours. Let’s talk about what makes Ding worthwhile for freelancers and why you might be interested in adopting it for your own small business.
One Thing Well
Ding does precisely one thing: it tracks the amount of hours you spend working on a project for your clientele. You can create clients, projects with a billable hourly rate, and add how long you’ve been working. That’s it. Of course, you can export the information to a .CSV or a .PDF if you need it, but there are no additional functions.
There’s no way to invoice clients or anything like that. You can’t add sub-tasks to a project. Admittedly, there are a couple missing features — like sub-tasks — that might leave users perturbed. For example, I wish the service came with a built-in timer that ran in the background. I know it’s just as easy to turn on the timer in my iPhone, but real-time time tracking feels like a mandatory part of the service that isn’t there.
The thing is, this is the only service of this sort that I’ve tried that doesn’t suffer from serious feature bloat. Work for some of my other clients involves taking a look at business applications and considering the needs of large groups of employees (often in the thousands). If you’re unfamiliar with this software, it’s usually called Software as a Service (SAAS), and it’s always a pain for anybody other than the higher-ups.
These services are filled with a million features: client management, calendars, employee management, groups, billable hours, invoicing, timers, kitchen sinks, the list goes on. (Groups like those in Mad Men would have gone nuts for software that powerful. It’s really meant for huge firms like them.) But most of us don’t need all those things. Their interfaces are clunky, and often take months to prepare for a single company since they have to be tailor-made. While service like that has its place, there’s little reason to bother if you manage a small business or if you’re just a freelancer.
In that light, Ding is the opposition of all that. It’s everything you’d want the service to be if you’re trying to track billable hours. It’s an easy way to add a client, add a project, and add the amount of time worked. Again, that’s it.
Thankfully, that’s not all Ding has going for it.
Simple and Easy-to-use Design
When your functionality is limited, you have two routes: either make it look flashy and gaudy in an attempt to capture as much attention as possible, or make it look classy. Tight (the developers behind Ding) chose to make Ding as classy as possible, and I’m glad they did.
From beginning to end, this is a cohesive design experience. I’m not just talking about how it looks, of course, but also how it works. Central to me is that it looks good in a browser of any size, and remains easy to navigate even on a smartphone. Also important is the iPhone app, which is simply beautiful.
I can’t overstate this. The iPhone app looks amazing on iOS 7, and if you’re using an iPhone as your “life partner” every day, you’ll find the app alone is worth the service’s paid subscription fee every month.
The little touches are what make the web app sing, though. Adding a new client is as easy as adding a new project. Instead of having to root for a Client Management page, you can simply type in a new client’s name when you select one for the project. It’s all in a simple interface.
I’m doing some pro bono work at the moment for an area ministry team — partially spec, and partially because I’m a friend of some of the staff — and I’m pleased as well that I don’t have to add a dollar value to every project. So I can simply track how much time I’m spending on the work to make sure I don’t go overboard with it. Thankfully, this would also work if you’re getting paid on a per-project basis. That way, you can allot yourself a certain amount of time and figure out if you’re under-charging.
The app includes a really easy way to search through your information in the Overview tab — insanely easy — that lets you just adjust a few words in a natural sentence instead of trying to navigate a sea of menus. Your Projects screen is beautiful and easy to read. Each project has a bar that fills as you complete more of your allotted hours.
And the Activity screen reveals what you’ve most recently done, including Archived projects (which I suppose you could use to indicate anything; I’ve been testing it and think it’s best to use to note when a payment has been made). It’s easy to log time spent on a project from anywhere in the app; there’s no need to go to a specific screen to do it. Everything just makes sense.
And that’s the best compliment I can give Ding. No matter where you need to go or what you need to do in the app, it’s easy to find. It’s simple to navigate to. This design might appear uncomplicated and intuitive, but its creation was probably more complicated than anybody can actually comprehend.
I could wax philosophical about Ding for a while, but the bottom line is this: this is a carefully-designed, beautifully-implemented product that excels at the one thing it tries to do. It attempts to do it with little to no complication, to the point where it sheds features that many people — including myself — would probably love to have. But if you need a way to track your working hours, especially if you need to stay on task, you’re going to be hard-pressed to find a better option.
Ding comes with two different plans: the Solo plan is $10 a month for one user, and the Team plan is $25 a month for unlimited users. Otherwise, the feature set is the exact same. If you want to try it, it’s a thirty-day demo. In all honesty, I haven’t finished my demo yet, but I’m strongly considering staying. Ding is the best time tracker that I’ve tried — I think it just needs a start/stop timer to really be insanely useful and precise.