How to count time when time counts

When you bill by the hour, every minute counts. Here are 6 cloud services and applications will help your small business log tasks, automate time cards and figure out how time is being spent.
Written by Heather Clancy, Contributor

So far this morning, I have spent 26 minutes going through my email, 40 going through my various news alerts and subject matter feeds and 14 minutes looking for information related to several blog subjects I'm researching. How have you spent your day so far?

If you don't really know, it might be time to look at some of the many time management applications that are emerging for SMBs. The reality is that there are lots of ways that many of us unintentionally kill time when we are supposed to be working.

A new survey conducted by time management software company OfficeTime.net found that email is still the biggest time killer during our work days; approximately 40 percent of us spend at least one to three hours dealing with our inbox, our outbox and all the other messages that wend their way through email servers every day. Here are some other top time-killing activities (although it doesn't say whether this time happens during work or personal hours):

64 percent spend an hour per day on social networks

59 percent spend an hour per day surfing the Internet

49 percent spend at least an hour daily in meetings

34 percent spend between a half-hour and an hour "procrastinating"

So what are your options?

There are many cloud services emerging for time sheet creation and time tracking related to billing. The upside is that your information is stored in a place where it's always accessible. The downside is that you'll need to create an account and pay a monthly subscription fee. Here are five services you might consider:

eBillity: Free for up to three clients and five clients, the monthly fee is $39.95 for unlimited users. The service is billed at the recommended option for anyone affected by the discontinuation of Intuit QuickBooks Time Tracker.

Paymo: So far, the service has been used to track more than 11.4 million hours. It includes a downloadable application  that monitors your computer activity and applies the time spent on certain tasks to specific jobs as you deem appropriate. Paymo is $14.85 per month for unlimited users, and includes mobile apps for both Android and Apple iOS.

Toggl: The professional version of this service includes integration with other key tools such as Basecamp, Quickbooks and Freshbooks. The free plan supports up to five users with basic features. Beyond that, the service costs $5 per month.

Yast: You can get some basic features with a free account, such as one-click timers and the ability to print time sheets. If you want more detailed reports, the ability to report on shared projects or integration with other applications, the service costs $14 per user per month.

Tsheets: The Android and Apple iOS mobile apps with this service come with GPS integration, so you can also keep tabs on the time spent traveling for various clients. It has a time clock and sheets for mobile time entry, and can also keep track of information for payroll and time-off accounting purposes. The business pricing plan is $20 base fee per month, plus $5 per user.

If your small businesses uses both Macintosh systems and PCs and you are not convinced about cloud services, OfficeTime is a well-rated application that works on Macintosh and Windows desktops and across mobile devices that use the Apple iOS operating system, such as the iPhone or iPad. The list price for the desktop versions is $47, while a mobile application download costs $7.99. The application was designed for professionals or small businesses that charge by the hour; it synchronizes with iCal.

If you and your team are mobile and can use a smartphone to log minutes and hours, you might also want to check out these 6 basic mobile applications for time tracking -- none of which will require you to commit to an online time sheet or billing service.

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