capsule review

Time Tracker

Have you ever wondered exactly how much of your computer-using time is spent doing what? I’m not talking about how much time you spend playing solitaire vs. plugging numbers into a spreadsheet—although your boss would probably be interested in such information. I’m thinking more along the lines of “I wonder how much time I actually use BBEdit in a given day...”—the kind of questions I ponder when I’ve been staring at the same document for far too long.

There are plenty of utilities out there designed to help freelancers keep track of the amount of time they spend on each project, but my curiosity doesn’t require such advanced features. (Not to mention that with most of these utilities, you need to tell the utility when you stop working on one project and start working on another.) No, I just want to know, out of a 10-hour workday, how much time I spent in BBEdit vs. Microsoft Word vs. NetNewsWire vs. Entourage vs. Safari. Why? Because I’m the curious type.

Robert Chin’s free Active Timer 1.1 (   ) is just the sort of simple timekeeper I’ve been looking for. Launch it and leave it running in the background, and it keeps track of how many hours, minutes, and seconds you spend in each application. (Basically, how much time each application is the frontmost/active app—the amount of time you’re actively using it.) Whenever you launch a new application, that application is added to Active Timer’s list and its use time is tallied. For example, here was my application usage over one 4.5-hour period yesterday:

Active Timer main window

Active Timer can also add up the time spent in all applications or a subset of apps; you simply select the apps you want to tally (by Shift- or Commanding-clicking on application names, just as you do with files in the Finder), and the “Sum of times” field shows the cumulative time. For example, during my 4.5-hour session, it turns out I spent 3 hours and 12 minutes in either BBEdit or Safari:

Active Timer app time summary

You can use the Start/Stop button to pause the timers when you’re away from your desk or otherwise not actually using your computer. And if you do need to keep track of individual projects, you can stop and save Active Timer’s running tally, and then open it again later to continue tracking your time—you would just create multiple Active Timer documents, one for each project, and then switch between them when you shift from one project to another. Active Timer isn’t as full-featured as dedicated project-tracking utilities, but it can do the job in a pinch—and it’s free. But I suspect that most people will use Active Timer like I do—to satisfy their “What did I do all day?” curiosity.

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