Editor’s note: The following review is part of Macworld’s GemFest 2011 series. Every day from mid June through July, the Macworld staff will use the Mac Gems blog to briefly cover a favorite free or low-cost program.
Used to be you’d keep track of how you spent your workday by punching a clock in the morning and punching out when you left. But if you need to keep track of billable hours, or just want to optimize your productivity, it helps to have a more fine-grained time-tracking system.
Many Tricks’ Time Sink isn’t the only app that can keep track of what you do on your Mac, but it’s certainly one of the easiest to use. Others of this ilk (including Bilings [; $40],
Tictoc [$5], and
Stone Hill Time Card [free]) require you to enter task names and turn timers on and off—like digital stopwatches—yourself. Time Sink automates all of that: It records how long each app (and individual windows within it) is open and how long it’s in the foreground. If you close an app or window, the timer stops; if reopen it, the timing resumes. You can add apps or windows to a blacklist so they’re never tracked.
Once you’ve let Time Sink run for a while, it has two ways to show you what you’ve been up to: The Organizer shows a tabular list of the programs you’ve had open and their windows; that list is sortable by name, foreground time, and total time open. The Activity Report is more graphical, showing a timeline for each app—when it was opened, when it was active, and when it was in the background. You can adjust the time-frame for this view, using editable beginning and end boxes; use a slider at the bottom to scroll sideways through the timeline; and focus on a specific slice of time by clicking and dragging the cursor side to side.
One of Time Sink’s niftier features is what it calls Pools: In the Organizer view, you can create groups of apps or windows by dragging them to a pane at the bottom of the window. (If you want to track a group of similarly named windows in a pool, you can use wildcards.) You could use pools to group all the windows for documents in a given project, or just to keep track of how much time you spend in your browser and on Twitter, say, compared to your text and image editors.
All the data Time Sink collects wouldn’t be much use if you couldn’t export it. Time Sink allows you to save snapshots of your timers; you can set it to do so automatically every day at a time you specify. These reports are in delimited formats, so they’re importable into almost any data-crunching program. Import it into Excel, say, and you have an incredibly detailed spreadsheet of what you’ve been doing, down to the second. You can use those tables to calculate billable hours, but it will take a bit of work on your part.
That’s really the only significant criticism I’d have of Time Sink: It can be hard to see the big picture for all the detail. It’s easy to see what you’ve been doing recently. But getting a larger view, to find trends in how you’re spending you time, is harder. Those daily snapshot exports help, but it would be nice if you could select other time-frames (perhaps weekly). And unlike a program like Billings, Time Sink has no utility for generating invoices or concise reports itself.
But those are relatively minor complaints. While at least one other time-tracking app (
Time Track) works automatically, most require you to punch the clock yourself. For that reason alone, Time Sink is well worth a look.