Time tracking when working remotely

When you work as a freelancer on different projects, and with different clients, it makes sense to track the time you spend on each project. But what about remote work? Does it make sense to use time tracking too?

For remote companies, or at least those implementing remote work right, time tracking isn’t used. As long as your output is good, no one wants to know how many hours you worked for it. That’s the way we are doing it at Automattic, the company I’m currently working with.

However, a few months ago, the team felt we are spending too much time doing “non-productive” work. This includes Slack pings, daily distractions, answering questions… We decided we’ll track our working hours to see where we spend our time as a team. Our initial thought was that we are spending 70%-80% on productive work, and the remaining 30%-20% on “non-productive” work.

Few weeks went by, and it was time to check the numbers. The shocking truth was that we were spending 50%-60% only on productive work. Even if we don’t use time tracking in our work, this one time exercise made us realize there are things we should fix.

Time tracking can help you get an idea of where you spend your time. Detect “non-productive” work. And manage your time better. And to help you with that, here are my suggestions in no particular order. Apps and ideas described here depend on how you work. You don’t need to change your workflow to start tracking time. Instead, apps and ideas should match your workflow.

Pomodoro technique

The Pomodoro technique can be summarised as a long period of complete focus (usually 25min), followed by a small period of rest (usually 5min). If you’re using the Pomodoro technique, it’s easy to time track your work. Just keep track of how many Pomodoro cycles you did hit. And that’s your total.

If you’re not using this technique, I don’t encourage you to go with this approach. You’ll be doing two things at once: learning Pomodoro and time tracking. It’s better to start with one thing at a time.


Visit AND.CO website.

Before joining Automattic, I was asked to work on a part-time paid project with the team. And this is part of the hiring process.

You’ll work on a real project, and you need to keep track of how many hours you spent on that project. That was 2 years ago and I used an app for freelancers called AND.CO.

Given it’s for freelancers, you have the possibility to create different projects, different timers, generate invoices, and a lot of cool stuff. If you are only interested in time tracking, then you may not use all the features. But it’s still a solid app.


Visit Toggl website.

This is by far the app that focuses on time tracking only.

It’s a beautiful app with a lot of features and integrations with calendar, todo apps… One of their cool features is that it reminds you if you forgot to hit start on the timer (or if you forgot to hit stop). It also gives you a nice dashboard and everything you need to visualize where you spent your time.

Bonus: Rescue Time

Visit Rescue Time website.

So far, we’ve seen how you can track your time on different tasks. But there is always this manual step to start the app or the timer.

Rescue Time is an app that tracks your usage automatically. You can install it on your phone or laptop to get an idea about the apps you are using, the websites you are visiting… It also detects productive time vs distraction time and helps you get an overview of your productivity.

This app was around for more than 12 years and it’s one of my favorite apps. It’s not good for tracking specific work on specific projects. But I encourage you to install it if you keep asking yourself: where does my time go?

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4 responses to “Time tracking when working remotely”

  1. Thanks for a great article. One suggestion that I have that may be of value to your readers is an app that we developed called Pomodus. It provides the functionality for both planning, prioritizing and doing your pomodoros as well as tracking them. It also integrates with Slack and turns off notifications when you’re heads down and changes your status to let people know that you’re busy and when you’ll be available. http://pomodus.com/

    • Thank you for sharing Robert! Can the readers of my blog have a discount on the app? 🙂

      • Hi Ahmed. Thanks again for the great article and for your interest in making it available to your readers. Let me get back to you on that. Because the app is pretty inexpensive we haven’t implemented the ability to do coupon codes.

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