Time tracking with categories, Basecamp style

37 Signals stirred things up recently when they unveiled the time tracking facility to Basecamp, their popular project management system. We at Studio 24 have been using Basecamp to help organise our hectic workload over the past few months and have found it to be an excellent tool. The time tracking feature just makes it all that much better.

We all use tools in different ways, for us we tend to track time via categories so we can match entries up with the original budget for the project. So an initial gripe of mine was the lack of categories for tracking time. And from reading the Basecamp forums it seems I am not alone.

However, there are a couple of obvious ways to do this. The first involves entering the exact name for your category into the description field for each time item. Then when you export a Time report into a program like Excel you can easily sort on description to analyse time across different areas.

The obvious disadvantage of this method is different people will always type different things. Without an exact match you can’t really group time entries together. Plus you loose any useful extra descriptive information. So I had a think, and came up with bending To Do lists to my will…

First create a To Do list template. Name it something obvious and eye catching, like ‘TIME TRACKING’. Then add the basic categories you need for all projects. We use Project Management, Design, Production, Programming and QA/Testing.

Setting up the To Do list template

That’s the template set up – easy, eh. Now browse to your favourite project and add a new To Do list. Select the time tracking template you just created and enable time tracking for the list.

Add the To Do list

For good measure you can add any custom categories for this project (or remove any you don’t need). Notice I tend to write everything for this To Do list in capitals, this is so it shouts out at me and is easy to spot among any other To Do lists for this project.

Editing the the To Do list

The final step is entering the time data. Simply browse to your project, go to To Do lists, find the time tracking list and click on the clock icon next to the relevant category. You can still add a custom description to aid future analysis.

Entering your time data

Here’s how it looks exported into Excel. You can click on the image to see a larger version.

Example of Excel report

As with many things in Basecamp, it’s nice and simple. Well, that’s how we make use of Basecamp’s new and very useful time tracking tools.