FREE Time Tracking Application and the Windows Task Scheduler

By Ryan Williams, - If you have ever wanted to keep better track of how you spend your time, this tech tip is for you. For just about everyone who provides a professional service, keeping track of billable time is a necessary evil. It is also A LOT harder than it sounds. Many professionals wait until the end of each week and try to document how they spent their time for the previous 5 days. As you can imagine, this is probably not the most accurate way of tracking time. Even trying to recall how a morning was spent at the end of a single day is often less accurate than you might think.

To combat this problem and make time tracking as easy as possible, I developed a very simple time tracking application which I am giving away for free to anyone who wants it. In order to utilize the time tracking application, you'll also need to become familiar with the Windows Task Scheduler. Therefore, we will cover both applications in this Tech Tip.

The way the time tracking application works is by asking you what you are doing every 10 minutes (you determine how often). The application remembers your responses from one prompt to the next so if you are doing the same thing several prompts in a row, all you have to do is press the enter key to make the prompt go away and log an entry.

First, you can download the time tracking application using the link below. After downloading the zip file, I suggest creating a folder on the C drive named "TimePrompt" (C:\TimePrompt). Then, extract the TimePrompt.exe executable into this folder. You can put the executable anywhere you choose, this is just my suggestion.
Click here to download TimePrompt.

You'll also need to download and install the Microsoft .Net Framework 2.0 if it is not already installed on your computer.
Click here to download the Framework.

Double click on the TimePrompt.exe executable to see what it looks like. As I said earlier, it is a pretty simple application. There are two big textboxes, one for reminders and one for keeping track of how you are spending your time. The application will remember the text in each field each time the application is launched. The first time the application runs it will create three text files, one to store your reminders, one to store your last time entry and one which is a log of all your time entries with dates and times. You can test this now if you choose.

The engine that makes the TimePrompt application do its thing is the Windows Task Scheduler. The Microsoft Windows Task Scheduler looks quite different depending of whether you are running Windows Vista or Windows XP. Therefore, I have provided step by step instructions for both operating systems. Choose whichever instructions apply to you.

Windows Vista Task Scheduler Instructions

1. Click on the Open Task Scheduler button on the Time Prompt screen.
Click here for an example image.

2. Click on the Action menu and then Create Task.
Click here for an example image.

3. On the Create Task window enter a description for the scheduled task and make sure it is set to run only when you are logged in.
Click here for an example image.

4. On the Triggers tab click on the New button to create a new trigger.
Click here for an example image.

5. Fill out the New Trigger window as I have in this example picture.
Click here for an example image.

6. Next click on the Action tab and then click on the New button to create a new action.
Click here for an example image.

7. On the New Action windows enter the path to wherever you saved TimePrompt.exe when you extracted the zip file. Then click the OK button.
Click here for an example image.

8. Click on the Conditions tab and complete the form as I have in this example image.
Click here for an example image.

9. Click on the Settings tab and complete the screen as I have in this example image.
Click here for an example image.

10. Now click OK on the Create Task window. Your time prompt is now scheduled to prompt you to capture your time every few minutes.

Windows XP Task Scheduler Instructions

1. Click on the Open Task Scheduler button on the Time Prompt screen.
Click here for an example image.

2. In the Tasks window click on Add Scheduled Task. This will open the Scheduled Task Wizard. Click the Next button.
Click here for an example image.

3. On the next screen click the Browse button.
Click here for an example image.

4. In the Select Program to Schedule window browse to the directory to which you saved TimePrompt.exe. My suggested location was c:\timeprompt\. Click Open after you find and select TimePrompt.exe.
Click here for an example image.

5. You should now be looking at a window where you select how frequently to run TimePrompt.exe. Select daily and click Next.
Click here for an example image.

6. The next screen is for selecting the start time of the scheduled task. Select 12:00 AM every day and click Next.
Click here for an example image.

7. The next screen asks for a username. Just leave everything the way it is and click Next.
Click here for an example image.

8. The next screen is the final screen of the Scheduled Task Wizard. Be sure to check the checkbox to open advanced properties and click finish. If you get a warning message, just click OK.
Click here for an example image.

9. You should now be looking at the TimePrompt scheduled task properties window. Check the box beside Run only if logged on.
Click here for an example image.

10. Next click on the Schedule tab and click the Advanced button.
Click here for an example image.

11. On the Advanced Schedule Options, check the checkbox beside Repeat task and configure the rest of the screen as I have in this example image. Click OK when finished.
Click here for an example image.

12. Next click on the Settings tab. Uncheck every box as I have in this example image. Then click OK. Your time prompt is now scheduled.
Click here for an example image.

Now, the time prompt application will prompt you every 10 minutes to ask what you are doing. Each time you enter your comments they will be saved with the current date and time in the timelog.txt file. You can refer to this file at any time to see a log of how you have been spending your time.

Another handy feature of the TimePrompt application is the reminder box. Instead of writing reminders on sticky notes, try entering them in the reminders box. Every 10 minutes you will be reminded of what you should be working on and it should help you stay on track.

Now, not only can you keep better track of how you are spending your time, but you have also been exposed to the Windows Task Scheduler. In later tech tips I will provide additional examples of how you can utilize the Windows Task Scheduler and also some other beneficial uses for the TimePrompt application. I hope you find this application useful. Until next time…

Happy Teching,

Ryan Williams

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by Ryan Williams - Ryan is a business technology consultant living in Southern Georgia. He is Partner and Chief Technology Officer at Nexxtep Technology Services, Inc., the largest technology service provider in the South Georgia region.

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