SPECIAL FROM Next Avenue

Geoff Williams

Here's what happened when I tried 4 sites that promise to make users more efficient

I am running out of time.

A full-time freelance journalist and author as well as the primary caregiver of two young daughters and a menagerie of pets, I often can’t find the time to do household chores, yard work or my own grooming.

(MORE: How to Be More Productive at Work in Less Time)

These days, I ask for an extension for almost everything, including paying my taxes and some bills. I even asked my editor for two extra days to complete this article.

Trying to Solve My Time Dilemma

So I decided to confront my problem (maybe you have it, too?) by testing four of the most popular time-management websites, hoping that at least one would show me how to squeeze more minutes out of my day.

Here’s the lowdown on the sites -- some are free, some charge depending on the features you use -- and my conclusions about them:

MyHours.com

Cost: Free.

How it works: Myhours.com lets you track how much time you spend on each work project. That can help you recognize who your most profitable clients are so you can free yourself from the others. You need to enter detailed information on all your projects, like their start and end times and which components you’re working on when; that can be pure drudgery.

Ease of use: A bit complicated if you aren't detail-oriented and data-loving.

Best for: Self-employed lawyers and other professionals who bill by the hour.

(MORE: Working From Home: The Good, the Bad and the Bottom Line)

My experience: You spend so much time figuring out how much time you devote to your projects that this site didn't seem like a big timesaver for me. I know writers who swear by it, but I was mostly lost from the moment I got there to the moment I gave up.

Toggl.com

Cost: Basic plan is free; the pro premium plan costs $5 per month.

How it works: You log in, hit Toggl’s timer, then click “stop” when you finish whatever project or task you wanted to track. You’ll learn exactly how much time you spent on the project, which can be a plus if you’re continually being distracted by rogue emails or phone calls. The pro plan includes such features as integration with online work programs, like Basecamp and Quickbooks.

Ease of use: It's a cake walk.

Best for: Toggl is for anyone who wants to find ways to spend less time working on a computer. If you’re seriously obsessed with how you use all your non-sleeping hours, you could also use Toggl to track non-computer tasks, like how long it takes to clean the grout off your bathtub or cook dinner.

My experience: I don't really work well knowing that I'm being timed. But if you do, Toggl can train you to work more efficiently, since being timed forces you to think about your every move on a computer.

Unfortunately, in my case, I'm often doing online research on a topic and it's only nine clicks later when it occurs to me that I'm watching a video of a squirrel trying to navigate an obstacle course. To use Toggl successfully, you must have the mindset to click "stop" every time you're distracted and wind up doing something other than work.

That kind of dedication takes some getting used to. And for your Toggl teachings to really be helpful, I think you need to use the site for a week or two. That would give you a sense of how much time you’re spending on various projects.

If only there were a website that could help me see how much time I'm wasting on the Internet. Oh, now, wait a minute ...

ManicTime.com

Cost: The standard version is free. The professional version, with such extra features as the ability to generate timesheet reports, costs $67 a year. (ManicTime works only on computers with Windows 7, Windows Vista or Windows XP.)

How it works: ManicTime measures how long you spend on a website, a Word document, an Excel file and so on. If you aren't on your computer, it lets you know that, too. Unlike some other programs, you don’t need to remember to start and stop a clock. ManicTime is always on, recording your activities. You can, however, manually time your work with the stopwatch feature of the professional version.

Ease of use: Can you turn on a computer? Manage to get to the Internet? You'll do fine.

Best for: People who spend most of their waking hours on a computer and want to reduce the time they waste on Facebook and watching squirrel videos on YouTube.

My experience: I loved ManicTime. It let me see exactly how much of my day I spent away from the computer, how long I was at various websites and even the amount of time I used my PC offline, like working on Microsoft Word files.

(MORE: How to Fit Physical Activity Into a Busy Daily Grind)

I now know that I spend about 57 percent of my day in the Firefox browser and 20 percent of my work time is writing. That’s OK -- online research and sending email accounts for a good part of that 57 percent. But it's sobering to be a writer and realize that only a fifth of my time is actually spent writing.

If you want to work more efficiently at your computer, it helps to have ManicTime’s data, rather than just guessing haphazardly.

FlyLady.net

Cost: Free. The site also sells FlyLady home cleaning products.

How it works: Home organizer Marla Cilley, of Asheville, N.C., calls herself the FlyLady and her site is all about saving time around the house. FlyLady will send you 10 emails a day (or one email encapsulating all 10), offering up things like meal plans, clutter-busting tips and even strategies on how to save time getting dressed. The website and its emails promote small steps toward efficient household management, encouraging you to not berate yourself when your house starts to look like an episode of Hoarders.

Ease of use: Setup is easy; execution depends on your drive and motivation.

Best for: Anyone overwhelmed by home chores.

My experience: The goodwill and can-do spirit on FlyLady.net was infectious. While I can't say the site revitalized the way my house runs (not yet, anyway), thanks to FlyLady I have some pork shoulder simmering in a crock pot as I write this and my kitchen sink is spotless.

Until I find an Internet tool that will actually cook, clean and do my work, I guess sites like ManicTime and FlyLady will have to do.

Read more on Next Avenue

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Caregivers Need to Find Time to Exercise
The Secret to Living the Life You Want

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