From Mac Monthly, September 9, 1994

Newton Notes:

Track the Time with TimeReporter

©Copyright 1994 David MacNeill

Professionals who must keep track of their billable time, activities, and expenses spend a lot of their energy just trying to stay on top of who gets billed for what. If you travel frequently, visiting multiple clients during a typical trip, you know the headaches created by staring at a briefcase full of wrinkled receipts and a battered Franklin Planner. Then there are those annoying, organized types who file every little scrap away in little accordion folders within seconds of receiving them. Life's too short to be that organized, right? Why can't I just scribble all this stuff into a little computer that can organize it for me while I snooze on the plane? Isn't that what computers are for?

Yes. And the best computer for the job is a Newton MessagePad loaded up with TimeReporter from Iambic Software in Sunnyvale, California. There are other time and expense trackers for Newton, but none I have seen are so comprehensive in their features, nor so elegant in their design as TimeReporter. For people who must track time, activities, and expenses, this software is a compelling reason to buy a Newton. In this market niche, TimeReporter may even be a fabled Killer App.

Installing the 340K TimeReporter is straightforward, requiring the Newton Connection Kit or the included Newton Package Installer. Once transferred to your MessagePad you'll find a new entry in your Preferences area for customizing TimeReporters' terminology, billable time increments, mileage amount, and expense categories. For example, if you are a doctor you may prefer to call your customer a "patient" instead of the default "client", and you may wish to redefine "project" to appear as "case". These settings become the new defaults throughout the program. You may also wish to customize your expense categories to include green fees, political contributions, and other professional expenses. The Prefs section also allows you to set a minimum billable time increment, as well as a minimum time to bill-such as 30 minutes-even if you only spend 90 seconds with a patient. Another nice feature is a check box that will remove all your TimeReporter data should you ever choose to remove the application from your Newton.

Automatic real-time tracking
Using TimeReporter is easy. Launch the application from the Extras drawer, then view your time report screen. TimeReporter will default to a one week time period ending with today's date, though you may override this by tapping on the desired date with the standard Newton calendar floater. After you tap on a blank entry line, you are presented with an entry worksheet. Fill in the Client, Project, and Activity fields (or whatever you defined them to be in Prefs), associating the project with a particular client. Each field has a "quick picklist" button showing a menu of your five most recent selections in each field, or you may write the data in manually. If the activity begins immediately, tap the convenient timer button to auto-enter the start and stop times. The timer works even when the Newton is turned off, since it uses the Newton's internal clock, which, in my experience is plenty accurate. A small reminder floater sits on your screen as long as the timer is running, a thoughtful touch that can prevent you from overbilling your client for 336 hours during your vacation in the Bahamas. You may also scribble down a description if desired in the provided field.

Painless expense entry
If you are incurring an expense for, say, a lunch meeting, tap the Expense button on the entry screen to link the activity and the client with the amount of your surf 'n turf. The Expense Entry screen presents your predefined expense categories from Prefs. Tapping on a category pops up a numeric entry field and the standard Newton numeric keypad floater. You can even enter math calculations in a form similar to your spreadsheet program. If you want to enter an expense only with no billable time attached, just set the time fields to zero. Let's say you want to enter an unusual expense category, such as bungee jumping. TimeReporter allows you to override a category without mangling any existing records or messing up your reports. I like programs like TimeReporter that gracefully allow me to change the rules on the fly.

Report City
When you have completed your workday, TimeReporter will total your hours for the day, or you may view the total hours for any time period you specify, broken down by billable or non-billable hours. The time report automatically skips days that have no entries, so it remains uncluttered and easy to read. TimeReporter also can generate an overview report of all entries, a report showing the percentage of time and total hours spent on each activity or client for a given period, and detailed information listing all the entries for a particular client for your review. These detailed, pre-formatted reports can be faxed, e-mailed, or printed. Iambic also supplies TimeReporter Receiver, in both Macintosh and Windows versions, that can turn your data into a tab- or comma-delimited text file compatible with any spreadsheet or database application.

Coolest feature
TimeReporter allows you to add new clients, projects, or activities at any time. But the coolest thing about TimeReporter is its total integration with your existing Names and Dates files. Your existing clients can be imported and linked to your TimeReporter client list. If you have a history of completed appointments with a client you can simply tap the Link button for a complete listing of all the appointments over a time period you select. Just tap on the items you want to link to your client and bing, instant data entry. Any time entries you link in this fashion are marked with a (TR) in your Dates screen, simultaneously confirming and reminding you of the link. Someday, all computers and applications will have this level of integration, saving us from the soul-killing drudgery of redundant data entry and preventing us from making silly mistakes.

And that's what computers are really for.

TimeReporter 1.1 is available now for $129. Contact Iambic at 800-7430-5370 for more information.

David MacNeill is a teacher and Internet consultant for the IconoClass, a Macintosh, Windows, Internet, and Newton training center in Sacramento, 916-565-3535. He can be reached on NewtonMail/eWorld at DaveMacNeill, or on the Internet at