ManicTime is an incredibly useful program no matter what you do on your computer and, better yet, it’s completely free. If you’ve never tried this really slick piece of software, it runs unobtrusively in the background of your computer and keeps track of exactly how you’re spending your time. It breaks down your day moment by moment, including which documents, programs and even individual web pages you accessed down to the second.

Before I begin, I want to specify that I have only ever used the free version of this program (which you can download here) and have found it more than adequate for my needs. That said, the download comes with a free trial of the premium version so you may as well try to out and see if it’s worth the upgrade. I also want to specify that I’m not getting any kind of referral or credit for this recommendation. I just think it’s a useful tool and wanted to spread the word.

While I recently did a post on using ManicTime for writers over on my writing blog, I wanted to expand on that and talk about how this handy free program could be useful for sellers like us.

  • Pin point how much time you spend on services and individual projects. Even if you don’t bill hourly, it can be extremely useful to know exactly how much time you spent on an individual project, especially when determining how much you charge in the future and trying to figure out if the work on something is worth the profit. Instead of remembering to log start and stop times, just let ManicTime run all week in the background and work on it whenever… it will still keep track.
  • Audit your time. When you first install ManicTime, just let it run in the background for a few days without looking at it. (If you look at it, you’ll be tempted to be on your best behavior and that will skew results.) When you finally look at the results, you’ll discover the cold hard truth about how you spend your time. You may find that what feels like a minute here, a minute there on Facebook adds up to 3 hours total missing from your day. Or you may discover that what felt like painful hours working on that profitable but hated project was really less than 30 minutes. Our perception can skew our ideas of how we spend our days and ManicTime is an objective tattletale that helps you to get a clear idea of how you really spend your time.
  • Identify time suck. Once you do the audit exercise above, you’ll quickly notice your problem areas. Where do you lose the most of your potentially productive hours? Did you never truly realize how much time you lost to LOL cats on a daily basis? Do things like social networking and checking email suck a lot of time throughout the day when you could limit them to a single hour? Getting a complete (and unbiased) picture of your week like this is a great way to come up with a more efficient use of your time.
  • Let it look over your shoulder. Let ManicTime run all the time and (unlike my advice while auditing yourself) check it several times a day. Even though it’s purely a psychological trick, you’ll find yourself working more efficiently and slacking off less just knowing it’s running and reporting back on your every indiscretion. For extra mileage, keep a record of time spent actually working vs goofing off in a spreadsheet and watch how you improve (or not) over time. Even though no one but you will ever see ManicTime’s results, just knowing something is watching can make you hunker down and actually get to work.
What other uses can you think of for a program like this?