Grindstone: measure the time you spend on tasks

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If you’ve ever wanted to measure the time you spend working on various tasks or projects then you should check out this free program.

Grindstone is a kind of to-do list with a twist. It will let you create a list of tasks and an (optional) estimated time of completion and/or a due date, as well as an hourly charge rate for calculations. But where it shines is the desktop-based tools designed to measure the exact amount of time spent on each task.

The user has the ability to pause, resume or switch tasks via a small widget floating on the desktop, or to use an “egg timer” widget which can be used to keep track of chunks of time that you might to spend doing something.

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The first thing I had to overcome before starting to use this program was my suspicion that it would show that I spend more time than I care to admit loafing around, procrastinating, and/or randomly surfing the internet. On the other hand I was hoping that the act of measuring itself will make me more productive or focused (and it may have worked).

I will say this: Grindstone works better than I thought it would, largely because of it’s nice implementation and a nice set of desktop-based tools.

The top five six Seven things I like about this program:

I could go over all the features that this program has to offer, but instead I will just list the things I like most about it.

1. Excellent tasks management program: generally speaking, irrespective of the time measuring element. For example, it will let you define custom fields for tasks; for example, a ’priority’ column or ’category’ column or whatever, and will let you group tasks together within different views (e.g tasks that are due, or tasks grouped by due date, etc.). Because it lets you define your own fields and group by them, you could easily implement any system that you want, such as the GTD (getting things done) methodology.

2. The stopwatch tool: hovers on the desktop and lets you pause and start any task quickly, and/or switch tasks via a dropdown (see screenshot on the top right and screenshot below).

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3. Away detection: once you’ve left your computer idling for a (user defined) amount of time, Grindstone will enquire about the time spent, allowing you to allocate it to any one of its defined tasks if applicable (see below). In practice I found this extremely useful, and it makes the program very useable for measuring non-computer based tasks.

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4. The egg timer: if you’ve ever had the thought: “I’m going to spend an hour this morning responding to and sending email, and then half an hour working on project x, and then another hour working on project y” — then the egg timer tool is for you. Very simply, it is a counter that counts down a specific amount of time, allowing you to gauge a certain amount of time precisely.

5. Reminders: these are notifications in the system tray that remind you that you are working on such-and-such a task every x number of minutes, or when a task is almost due or has exceeded a certain percentage of its estimated time of completion (you set the number of minutes or what ’almost due’ means or the percentage complete in the settings) . It even has a so-called “work a holic deterrnet” option that reminds you that you’ve exceeded the amount of time that you wanted to work for that day.

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6. Multiple profile creation: for example, for each different client or project. If you want to and if you like the GTD (getting things done) methodology you could use the profiles option to set up different “profiles” as your different lists or different contexts or whatever.

Each one of your profiles might have different defined hourly charges (for calculating fees that you might charge your clients if applicable) and even different columns/fields defined for each different profile. You can move tasks (and their histories) across different profiles.

7. Travel Installation: a.k.a a portable installation, is possible via the GrindStone interface. It will create a fully functional version of Grindstone on a USB with the option to export and import your data to, so you can take it on the road and then sync your data back to the installed version when you need to.

Other features worth mentioning:

  • Reports: (pie charts, invoice generation, logs) that display the amount of time spend on various tasks and other information
  • Autopilot: an option that creates tasks automatically based on each program or process that you use. May be perfect for some people, but not for me I’m afraid.
  • Paste tasks from clipboard: a quick and easy way to add a whole bunch of tasks quickly. Recognizes a carriage return in the clipped text as denoting a new task.

Freewaregenius 5-Star Pick

The verdict: this is an excellent program that brings a host of tools and functions together in one place and in a very nice way. The reason it is a five-star “Freewaregenius Pick” is that Grindstone it gives the impression that it was created with a focus on useability; all the different features and tools seem like they are there because people used and refined them.

If you’re looking for a task management task this will work very well, but I would only install it if you are interested in measuring the actual time spent performing tasks. As faras I know this is one of the free best programs out there of its kind.

Version Tested: 2.1 build 5064

Compatibility: Windows XP, Vista, Windows 7.

Go to the program home page to download the latest version (approx 5 megs).