Time Tracking Using Plain Text and Drafts - Part 1 (Why)

As an attorney, I need to track my time. For the past several years, I’ve done all my time tracking using plain text and the app Drafts. Here’s why:

When I started practicing law, I tracked my time with pad and pencil. I noted the times I started and stopped work, and when I switched from one client or project to another. Simple. The resulting slip of paper was flexible and easy to understand. But it was not ideal. My note pad wasn’t always at hand. And I would still need to manually convert my note into time entries for my law firm’s billing software.

When I first got an iPhone, I tried various time tracking apps. These apps generally present the user with some pre-defined set of clients and projects, have timers that you tap to start and end, allow for entry of notes and, sometimes, give you useful export options. These apps were ok, as far as they went. But they had drawbacks. Setting up new clients or projects was involved. If you forgot to switch timers, adjusting the timer in the app was difficult or at least annoying. Export options, if any, were not as flexible as I’d like. And descriptive notes were usually added in a separate interface, several taps away from a daily overview. I wasn’t satisfied.

I’d been exploring using plain text for my personal notes. But it wasn’t until I learned about Drafts that using plain text for time tracking really started to make sense. Drafts had two key ingredients my other notes apps had lacked: The ability to add custom buttons to make typing text easy, and the ability to create custom actions to process that text and send it elsewhere.

I’ll explain how I use plain text and Drafts to track my time in the next few posts.