Posted by on Apr 26, 2012 in On Writing: Craft and Commiseration | 1 comment

I want to talk about a very powerful and tool called ManicTime. This slick little program is free (with a paid version that gives you additional features) and has a host of practical applications no matter what you’re doing on your computer.  But it can be a particularly useful tool for writers of both fiction and non.

Before I begin this little guide for making the most of ManicTime as a writer, I want to specify that I have only ever used the free version of this program 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 payment for this recommendation. I just think it’s a useful tool and wanted to spread the word.

In the simplest terms possible, this program runs unobtrusively in the background keeping track of everything you do on your computer. It tells you, to the second, how much time you spent on every document, web page, program, etc. Here’s five quick ways ManicTime could help you with your writing:

  • Discourage distractions though accountability. You sit down, determined to work on your story for a full hour. But after you check your email and Facebook or read that blog post, how much of that promised hour did you really spend on your book? The thing I love about this program is that, if I say I’m going to work on something for an hour it holds me to that. Until ManicTime assures me I’ve worked a full hour on my document I’m not allowed to take my butt out of the chair.
  • Find out what’s keeping you from writing. If it takes you three hours at the computer to actually reach a true hour of working on your book, you have a serious distraction problem. ManicTime is an unbiased, merciless tattletale and its cold honest breakdown of your day will probably depress you at first. When you realize those “few minutes” you spent on Tumblr were really an hour or that “quickly checking Facebook” adds up to three hours of lost time over the course of the day, it’s a bit of a shock. But once you’ve audited your schedule, you’ll be able to see what your weaknesses are and work to cut them back… while ManicTime keeps you honest. Just knowing that the program is logging every second you’re wasting on Twitter is sometimes inspiration enough to close the browser and get to work.
  • Find more time to write. We all feel like there aren’t enough hours in the day. ManicTime is great for helping you figure out what you could cut back on to steal more writing time from the hours you already have. One of my favorite ways to use the program is to just let it run for an entire week and not look at it once so I’m not tempted to change my normal habits. When the week is over, you’ll quickly see where in your daily routine you’re wasting time and where you could fit more writing in. Might you have to cut back on LOL Cat pictures or some other internet obsession? Maybe. But you’ll also see that you waste a lot of time doing things that aren’t fun and could easily reclaim that time for something you want to do… like writing.
  • Track your editing goals. It’s easy to keep track of the word count of a project, but how do you log progress on a big editing or revision process? I like to keep track of editing in terms of time and set a yearly editing goal based on number of hours. I sit down with my story, work on it until it’s perfect, and then ManicTime tells me how much time I actually spent (it’s always less than it feels). There’s no distraction of watching the clock while I work, since I know it’s keeping the time for me when I check later. I also find it easier to force myself to edit a very large project when I set a concrete goal such as “edit for two hours” instead of just diving into the words with no clear stopping point. It also gives you an idea of how long the writing and editing process takes you and it’s fun to see how you improve at it with time.
  • Foolproof freelancing. Are you billing clients by the hour? Are you charging a flat fee but wondering how your fee translates into an hourly rate based on how much time the job took? Are you just wondering how long you really worked on that project? Just sit down and work on your freelance project, even on and off for several days, and ManicTime will keep an exact record of how much time you spent on that given file over that time period. No guesswork, no remembering to log start and end times.  Just an solid record of exactly how much time you actually spent working on it.
What other uses can you think of for this program?