Two low-cost apps keep your business humming

All-Business-Documents provides thousands of templates for business forms, letters, and marketing materials, while WorkTime makes it easy to track and manage your workday.

Whoever said "time is money" probably didn't work for the government. Still, as with most cliches, there's more than a little truth in that well-worn axiom.

One way businesses can save time is by using templates for standard forms, letters, and other documents. Another way is by tracking how workers are spending their time to identify operations they can perform more efficiently, as well as to improve the accuracy of time billing to clients.

Two programs that can help organizations enhance their efficiency are the $130 All-Business-Documents from InforDesk and NesterSoft's $50 WorkTime time-tracking application.

Forms for all business reasons
Nothing's going to dethrone Microsoft Office as the business-software champion anytime soon. (In September 2009 I described several free Office alternatives , most of which are still around and still free.) But Office is far from the last word in business applications.

While Microsoft offers hundreds of useful templates for Word, Excel, Outlook, and other Office programs, the freebies don't meet every business need, and--of course--they require an Office app. All-Business-Documents overcomes both of these limitations.

The program's default view places a document browser on the left side of the screen, the main document window in the middle, and a thumbnail viewer on the right. Toolbars on the top show standard word-processing controls and large buttons for navigating the program's template collection; printing, faxing, and e-mailing documents; thesaurus and spelling and grammar checks; and converting to PDF.

All-Business-Documents main window
The main All-Business-Documents window resembles a standard word processor with a template browser on the left and thumbnail preview on the right. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The document browser places the program's document templates in five categories: Employment & HR, Sales & Marketing, Finance & Accounting, Technology & Internet, and Legal. The business-letter categories include Human Relations, Personnel Issues, Business Transactions, Policy Statements, Sales & Marketing Management, and Job Descriptions.

You can search All-Business-Documents' library of 6,000 templates by keyword, view your personal document library, and find and replace text in documents. The program's default file format is RTF, but you can also save files as TXT and HTML. InforDesk's product-info page claims the program lets you open and edit Microsoft Word's DOC and DOCX formats, but this function was not available in the version of All-Business-Documents I tested.

Even without the ability to work with Word's native formats, All-Business-Documents provides all the document-processing functions an organization needs--without having to rely on Word. Still, the Word formats are the de facto standard in business, so having to convert documents to and from DOC and DOCX may be too great a hassle for some offices.

WorkTime time-tracking window
The WorkTime window appears in the bottom-right corner of the screen and shows the current user, project, and activity as well as the length of time the current user has been active. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET
Simple, semiautomatic time tracking
Imagine being able to afford an assistant who looks over your shoulder and notes every action you take on your PC, how much time you spend on each project or task and in each application, and how long you spend on every site you visit, while also being smart enough to know when to stop tracking.

That's WorkTime in a nutshell. The program starts with Windows and opens a small dialog box in the bottom-right corner of the screen showing the current user, project, and activity. It also shows the length of time the current user has been active and buttons for stopping the tracking, showing reports, and opening the program's options.

WorkTime tracks automatically in the background, so you can minimize the window while you're working. The program records time only when an application is active and there's mouse and keyboard activity. You can adjust the tracking sensitivity by clicking the Options button in the WorkTime window (or by pressing Ctrl+O) and choosing one of the options under Tracking in the left pane.

WorkTime Options window
The WorkTime Options window lets you adjust the program's application tracking and other functions, including whether the program starts with Windows. screenshot by Dennis O'Reilly/CNET

The Options window also lets you prevent WorkTime from starting automatically, change the main window view, add shortcuts for specific functions, password-protect the program, and add, edit, and delete users, projects, activities, workstations, and applications. You can also view and edit tracking logs and schedule work-break reminders.

WorkTime's reports show usage in a calendar view, in a grid, and in a chart. You can also view usage statistics in a timeline, and filter reports by user, application, project, activity, workstation, and active/inactive time.

The program can be used in hidden mode to collect stats without any overt indicators, and it includes three custom tracking levels: the first monitors projects, activities, users, and workstation usage (including start and finish times); the second adds document and application tracking; and the third tracks start and finish times for docs and apps.

I've just started using WorkTime, but I can already tell that the program's value will only increase over time. The only downside to the program I can imagine is that its statistics will indicate just how unproductive I can be. The other side of the coin is that I can finally prove to my boss that my nose is indeed firmly pressed to the grindstone.

About the author

    Dennis O'Reilly began writing about workplace technology as an editor for Ziff-Davis' Computer Select, back when CDs were new-fangled, and IBM's PC XT was wowing the crowds at Comdex. He spent more than seven years running PC World's award-winning Here's How section, beginning in 2000. O'Reilly has written about everything from web search to PC security to Microsoft Excel customizations. Along with designing, building, and managing several different web sites, Dennis created the Travel Reference Library, a database of travel guidebook reviews that was converted to the web in 1996 and operated through 2000.

     

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