When you started your practicum or field training, chances are you had no clue how to go about keeping track of your experiences. I mean, you already have a day planner, right? Isn’t that enough?

Even if you’re well into your clinical training or internship, you may still be searching for the the right way to track your hours.

It’s important to get started on the right foot, but it’s never too late to get organized with our hours-tracking. Below are 10 things you may not have thought about when choosing a tracking method that’s right for you:

1. Price

What’s the price tag of the solution?

This is perhaps the most obvious item on this list, especially for grad students and interns. Money’s tight when you’re earning your degree…and when you’re trying to pay off student loans. So, obviously, price is an important consideration when you’re looking for a way to track your hours.

There are lots of low-price solutions available, like Time2Track (which costs about $3 / month). Some schools even offer free or discounted subscriptions to products like Time2Track. There are also free hours-tracking solutions out there, like spreadsheets, notebooks, and MyPsychTrack.

Which brings me to my next point…

2. Cost

Cost vs. Price…what’s the difference?

Lots of people interchange cost and price, but it’s important to understand the difference. Remember the old proverb “Beware the cost of the lowest price”? Well, it still applies…now more than ever.

Price is the monetary price of the product or service.

Cost is the monetary price + what you’re paying in loss of time and efficiency.

When it comes to tracking your clinical training hours, ask yourself how much your time is worth, and how much time will be spent or saved on any given tracking method.

3. Ease of Use

How easy is it to get started and log your hours on a daily basis?

Remember, you’re going to be logging hours daily, often multiple times a day. Keeping up-to-date with your hours and fighting the procrastination monster is no easy task. Finding a solution that you’ll actually USE is key.

The easier, more efficient, and more convenient a product is, the more likely you’ll keep up with your tracking, making your data more accurate. If you wait a month, or even a week, to log your hours, chances are you’ll forget a lot of what you did…and never get credit for those activities.

Mobile apps are really great choices for staying on top of your hours tracking because they’re always in your pocket or bag, wherever you go.

4. Program Recommendation

Does your school require or recommend a specific system?

Many schools and programs will recommend or require that you track your hours a certain way. You may realize that, after doing your due diligence, you want to suggest some alternatives to your Training Director or Program Director. Most are willing to discuss other options for hours tracking or will even decide to purchase a system for all their students to use.

I’d also recommend talking to other students or interns who are ahead of you in your program. What have they used to track their hours? What has their experience been like with those products or methods?

5. Reporting

How do you plan to monitor your progress?

Just as ease-of-use is crucial to your hours-tracking success, so is reporting. How else will you be able to track where you are on your path?

There’s nothing worse than getting to the finish line and realizing you don’t have enough experience with a certain population or type of therapy. Regularly monitoring your own progress will help you see how many total hours you’ve accumulated, but also help you drill down and see details of your experience in specific areas, such as couples therapy or working with children.

If you’re considering a software solution, make sure the you’ll have quick and easy access to data-rich reports in real-time.

If you’re leaning more toward a notebook or spreadsheet approach, make sure you have a plan and are willing to invest extra time into calculating your progress on a regular basis.

6. Supervisor Approval

How easy is it to get hours approved by your supervisor?

At some point, you’ll most likely need to get your supervisor to sign off on your hours. Some online software services, like Time2Track, let you submit your hours online to have your supervisor sign off on them electronically or print off physical signature sheets. With other methods, you need to consider how you’ll get those supervisor signatures when you need them.

7. Security of your Data

What security measures are in place to protect your data?

You’re spending a small fortune on your education, and it’s important to protect the fruits of your labor. The records of your training experiences are no exception.

When you’re looking at software products, make sure you know what the company is doing to keep your data safe.

If you’re planning to track your hours with a spreadsheet, notebook, or day planner, make sure you keep plenty of copies and backups, just in case (heaven forbid) you lose them, they get stolen, or your computer crashes.

8. Accuracy of your Data

How accurate are your data calculations?

When you’re applying for internship or licensure, calculating your data can be a huge pain (to say the least). Some applications, especially the APPIC application for internship (AAPI), can be quite extensive and confusing. It’s important that the system or method you choose calculates or gives you the tools to calculate your hours correctly and efficiently.

9. Complete Solution

Will you be able to track all your hours in one place, from practicum to licensure (and beyond)?

When it’s all said and done, you’ll have years of experience (and data) under your belt. Is it important for you to have all of that in one place? Absolutely.

If keep your practicum hours in one place, your internship hours in another, and your postgrad hours somewhere else, you’ll end up in tears trying to aggregate all that data when it comes time to apply for licensure.

Making sure you choose a product that will help you organize ALL your training experiences will save you headaches down the road.

10. The Future

Will the company, product, or notebook be around a year from now?

Remember, you’ll need to track your clinical experience over the course of 4 or more years, so it’s important to choose a tracking method that will stand the test of time. This certainly applies to manual methods, such as notebooks, but also to software companies and products, many of which can be here one day and gone the next.

When you’re looking at software solutions, make sure you choose a product with a proven track record. Ask yourself, “How long has this company or product been around? Am I confident that it will be around a year from now, or even 5 years from now?” It’s also important to assess the company’s commitment to their product. Will the company continue making the necessary changes to keep their product up-to-date?

If you’re considering a manual method like a notebook, day planner, or spreadsheet, ask yourself, “Will this thing survive for the next 5 years or so?”

I hope this list helps take a little of the confusion out of choosing a clinical hours-tracking system. There are lots of choices out there, but it’s all about choosing the one that’s right for you. Questions? Comments? Let me know in the comments or email me directly.