When I first started my own small business, one of the biggest challenges was getting things done within a certain timeframe, followed by tracking how much time I was spending on each project. Since I had just started out, I had to also keep track of how much time was going into marketing, responding to emails, prepping and sending out proposals, following leads and doing other administrative duties. If I hoped to grow as a small business owner and attract new clients, it was pretty clear that I first had to get a grip on what was before me.

Whether you’re a small business owner with a pool of employees or a freelancer running a small home-based business, the fact remains you have a lot on your plate and a lot of different plates to manage. As small business professionals, our time is one of our most valuable assets. Creating a to-do list or looking at the clock in hopes of “getting it all done” within a reasonable time period or by a deadline just doesn’t cut it. We need something a lot more sophisticated.

A colleague of mine, also a fellow small business owner, recommended checking out some time management software. I couldn’t have received any better advice, and I just wished I’d received it sooner. Getting on schedule with a time tracking software that works for you is one of the best things you can do for yourself as a rising entrepreneur. Check out some of the following time management programs to see which one best meets your needs.

ClockingIt – A free application, ClockingIt makes it easy to project manage, collaborate and keep track of your time. The time management software also includes a project schedule feature that lets you know if you’re falling behind on any one task…and why. It’s essentially a smart virtual secretary that features time tracking and reporting, as well as multiple communication modes, interactive charts and schedules. The smart software also offers file storage, private forums, group chats, transcripts, instant messaging and email alerts. It’s the ideal hybrid between time management software, note taking software and forum software that caters to a business environment

Achieve Planner – Created by Effexis software, Achieve Planner allows you to centralize and prioritize your projects while distinguishing them from simple tasks. It also has a Google calendar inspired scheduling feature that exceeds Google since you can finally color coordinate your meetings and events. Unique in this service capability, users can also import existing data from Outlook 2003/2007/2010 and sync their data with Achieve Planner. The Windows compatible software is available online for purchase but users have the option of a 30-day free trial.

For tech shy business owners, Achieve Planner offers the design and layout familiarity of a standard date book, with organized tables for projects, tasks and schedules. This may seem like a small detail, but it’s an extremely relevant one since a lot of busy professionals don’t have the time to figure out a new system; the more complicated the system, the less likely you are to stick with it let alone use it.

RescueTime – Both PC and Mac friendly, RescueTime boasts the ability to recover an average of 3 hours and 54 minutes’ worth of productive time per week per person. Used by both individual business owners and Fortune 500 companies, RescueTime goes beyond managing your own time to also helping you manage and track the time of your work force. The time management software helps you identify gaps in employee productivity as well as source relevant training and development related data to help you target problem areas.

Far from a Big Brother scenario, software transparency makes productivity and efficiency public knowledge so employees and team members can see where they are compared to their peers – which many top executives and successful small business owners readily realize will increase internal competition. For the individual user, RescueTime helps you track your time without any data entry and offers you time tracking reports/graphs. Interestingly, it also gives you the option of voluntarily blocking distracting sites that otherwise easily eat up valuable business hours.

If word of mouth is anything to go by, RescueTime speaks for itself through a client portfolio including Twitter, Dropbox, StumbleUpon, eBay and SEOMoz. The time tracking software also received PR buzz in The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, BBC, Harvard Business Review and NPR.

Other lesser known applications that might pique your interest include MyLifeOrganized, ManicTime and TrueTimeTracker. The best pick is the one that meets your individual daily business needs and appeals to your own personal style of doing business.