How to Choose the Best Time Tracking Software
Choosing the right time tracking software is vital for any business. Here are the most important thing you need to consider before making your choice. Most important things to consider are: time tracking and reporting features, team management capabilities, price, customer support and training resources, available platforms and integrations, and ease of use.
Part I: General things to consider when choosing time tracking software
- Where do you work and what devices do you use?
- How do you work: what is your workflow?
- What are your needs in terms of features?
- How easy is it to use the software?
- What is your planned budget for the software?
Part II: Types of time tracking software and their features
- Standalone, simple time tracker, with employee timesheet
- Time tracker that is a part of a project management software
- Time tracker that is a part of a Billing/Invoicing system
- Automatic time tracker
- Monitoring type of time tracking software
- Clock in/clock out type
- Enterprise time tracking software
Part III: Which type to choose depending on your business
- Time tracking requirements by business size
- Remote workers
- Small Business
- Mid-size companies
- Large Companies
Part IV: Differences in time tracking software
- Platforms supported
- Available integrations
- Type of data storage and exporting options
General things to consider when choosing time tracking software
Where do you work and what device do you use
Time tracking tools are made with specific devices in mind; some are made for Windows, some for iOS, Android, or Mac, and it's important that you consider them in relation to where you work.
If your job description requires you to often be away from the office, you'll want an easy-to-use app made for iOS and Android. If you work at the office, you may benefit more from a robust Windows or Mac app, with extra features.
If you're a freelancer working from home, who bills by the hour, you'll need a straightforward work hours tracker, so that you can track your billable hours. If you're a large company, you'll probably benefit the most from an Enterprise solution, one that offers additional features, such as self-hosted time tracking, payroll, and employee monitoring, among other.
How do you work
You should consider your usual workflow, and aim to find a time tracking tool that fits in with your workflow. Do you use project management apps such as Trello and Asana? Are you a developer who relies on development apps such as JIRA and Github? Do you communicate and cooperate with your clients and colleagues via apps? Do you use business and productivity apps to streamline your business?
Then you should look for time tracking tools that integrate with the software you use everyday.
If deadlines are a a big part of your work, you'll want a tool that lets you make estimates and compare them with your real time tracked.
What are your needs
Consider your workflow again, and note down all the features your tool should have.
Is it just the basics, or some special features as well? Will you track time with your team? Do you need to comply to FLSA and DCAA requirements? Is tracking billable hours important for your work?
Some of the more basic features would be to:
- Track time you spend on activities in real-time, or add it manually (by adding it to a timesheet, or a list of time entries)
- Edit time entries, and continue your work on them
- Create projects, parse them into tasks, and associate with the right clients
- Add tags to indicate the type of work you did
- Indicate billable time and set your hourly rates
- Generate reports for clients, and export them to basic formats (PDF, CSV, Excel)
- Track what your team members are doing from a team view
The extra features you may need would be:
- Streamline your time entries management and control your timesheet, to comply with FLSA and DCAA (locking time entries so that no one can change them past a certain point; rounding them up; fixing them effortlessly with an audit option)
- Customize your reports, for a more professional appearance (branding)
- A self-hosted version, so that you host the tool from your own servers, for better privacy and security of data
- Managing invoices and payroll - does the software have this function, or whether you can integrate it with a separate payroll or invoicing system
Also consider whether you'll need:
- Priority user support from the software's developers
- Customized development, so that the software fits your needs better
- The software to function offline, and later sync and update the data
- A software that can be accessed across various devices
Is it easy to use the software?
Whether the time tracking software offers just the basic features or additional features as well, it should be straightforward and easy to use. The main point of time tracking software is to save time by keeping track of it, and you won't be able to do that if you have to spend a lot of time learning to use the program and all its features.
The best type of time tracking software has its basic features clearly laid out, and it's additional features less prominent.
All of the features should require no more than a couple of clicks to work. Also, the tool's development team should aim at constant innovations, and keeping up with the current trends in the field of time tracking.
Before commiting to a time tracking software, make sure you test it, to see whether it fits your needs - whether your employees feel comfortable using it, and whether they do so with ease.
Your budget dictates the software you'll choose, but bare in mind that you don't have to splurge a lot of money for an effective solution.
Some companies set a flat monthly or yearly flat-rate, others set the price based on the number of users, and some offer custom-pricing.
There is also the fourth type of software, the free time tracking software, which offers all of its features for free, for an unlimited amount of users and unlimited number of workspaces. Clockify falls under this category for its features.
Types of time tracking software and their features
Time trackers differ in whether they are standalone, or part of a larger, more versatile software. They also differ in terms of their function (enterprise, monitoring, clock-in/clock-out) and method of operating (automatic, location-based, exception-based).
Standalone (simple time tracker, with an employee timesheet)
This is a super simple time tracker, with an employee timesheet. With it, you can:
- Record the time you spend on activities in real-time: you start the work hours timer when you start working on an activity and stop it once you're done with it. You can later view your time entries in a list or a timeline.
- Enter time manually in a timesheet view, or in a manual time-entering mode
- Categorize time you've entered by project, task, tag, client or similar parameters
- Make use of the reporting options (generate reports, export, save and send them to clients)
Clockify is this type of time tracking software.
Part of a project management software
This type of time tracking software is integrated with a project management software. It project management features as its primary features:
- Monitoring project resources
- Planning and scheduling projects
- Tracking tasks and adding notes to them
- Sharing files
- Invoicing and making payments
- Standalone time tracker
Certain time tracking software offers minor project management features, such as grouping tasks, setting deadlines and budgets, and separating billable from non-billable time.
Part of a billing/invoicing software
Time tracking integrated within a billing/invoicing software, meant to calculate and generate invoices for your clients. This type of software offers generating customized invoices + time tracking that enables you to calculate your earnings, based on the time you've actually tracked, and your hourly rates.
Helps make everything transparent to the client, in terms of money they owe you for their projects.
Automatic time tracking software
This type of software automatically tracks the time you and your device spend on various activities. It tracks and captures:
- Computer usage
- Phone usage
- Time spent on tasks and projects
- PC allocated tasks - time spent on various programs, apps, documents or various websites
- The time you spend idle or away from keyboard
Aimed to track the time employees spend working and idle - they basically serve as employee monitoring software. Certain monitoring type of time tracking software offers the option to capture employee's screens at random times, to verify whether they are working or idle.
Another extra option of this type of software is tracking the number of times employees move their mouse, or use their keyboards.
Once the employees arrives to work, they record their time of arrival; once they leave work, they record the time when they left.
Useful for payroll (their arrival and departure determines the payroll). Also shows whether an employee has worked overtime, or hasn't fulfilled his or her 40-hours weekly quota.
When employees perform the same actions everyday, you can choose to track only the time that is "except" from their everyday activities.
Their standard working hours are recorded automatically, and the "exceptions" (such as approved time off), are recorded separately.
Automatically notes in, and tracks the time you spend on a particular location.
This is a useful choice for tracking employees, as it indicates whether they are at work or not. It is especially useful for field employees, who spend a lot of their work time in different locations, and in-between locations.
Enterprise type of time tracking software
Enterprise time tracking software offers a number of features meant to help streamline work in a large corporation with multiple departments.
It usually offers customization, higher security and privacy, as well as various integrations. A large enterprise needs a time tracking tool that turns employee hours into insights on how operations within the company can be improved.
This type of software utilizes time tracking to better understand:
- Employee costs
- Their availability and use in the company
- Their capacity - you'll gain insight whether additional staffing and hiring is needed for a project
Which type to choose, depending on your business
Your needs will differ depending on whether you run a small business or a large company. Each type of business has its own requirements.
Time tracking requirements by business size
In most cases it's the size of the company that has the largest impact on what time tracker will work best for you. Here are the time tracking requirements based on company size.
|Small businesses||Mid-size businesses||Enterprises|
|Ease of use||Important||Important||Important|
|Mobile and desktop apps||Important||Important||Important|
|Variable billing rates||Unimportant||Sometimes Important||Important|
|Audit trail||Unimportant||Sometimes Important||Important|
|Integrations / API / SSO||Sometimes Important||Important||Critical|
You'll need a straightforward time tracker, preferably with multiple time tracking options (real-time and manual), and the option to easily edit a time entry and continue tracking time on it with a click.
You have to perform all tasks yourself, so you'll need to make your work transparent and easily accessible. It's best that you opt for a time tracker that offers robust reporting, with various exporting and sending options, so that clients can track your progress on a project and see where each minute of your billable time went into.
Working remotely means you have to account for your time to your employer, so you'll also need a straightforward work hours tracker. The difference between a freelancer and a remote worker is that remote workers often have to collaborate in teams, while freelancers usually work alone. So, you'll need a time tracker that also includes a team view, so you can see what everyone in your team is up to, even when you're physically away from them.
There are fewer employees in small businesses, yet they usually have to perform the same number of tasks as those employed in larger companies.
Small businesses have smaller budgets, which call for a low-cost, but effective solution - preferably something with a mobile app available, quick access to all data, and prompt support for any issues.
The biggest challenge of small businesses is teamwork - a small number of people has to work closely together on a number of varied tasks and challenges. Because of this, the option you should look for in your time tracking software software is team management - you'll be able to create tasks and delegate them to team members, so that everyone knows their assignments.
Mid-size companies usually have a larger budget - however, opting for a low-cost solution with the same features as more expensive alternatives is always recommended.
These companies require team management features - the manager, or admin of a workspace must have insight into all workings within his team.
He or she also must make sure that the time tracking tool is straightforward, comprehensive and easy to use for everyone - larger teams usually mean less time to explain how to track time to each employee individually.
Business metrics are also important, so a robust reporting system is necessary - it's important that it's possible to generate custom reports for managers and clients in a few clicks.
Sharing data is also an important factor, so look into the types of extensions available in your time tracker - Excel and PDF are the basics you should look for.
Another useful feature would be the option to share reports with clients so that they can track your progress with their projects in real time - this will transparency, and maintain you a good professional relationship with clients.
Large corporations have the largest needs, so their best option would be an extensive time tracker, with enterprise features.
The essential features are customizations, strong security, a lot of integrations, and API access.
Considering there is a large staff and a large number of departments, you'll need multiple workspaces, and permissions for who can do, and perform what - this way, you'll share your authority with other team members, to ease the managing and delegating workload.
Different industries will have different needs in terms of the ideal features for their time tracking tool.
PR and other agencies will need an insight in everyone's availability, costs and expenses - this'll help maximize profit, and you should look into trackers with team management, and clear billing and hourly rates.
The manufacturing industry usually involves parts of a business located in different states, and it's important to adhere to different federal laws of these states, especially for wages and overtime. So, it's best that you have a way to capture overtime and receive notifications for it.
The transportation industry is all about speedy deliveries and deadlines - basic time tracking features will help you monitor and analyze data, set more realistic deadline and improves scheduling.
In Healthcare, time is crucial for adequate patient treatment - tracking all time with basic tracking features helps make medical workers more accountable for their actions.
Differences in time tracking software
As a type of software on a whole, time trackers differ in the platforms they support, integrations that are available with them, their data storage and exporting options, as well as the type of licence they hold.
Different time tracking software supports different platforms. Sometimes, it is Windows-only or designed especially for Mac. But, in most cases, one time tracking software supports various platforms. They support any one, or any combination of the following platforms:
- Web application
- Chrome extension
Consider what type of device you use the most, and make your pick accordingly.
Certain time trackers can be integrated with other applications, and used to track the time you spend on those app's features.
How do integrations of time trackers and other apps work? For example, if you add a new item (e.g. "Make a draft for a proposal") in a to-do app, such as Todoist, you'll be able to track the time you spend on this item, directly from Todoist. This option is available through the Clockify extension for Chrome
You should consider whether your time tracker of choice supports integrations, and with what apps - this is a big factor in your choice, as it determines how you'll be able to further automate your work with apps.
The types of programs that can usually be integrated with time tracking software are:
- CRM modules
- Project management software
- Other productivity software
- Invoicing and accounting software
- Payroll software
Time tracker integrations can also be limited to specific software, be it Google apps, specific project management apps, or specific productivity apps.
A time tracker may be eligible for integration with Todoist, but not with Trello, although they are both essentially project management apps
Data storage and exporting options
Depending on your time tracker's exporting options, you can export your time results as, or to:
- Google Docs
You can also store your data in the:
- Self-hosted version of the app
- Web-based version of the app
- Local phone storage (with the option to backup on iCloud and Google Drive)
Time tracking software also differs in its type of licence, and you should consider:
- Subscription-based: available after paying a monthly or annual subscription
- Licence-based: you buy the a copy of the software, and gain the right (licence) to use that copy of the software
- Proprietary: after purchase, you can only instal this type of time tracking software on a limited number of devices
- Free: liberty to use the program in any way according to the terms of service
- GPL: you can run the program, study, share or even modify it
- Open-source: the source code of the software is released with a licence, but the copyright rules allow you to study, modify and distribute it to other users
- Shareware: You can use a free trial version that expires after a while, and you have to pay to continue using the software
- MIT Licence: free software licence, with a few restrictions
When deciding on a time tracker, list out and carefully consider your needs and expectations.
Various factors will determine your choice. Your type of business and typical workflow are the most prevalent - they determine the features you'll need.
Then, you can consider the right app, or type of app, in relation to the devices you use, and the platforms you'll want supported.
Always make sure that the time tracker is straightforward and easy to use - the best option, no matter the other factors, is a time tracker that is efficient, but affordable, with a number of versatile basic and additional features.